Helen Goodman MP’s speech to our joint Musicians’ Union, BECTU and Equity fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference: Britiain Entertaining the World
It’s very nice to be here and thank you for inviting me. I feel slightly terrified actually, I don’t normally feel terrified in meetings, but having heard John, Jean and Gerry and they’re all so eloquent, and all so clear, and they’ve all made such passionate cases, that I hope my response can live up to it.
As far as the National Union of Musicians is concerned, I just want to say I’m really grateful to you because you gave me the first nomination I ever had for a Parliamentary seat. Actually, I wasn’t selected but we won’t go into that…
You’re all absolutely right about the vitality of the creative sector and the economic contribution. And I want to divide what I say into two parts. I want to say something about the economic aspect and then I want to say a little bit also about the intrinsic aspect. Because I think missing the intrinsic aspect is the thing that politicians most frequently do that really winds up people in the sector. I don’t know whether you saw there was a great essay by David Edgar in the Guardian a few months ago that was about this.
It really came home to me, so we’re very good at the numbers but maybe we’re not so good at the messages.
Support and training
Now, I won’t repeat the financial contribution, but I will tell you that we’ve done quite a lot of work on having an economic strategy for the arts. It has 6 elements:
Obviously, in what all of you have described the people are essential to the success of the creative sector. This is true in your sector in a way which is quite different from, let’s say the car industry where technology’s very important, or banking, where let’s say money is very important. In this sector the individual, and what the individual brings to it, is the most important thing.
So the first thing that we need to look at it is whether we are equipping young people properly. And one of the things that we have been campaigning for is to prevent Michael Gove from narrowing the school curriculum and from only measuring Maths and English grammar and those things, and further trying to push to one side drama and painting.
We’re also, as you know, very keen to make sure that young people get the proper support which they need in further and higher education, because brilliant as I’m sure [the Musicians' Union’s] members are, they did need professional training and we do need to make sure that we’ve got a continued stream of people coming through.
The next thing that you’ve spoken about is money. Now there are issues around public money and the cuts, but there’s also the issue, and I guess this might affect the BECTU and the Musicians slightly more, but it’s the issue of access to finance for private firms and for private companies.
And it’s quite clear that we do need to get the City and the banks to concentrate on this. Because it’s a specialist field with particular kinds of risk and this needs to be understood so that people can set up successful companies which can grow and develop over time. So that’s the second part of what we want to do.
The next thing that we’re very hot on is a proper intellectual property regime, which I think you’re all concerned about and we’ve had the conversations with the Googles of this world and we are keen to look at a way to implement the Digital Economy Act, which was passed just before the last Labour government fell.
We’re keen to have am intellectual property regime which works. Now, I’m not going to stand here and say that I’m totally confident that the clauses in the Digital Economy Act as they stand would work, because they’re a bit OTT really. Cutting somebody’s broadband off because their child once illegally downloads some pop music does seem to be a bit sledgehammer and nut.
So, we’re very keen to have a workable solution, and if we look at what’s happened, we’re also keen that the industry itself looks at ways of monetising its product. I think music industry unfortunately has been less successful on this issue than the publishing industry looks as if it’s going to be, but it’s important that we learn from the bad experience that the music industry had on that.
Local authorities and the regions
Now, I’m not going to make a commitment about local authority financing today. That would be an extraordinarily foolish thing to do when I haven’t discussed it with my colleagues in my Communities and Local Government team and Treasury team, but I will take your idea away.
We could also use the Creative Councillors’ Network to take a regional approach. Because there’s another thing we’re keen on: that all culture isn’t within the M25. I mean, I represent a seat in County Durham and it’s just completely impossible.
I did a survey in the summer of my constituents and my party members to ask them what things they would like to do in this area and what things they couldn’t do and what the barriers were. And one of the things that was very interesting was that everybody, virtually everybody, who answered had bought a book. And virtually everybody who answered had been to the cinema, but people would really like to go to the theatre more but they can’t afford the tickets. It’s no good if we add on to the cost of this ticket, a train ticket half way across the country.
Plainly, we have to be doing things in peoples’ communities. And we have to be doing things which, as you were saying, relate to their life experience and their social issues and their particular heritage. I’m a 1000% opposed to the commercialisation and constant Americanisation of our culture.
And we went to see the French Ambassador because the French are actually much more energetic in protecting the French film industry, than we have been traditionally. I went to talk to him to see if we could actually say to them ‘well if we win we’ll buddy up with you’ [to exclude cultural products from the proposed US-EU trade deal]. I think they make a good point because plainly Shakespeare is not like hamburgers and we all know it.
Exporting the arts
Then, there’s the whole issue of pursuing an international strategy to promote Britain overseas but also to get inward investment. The man who invented Downton Abbey who Tories have put into the House of Lords [‘Julian Fellowes!’, yelled the audience], he did actually go on a trade mission but this is a new thing and I think we really want to see the arts and culture taking their place alongside the other industries when we do have overseas trade missions because, it is a very successful industry. One of our big, big, big international strategic competitive advantages is the English language. We are incredibly lucky.
We want to have that as a special strand, the international mileage. We’re absolutely clear that we want to do something about that.
Equality and representation
Also, we’re very concerned about equality of access and opportunity. Harriet [Harman]’s been saying a lot about having middle aged women on telly. As a middle aged women, you know, I think she’s absolutely right.
But there is also a party issue about who is getting access, who is it who can afford for their children to do a three month internship and find somewhere for them to live and all of that? We all know that this is not the way to open up the arts.
And that moves me into the second issue, which is about the intrinsic nature and what we want, because we must have a vibrant sector that is saying something to people about the world in which they live and which is challenging them and which is experimenting and which is doing these things. And the fact of the matter is that if everybody comes from a very comfortable life experience, they are much less likely to be challenging and to be critical, and that we will be a great loss to our national culture, and that’s true in the performing arts, but it’s actually also true in literature, it’s also true in novels. If all that’s ever happened to you is that you’ve been to a very good school, you’ve been very successful and then you’ve been to a university and got a top degree, you haven’t got the same material, have you, for doing things?
The future of change
So, I think this issue about equality of access and opportunity is important… What [New Labour Culture Secretary] Chris Smith managed to do was make free museums such a central part of British cultural life that the Tories have not been able to attack it, and that was a great achievement. That is really significant. So sometimes we really can make progress and root things down, bolt them down so hard, that it is much more difficult for anyone to try and uproot them.
Now it seems to me, that access is good, open access is good, but I think maybe we should be moving. The next thing we should be thinking about is participation because I imagine that the participation bit will be a stronger experience and will be a more transforming experience for people and that the more people and the more possibilities we have to enable people to participate in lots of different ways – the better it will be and the more satisfying their lives will be.
So, that’s really like us to do. Now, I don’t think that’s a very easy thing to do, but that is where I would like us to go after the 2015 election.