Keith Clarke

Promises, promises: reflections on the general election

8:00, 6th July 2017

A reader emails in to echo the suggestion here that general elections must be good for Radio 3’s listening figures. ‘Even at its most extreme, which is not very extreme these days,’ she says, ‘Radio 3 never broadcasts anything as mind-numbingly idiotic as the average political interview on Radio 4.’

Now that the election is all over (for now), and probably the last thing anyone wants to read about, forgive a few thoughts on the choice we all faced.

Political manifestos would surely be top of the fiction lists if anyone ever read them. A glorious opportunity to touch all bases with glowing optimism, they are feverishly written, sneakily leaked, grandly launched and swiftly forgotten. It is traditional for hacks to pore over the detail and see how the manifestos stack up in any given area. Word searches are always a good start. Look for ‘arts’ and you will find five mentions in the Tory manifesto, six in Labour and five in the LibDem. Culture scores four in the Tory, one in Labour, two in LibDem. Music did not get a mention by the Tories, scored five in Labour and two in LibDem.

The Tories recognised that ‘The United Kingdom is home to some of the finest cultural institutions in the world’ and said they will ‘continue to promote those institutions and ensure they have the resources they need to amplify Britain’s voice on the world stage and as a global force for good.’ All good for general direction, but a bit short on specifics. The one identifiable pledge in the music world was a pledge to support the development of the new Edinburgh Concert Hall.

And a vague promise to make sure cultural institutions ‘have the resources they need’ ignores the elephant in the room – the swingeing cuts in arts budgets by successive local authorities. That is one issue that Labour weighed in on, its 660-word plan for culture stating ‘Labour will end cuts to local authority budgets to support the provision of libraries, museums and galleries’. The biggest of the Labour specifics was the introduction of ‘a £1bn Cultural Capital Fund to upgrade our existing cultural and creative infrastructure to be ready for the digital age and invest in creative clusters across the country, based on a similar model to enterprise zones. Administered by the Arts Council, the fund will be available over a five-year period. It will be among the biggest arts infrastructure funds ever’.

What did not make it into Labour’s manifesto was Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge during his leadership campaign to reverse the Tory cuts to arts, libraries, theatres and museums.

The LibDem take on the cultural outlook used the B word, recognising that Brexit will have far-reaching implications for the arts as in every other area of life: ‘Arts, media and sports are essential for personal fulfilment and quality of life – they are part of what turns a group of people into a community. Funding for these organisations is put at risk with Brexit and the Liberal Democrats will ensure that we continue to invest in our cultural capital.’

As to specifics, the most relevant for the music sector was a pledge to ‘maintain current standards of intellectual property protection with continuing co-operation on enforcement of IP generated in the UK and working within the EU to ensure the continuation of territorial licensing of rights’. There was also a promise to ‘protect sports and arts funding via the National Lottery’ and to ‘create creative enterprise zones to grow and regenerate the cultural output of areas across the UK’.

There in a nutshell are the major parties’ campaign pledges. (For what it’s worth, culture does not get a mention in the DUP manifesto.) What does the well-I-never result mean for music? That is anyone’s guess, and Brexit throws an enormous spanner in the works. However you deployed your stubby pencil in the plywood booth on 8 June, now is a time to hold tight and hope for the best. The Monster Raving Loony Party, which stood on a platform of free woollen hats for all, has a motto, ‘Vote for insanity’.

Unfortunately, 52% of the population did just that in June 2016.

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