A Labour friend of mine was smugly telling me about last week’s launch of the Labour Creative Industries Network. Much of this reminded me of their ‘Cool Britannia’ efforts circa 1997.
However, it also got me thinking about how the creative industries see us. We too have some nice words about creative businesses on our website – but do we really have a sense of how we want to support and promote this economically and culturally important sector? The DCMS is the only department where Lib Dems have no ministerial presence. There is a hair’s breadth in arts policy between us, Conservatives and Labour. We don’t have anything really distinctive to say.
However, what really concerns me is that the main messages we are currently sending creative businesses are contained in the Stimulating the Digital Economy motion coming to conference on Monday.
I will refrain from taking a cheap shot about how Lib Dem policy on creative industries is coming via a paper focussed on IT and the internet. However, I do have real concerns about its contents and the potential for unintended consequences for creative talent. And I know I’m not alone in this.
The paper says it wants to ”hand power back to the creators and innovators”, but there is little evidence of how this goal might be achieved. In fact, its underlying suggestion is deregulation of the IT sector, as this is “an industry that is particularly sensitive to an over-zealous approach”. Imposing “burdensome regulation” on internet service providers and search engines would “hamper innovation and chill creativity”.
I can remember a certain Iron Chancellor once saying similar things about the financial services sector.
Clearly, there are currently a range of issues – from online privacy, to copyright infringement, to the sexualisation of children – that are of huge concern to the UK population. The ingenuity of internet service providers and technology giants will be essential to help solve them. I can’t see how further deregulation will help.
However, in terms of creative talent, when it comes to the little guys who produce valuable intellectual property, there are few suggestions about how they might sustain a livelihood in such an “open” market. There are no recommendations that would empower them, or protect their work. Just an inference that writers, photographers, musicians, film makers and artists should – like the rest of us – get used to life on a “self-governing” internet.
At a point where the internet is becoming such a vital tool for all aspects of life, is this really the signal we want to be sending out to artists and small businesses? Or, for that matter, the voting public?
We are a Party that believes in the right for individuals to develop their talents to the full. We want to foster diversity and to nurture creativity.
I’m not claiming there are easy answers here, but how do we safeguard the UK’s creative talents and allow artists to earn money for their work, whilst also keeping the internet as free from censorship and control as possible? There is little in this paper that suggests we know how to deal with the dilemma.
I should know better than to challenge the wisdom of Julian Huppert and Bridget Fox (if you see me cowering behind a sofa at conference you know why). But when I read the paper, this is the one issue that jumped out to me. How does it help the small photographers (of which we have many in the party), the small musicians who sell music online, or the start-up film-makers, designers, textile printers and screen printers who work on small margins?
* Laura Willoughby is the Liberal Democrat Political Adviser at London Councils.