Once again, cul­ture is an af­ter­thought in pol­i­tics

Country Life Every Week - - Athena -

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

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