UK Politics

James Blunt in 'posh spat' with Labour MP

Singer James Blunt
Image caption The singer said he had to overcome lots of prejudice to make it in the music industry

Singer James Blunt has clashed with Labour politician Chris Bryant about diversity in the arts after the MP said the singer was part of a public school educated elite "dominating" culture.

The singer, who was educated at Harrow, said the politician was a narrow-minded "classist gimp" who was motivated by the "politics of jealousy".

Politicians, he said, should celebrate success wherever it came from.

Mr Bryant responded by urging Mr Blunt not to be "so blooming precious".

The spat started after Mr Bryant, who was recently appointed Labour's shadow arts minister, told the Guardian that there needed to be more working class actors and "gritty" subject matter in drama output to properly reflect contemporary Britain.

'Looking for votes'

While he was "delighted" that Eton-educated Eddie Redmayne had won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in a new film, Mr Bryant - who himself was privately educated at Cheltenham College - suggested that "we can't just have a culture dominated by Eddie Redmayne and James Blunt and their ilk".

Mr Blunt, a former soldier who sprang to fame when his song You're Beautiful went to number one in 2005, took Mr Bryant to task in a letter to the newspaper.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Bryant suggested there needed to be more of a "level-playing field" in the arts

He said his background - both in terms of his schooling and his time in the army - counted against him when he was trying to break into the music industry and despite his success was still regarded as being "too posh".

"And then you come along, looking for votes, telling working class people that posh people like me don't deserve it and that we must redress the balance," he wrote.

He suggested that Mr Bryant's "populist, envy-based, vote-hunting ideas" were more likely to hold the country back than "my shit songs and my plummy accent".

'Aim high'

Mr Blunt, who has a million followers on Twitter, contrasted carping attitudes to people's success and background in the UK with the US, where he said people "don't give a stuff" about that kind of thing.

Image caption Mr Bryant asked where the next Albert Finney would come from

"What you teach is the politics of jealousy," he added.

"Perhaps what you have failed to realise is that the only head start my school gave me in the music business, where the vast majority of people are not from boarding school, is to tell me that I should aim high.

"Perhaps it protected me from your kind of narrow-minded, self-defeating, lead-us-to-a-dead-end, 'remove the G from GB thinking' which is to look at others' success and say 'it's not fair'."

'Wasting talent'

In his original interview, Mr Bryant said the system that had produced British talent such as Albert Finney and Glenda Jackson in the 1950s and 1960s had been "more meritocratic".

He questioned whether the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 were committed to funding the kind of drama which looked at Britain as it was now rather than "Downton (Abbey) programming ad infinitum".

Responding to Mr Blunt, the Labour MP insisted he was not singling out the performer and he was "delighted" at his success.

"Stop being so blooming precious," he wrote. "I'm not knocking your success. I even contributed to it by buying one of your albums.

"But it is a statement of the blindingly obvious that that is far tougher if you come from a poor family where you have to hand over your holiday earnings to help pay the family bills."

He added: "You see the thing is I want everyone to take part in the arts. I don't want any no-go areas for young people from less privileged backgrounds. And I'm convinced that we won't be Great Britain if we waste great British talent in the arts."

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