Miliband hits the right notes

It is rare for prime ministers or leaders of the opposition to give speeches on the arts. Delivering one last night, Ed Miliband observed that Tony Blair once did. Jim Hacker, a character in Yes, Minister did too. Noting that in doing so, Hacker closed BBC Radio 3, Miliband drew laughter. A BBC journalist was rewarded with more laughs for congratulating Miliband on not doing the same.

It took Miliband nearly five years to deliver this speech but during the week that marks 50 years since Jennie Lee’s white paper on arts and culture, it was warmly received. Not all of us are deemed creative. The latest Department for Culture, Media and Sport figures indicate that the creative economy sustains one in 12 jobs. But this minority typically carry more social capital than the rest.

If you were seeking an electoral win, it would not, therefore, do any harm for these unshrinking violets to say, ‘Ed Miliband gets us. He is one of us’. The next step is to make all of us one of them. Vikki Heywood, chair of the recently published Warwick Commission on the future of cultural value, which Miliband referenced, wants ‘equal access for everyone to a rich cultural education and the opportunity to live a creative life’.

Miliband shares this goal and promised a prime minister’s committee to coordinate work across government to secure it. This sounds rather beer and sandwiches, or perhaps champagne and paella. But it is music to his audience’s ears. ‘The key message from this report,’ Heywood wrote, ‘is that government and the cultural and creative industries need to take a united and coherent approach’.

While Miliband is committed to this coherence, it is unclear what would emerge if he were to get them all round the cabinet table. One questioner demanded robust copyright protection in the face of infringement by ‘American multinationals that do not pay their taxes’. Harriet Harman, shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, who attended along with Chris Bryant and Will Martindale, the local parliamentary candidate in a seat that would signal Miliband’s arrival in Downing Street if Labour were to recover it, interjected to pledge this protection.

Whether Google who, chief executive officer of the Creative Industries Federation, John Kampfner formerly advised on freedom of expression would delight in this is less certain. The creative industries, which now encompass the IT crowd, do not always have consistent interests. To say nothing of how these interests relate to the cultural sector, which has tended to stand somewhat aside and be more dependent on public funding. However, Miliband following the Warwick Commission and this speech at the Creative Industries Federation is now seeking to bring them into closer orbit.

The Warwick Commission offered a rather New Labour conclusion: ‘It is a mistake to think that the underrepresentation of black and ethnic (BAME) individuals, women, deaf and disabled people and low income groups in the cultural and creative industries is purely a social justice issue’. Quality, as well as morality, is at stake.

As much as they have differences, not least on copyright, championing diversity unites the cultural and creative industries, which makes it a prime candidate to top the agenda at the inaugural meeting of Miliband’s committee. In pitching to a disproportionately influential demographic, the speech was a small step to making the committee a reality.

It was not Eddie Redmayne at the Oscars – not perhaps an embodiment of diversity, though certainly of British success – but it was a job well done.

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Jonathan Todd is Chief Economist of BOP Consulting

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Photo: Battersea Arts Centre

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