Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

One Nation Labour in culture and sport

Ed Miliband’s deployment of One Nation Labour is an audacious land grab for the valuable political territory left vacant by the withering of the Tory left. But this will only have sustained purchase if followed through with credible policy. It is encouraging that the shadow cabinet has met to discuss development of One Nation Labour.

Discussions may have focused on the economy. It is now inevitable that perceptions of economic competence – the capacity to grow the economy and jobs, ease the squeeze, and properly manage public finances – will be central to determining political success.

But as the fuss over Nadine Dorries’ reality TV gig shows, many in Britain are preoccupied with culture and sport. These preoccupations are underrepresented in political debate. Despite hundreds of speeches on Britishness, it was Danny Boyle’s Olympic ceremony which engaged and defined us a nation.

Take supporting a football team. Obligatory for every MP but too often feels like a box being ticked, rather than a genuine immersion in the agonies and ecstasies of their fellow supporters.

How else to explain – with honourable exceptions like Tom Greatrex, Alison McGovern and Steve Rotheram – the lack of political focus on what grips ordinary supporters? The high ticket prices, the irresponsible owners and their dubious debt arrangements, and the seeming inability of fans to influence any of this?

Liverpool fans might dare to dream that one day Brendan Rodgers will get the team passing like Barcelona but the idea that Liverpool fans might have a stake in the club equivalent to that which Barca fans have in their club seems very distant.

Culture and sport are about escapism. Robin Cook explained he loved horse racing as he never came across a horse that wanted to talk politics. Nonetheless, racing embodied Cook’s egalitarianism. Everyone from the Queen to some of the poorest enjoy the races, sharing the same spectacle and atmosphere.

If we are to be one nation then we need more genuine common spaces. Not just the queues of the four supermarkets that hold an almost 80 per cent market share in the food market. As pubs struggle to compete on price with these dominant companies, almost 20 of them close each week. Debates on alcohol taxation should not just approach this as a public health issue but seek to better cultivate the social capital of these pubs: the spaces that they open up for craft markets, sports teams and community groups.

Visits to the national museums in England that used to charge for entrance increased by 151 per cent in the ten years following the Labour government’s introduction of universal free access in December 2001. The creation of one nation by the next Labour government should include new ways of further widening access to culture.

DCMS or arm’s length bodies could help our artists, musicians or filmmakers to gain crowdfunding by hosting a web portal for credible projects, with a focus upon those projects most likely to bring people together and build new social capital. This would be a more democratic version of the Tory push for philanthropy. Moreover we need modern equivalents of the nineteenth century seaside piers: free spaces that bring diverse people together.

As the Tories seize on the Savile scandal to demand reform at the BBC, Labour cannot allow itself to become the party of the status quo. The licence fee is regressive and governance of the BBC is opaque and unaccountable. It is time for Labour to revisit past calls for a British Broadcasting Co-operative.

During the hustings for the deputy leadership of the Labour party at the Oval cricket ground in 2007 no candidate mentioned England winning the Ashes there two years before. It is troubling that such an occasion of national celebration did not merit any comment. Yet few politicians can resist tweeting their fascinating X-Factor insights.

Perhaps these priorities explain the limited political protest that followed the removal of test match cricket from terrestrial TV. But if we want to inspire the next generation of  ‘Freddie’ Flintoffs or Michael Vaughans to perform at the Oval, as well as the Harriet Harmans of tomorrow, then we must get at least some test match cricket on terrestrial TV.

Our future Vaughans also require playing fields and facilities. The more these are used the healthier we will become and the less demands we will place upon the NHS and other public services. There seems a synergy of interests in companies eager to align themselves with healthy living raising social investment bonds to help pay for such facilities. This should be an important public policy goal – not least as it would involve limited additional call upon public resources.

Such cost effective solutions are now vital. The British left has only advanced in moments of shared hope – in 1945, 1966, and 1997 – while struggling in the tumult of the 1930s and 1980s. The challenge for Labour is now to build hope when money is tight. Steps can be taken to make us one nation in our sporting and cultural lives that are affordable and which would build new hope.


Jonathan Todd is an economic consultant and David Ward is a Labour member working in the culture sector


Photo: Steve Hill

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Jonathan Todd and David Ward

1 comment

  • Robin Cook’s equine interlocutors were right. Nationalist triumphalism, like Dr Johnson’s patriotism: The last refuge of a scoundrel.

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