No one talks about the arts during British elections. General election campaigns are too short for candidates to talk about anything other than constituency issues; national leaders are trying to catch the attention of undecided voters. Manifestos are where the detail for specific policy areas is normally tucked away. But the length and detail of a manifesto depends on how likely a party is to be in power after 7 May – and arts policy is no exception.
The Green Party is offering to increase arts funding by £500 million a year, to restore the cuts announced by the coalition government in 2010. UKIP thinks that its base will be interested in ‘regenerative arts projects in our coastal towns’ and a dedicated minister for heritage and tourism (to replace the Department of Culture, Media and Sport). After five years in government, on the other hand, the Conservative Party is re-announcing schemes such as a ‘world class concert hall for London’ and a tunnel to take the A303 under Stonehenge. Its guarantee of wifi in every public library doesn’t mention funding the libraries themselves. The Liberal Democrats restate their support for universal free admission to national museums and Plaid Cymru wants more autonomy for Welsh broadcasting within the BBC. It will also support Cardiff’s bid to be a European City of Culture.
The Labour Party’s manifesto is perhaps the most cautious, though it bravely mentions ‘beauty’ in the arts and culture section. It also promises that a ‘Prime Minister’s Committee’, drawn from all sectors and regions, ‘will bring issues of concern’ directly to the Prime Minister. The Scottish National Party focuses on increasing BBC Scotland’s share of the current licence fee and doesn’t mention other arts sectors at all.
But perhaps detail doesn’t much matter in manifestos, either. ‘Let us face the future’, the 1945 Labour manifesto, doesn’t explain how any of its pledges are to be achieved. Its aspirations for the arts, however, are still being fulfilled – albeit in more various ways than anyone could have then foreseen: ‘By the provision of concert halls, modern libraries, theatres and suitable civic centres, we desire to assure to our people full access to the great heritage of culture to our nation.’
Regional museums are in crisis. Can they survive? (Thomas Marks)
Inquiry: Hard times for the UK’s regional museums? (Jack Wakefield)