I’d install a device that crippled all mobile phones in cultural places.
I am an absolute culture vulture, it’s a crucial part of my life that gives me honest pleasure and also is deeply enriching. I feel very strongly that we are far too over-connected in this world of ours, and too attached to our screens. Going to a concert, theatre, the opera or the dance, is like going into a sacred communal space where we all leave our lives behind for a couple of hours. We should do so without outside distraction. What drives me mad is somebody who insists on turning on their phone during a cultural event.
I would increase all education and culture budgets by tenfold for all governments.
Education and culture are the way out of ignorance and they speak to everybody. There is this very populous idea being bandied around by pompous politicians that culture is for the elite, but it’s nonsense. And actually, the higher the education levels, the better society you create.
I would insist on schools teaching courses on tolerance.
Starting at a very young age and going right through to higher education. They’d be taught that there’s no right or wrong way to look at the world, unless that view is evil, or unless that way is “my way or the highway.”
Frankly, we should be completely tolerant of each other’s faiths, if we have them, and of each other’s world views—as long as those views don’t impinge on other people’s human rights. We’d teach that faith is a point of view, not the truth—there isn’t one universal truth despite what people think.
I would protect the BBC.
I lived in the United Kingdom for 23 years and my children were raised there. I lived in London longer than I lived anywhere else, including my home city of New York, so I am very attached to the UK and London.
I am insanely worried that Boris Johnson and his extreme gang will undermine the BBC. I think it’s one of the greatest treasures of public broadcasting anywhere. I would get them back to serious broadcasting as I knew the BBC to be, the way BBC Radio Three and Four still do.
I would subsidise independent companies.
I would also insist that chain stores were deeply limited in city centres and make sure that rents were adjusted to ensure the local bakery, butcher, cinema, or bookshop could exist in high streets everywhere.
Having people with quirky boutiques gives character to a town or a city and we’re losing it very quickly to monoculture.
I would keep rents reasonable in inner cities.
I was raised in a 650 square foot apartment, where there were four of us in Lower Manhattan. I think the urban middle class, just like the urban working class, needs to be protected against the outpricing of cities.
I would ban property developers from destroying the architectural fabric of cities.
I’m appalled by what’s happened around me in Shoreditch in the last 23 years—the high rise development that’s going on everywhere. In this instance I am in complete agreement with Prince Charles who has been screaming about it for years, I think he’s absolutely right.
I would guarantee universal literacy.
It is the only way to keep people’s minds open. Everyone would actually be able to read.
I’m not a fascist who’s saying, “You have to have a book in your hands”, but at the same time if people were encouraged to read, they would. It’s such a key thing. And of course doing what I do, I’m worried about the future of the book and the future of the novel.
Isabelle in the Afternoon by Douglas Kennedy is published by Hutchinson (£13.99), and available to buy January 9
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