Once again, culture is an afterthought in politics
PRESSING a warm towel to her brow, Athena has struggled through the manifestos of the main political parties. The clear temptation for those drafting these documents is to drop in references to culture at whatever point they can be made relevant to electorally important issues. So, for the Tories, the treatment of the subject largely falls within the chapter ‘A strong economy that works for everyone’, but for the Lib Dems, it appears in ‘Support for Families and Communities’. Full marks, therefore for Labour, with its clearly labelled ‘Culture for all’ that falls within a chapter plausibly entitled ‘Leading richer lives’. Nevertheless, the pickings are not rich.
There are a few points that all the manifestos agree upon, notably the self-evident truth that the cultural life of the nation is vibrant and important. All appear to see the Arts as a means of social regeneration and both the Tories and Labour promise a cultural fund to invest in the sphere, the latter specifically making a commitment of £1 billion to ‘upgrade our existing cultural and creative infrastructure’. The Lib Dems promise instead to establish ‘creative enterprise zones to grow and regenerate the cultural output of areas across the UK’ and also to maintain Arts funding ‘via the National Lottery’. The latter seems breathtakingly unambitious.
Meanwhile, the Tories also give particular emphasis to the international promotion of British culture. They see this as a means to ‘amplify Britain’s voice on the world stage and as a global force for good’, and, accordingly, promise to place the ‘BBC World Service and the British Council on a secure footing’.
All the parties promise to maintain free access to our national collections (although, arguably, it’s funding, not access, that is the issue here). In fairness, Labour goes further, promising to ‘invest in our museums and heritage sectors’ and ‘ending local authority cuts that affect libraries, museums and galleries’. A particular emphasis for the Conservatives is to offer more support for the Arts outside London and specific mention is made of a Great Exhibition of the North in 2018 and support for a new Edinburgh concert hall. Labour is alone in placing emphasis on the role of culture in education, promising to boost cultural activity in schools, offer career advice in the Arts and develop pay and employment guidelines that will encourage a greater diversity of intake within the field.
There is more to say, but you might just fall asleep. Of much greater significance is what these manifestos lack. None offers, with conviction, a plausible cultural vision for the nation, nor is there attention to the detail that really matters (such as tax relief, including VAT on listed-building repair). Athena wishes she could be graciously disappointed by such lacklustre pronouncements, but she is too worried about what they promise for the next five years.
‘None offers, with conviction, a plausible cultural vision for the nation