What Labour’s manifesto means for UK creatives

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As the date of the UK General Election nears, Nothing in the Rulebook has sifted through the manifestos of the Labour and Conservative parties to decipher exactly what each is offering in terms of support for the arts and creative industries in the UK.

It is important to note that, over the past six years, £42.8 million has been cut from Britain’s Arts Councils by the incumbent Conservative (and Con-Dem coalition) governments. Cuts to local government have also meant library closures and the end of creative arts evening classes. For many people, the increasingly precarious, time-consuming and low-paid nature of work has also restricted access to the arts, and made it ever more difficult for aspiring creatives to pursue their passion.

Under a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government, this seems set to change. The Labour Party’s manifesto promises to provide a £1 billion culture fund and to end cuts to local authority budget funding if it wins the general election on 8th June.

Labour said it would introduce the fund in order to “upgrade our existing cultural and creative infrastructure to be ready for the digital age”.

The fund would also invest in creative clusters across the country, designed to boost economic growth through culture.

It would be administered through Arts Council England over a period of five years, and is described by Labour as “among the biggest arts infrastructure funds ever”.

Labour has also promised to end local authority budget cuts, which have resulted in widespread cuts to the arts nationwide.

Stopping this has been identified by leading cultural bodies as a key area for the sector to lobby the new government.

The manifesto also includes the introduction of a £160 million pupil premium for the arts, which would allow schools to invest in creative projects.

The idea was first mooted by party leader Jeremy Corbyn last year, and comes alongside manifesto promises to “put creativity back at the heart of the curriculum” and review the English Baccalaureate.

Pledges include strengthening the pipeline of creative talent, with measures such as a creative careers advice campaign in schools to demonstrate the range of opportunities available and the skills required “from the tech sector to theatre production”.

The manifesto also mentions fair pay for those working in the arts, claiming: ‘too often the culture of low or no pay means it isn’t an option for those without well-off families to support them.’ Labour will work with trade unions and employers to agree sector-specific advice and guidelines on pay and employment standards, making ‘the sector more accessible to all’.

“We will improve diversity on and off screen, working with the film industry and public service and commercial broadcasters to find rapid solutions to improve diversity,” it added.

Labour’s manifesto also suggests extending the business rates relief scheme for pubs to small venues, in a bid to protect them, as well as implementing the agent of change principle across the country – a measure already pledged for London by mayor Sadiq Khan.

In addition, Labour has also announced it will maintain free entry to museums, claiming Conservative cuts to arts funding and local authorities have created a tough financial climate for museums, with some closing or reducing their services, and others starting to charge entry fees.

The party has also pledged to address the ‘value gap’ between producers of creative content and the digital services that profit from its use. The manifesto states: ‘We will work with all sides to review the way that innovators and artists are rewarded for their work in the digital age.’

A portion of the manifesto also focuses on making music venues more resilient, with Labour aiming to support the music industry’s infrastructure. There will be a review extending the £1,000 pub relief business rates scheme to small music venues, while Labour will introduce an ‘agent of change’ principle in planning law, to ensure that new housing developments can coexist with existing music venues.

The party has also pledged to support and protect one of the UK’s most valued public institutions: the BBC.

That the Labour Party has delivered a manifesto so positively supportive of the arts and creative industries is perhaps no surprise – as the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has continually backed the sector for years, and made it a key part of his leadership campaign in 2015.

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What the Conservative Party’s manifesto means for UK creatives

As the date of the UK General Election nears, Nothing in the Rulebook has sifted through the manifestos of the Labour and Conservative parties to decipher exactly what each is offering in terms of support for the arts and creative industries in the UK.

It is important to note that, over the past six years, £42.8 million has been cut from Britain’s Arts Councils by the incumbent Conservative (and Con-Dem coalition) governments. Cuts to local government have also meant library closures and the end of creative arts evening classes. For many people, the increasingly precarious, time-consuming and low-paid nature of work has also restricted access to the arts, and made it ever more difficult for aspiring creatives to pursue their passion.

Under a Theresa May-led Conservative government, the indications are that this seems set to continue.

In the section of the (uncosted) Conservative manifesto, ‘Stronger Communities for a Stronger Economy’, the party pledges somewhat untangible policies of “continuing our strong support for the arts”, without many specific plans or ideas for how the party will actually show said support.

Of what pledges there are to be found, the party promises to maintain free entry to the permanent collections of “major” national museums and galleries, but fails to offer any protection for all museums and galleries – or clarify what locations would be classified as “major”.

The Conservatives also promise to hold a “Great Exhibition of the North” in 2018, to “celebrate amazing achievements in innovation, the arts and engineering”.

In addition, the party plans to support an as-yet un-named UK city in making a bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and, as 2017 marks the 70th Anniversary Year of the Edinburgh Festival, pledges to support the development of the new Edinburgh Concert Hall.

Intriguingly, given David Cameron’s plans in 2015 and 2016 to sell the publicly-owned Channel 4 broadcasting company, Theresa May’s Conservative manifesto promises that Channel 4 will remain publicly owned, and will also be relocated outside of London.

It is perhaps telling that, in an 88-page document, the word ‘Art’ appears just four times. Yet, with funding for the arts consistently slashed under successive Conservative governments, it is perhaps not all that surprising.

You can read about what the Labour Party’s plans for the arts are here.

Ballot Beats – promoting the youth vote through poetry

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As the deadline to register to vote in the 2017 General Election nears, 7 million voters – most of them younger – remain disenfranchised. This continues a long-recognised trend in British elections; in 2015, only 43% of young people aged 18-24 voted in the General Election, compared to an overall turnout of 66 % and a turnout of 78% for those aged over 65.

Nothing in the Rulebook has long championed the power that the arts have to inspire and affect change; so a new project from the brilliant minds behind the Theatre Centre really caught our eye. The group is looking to use the power of poetry to cultivate advocacy and galvanise action from young audiences, moving them towards compassion, conversation and campaigns.

Working with award winning poet Mr Gee, the group ran poetry workshops in different parts of the UK and encouraged young people to create poems about their beliefs, and why voting feels important to them.

Some of these young people can already vote – most of them can’t: they need other young people to be their voices, and to tick their ballot papers. Their words, beliefs and rhymes have been collected and shared in #BallotBeats

A spokesperson for the group said: “At Theatre Centre we believe young people need and deserve representation. We believe that the best way of achieving this representation is through voting. We want to help encourage young people to get their voices heard and to vote. We want their concerns to be placed at the heart of the political agenda and to be visible with our political landscape.”

Nothing in the Rulebook Co-Founder, Professor Wu, praised the importance of the #BallotBeats project: “The Conservative Party called the 2017 election on the assumption that young people will remain apathetic to the democratic process. They are absolutely banking on the youth vote not turning up; because they know if this were to change they would face a nigh impossible task of forming a government to implementing the cruel and Victorian-era policies of their regressive manifesto. Rest assured it is completely within their interests – and the interests of the corporate elite – to keep the status quo as it is, and keep young people bored and disgusted by politics, and prevent them from realising the power that they truly wield. What a great victory it would be if this were to change and those people who will have to live longest with the outcome of this election turned up en masse to the polling booths on 8th June.”

“Poetry has a long-standing tradition of inspiring protest and activism, and Theatre Centre’s #BallotBeats project is exactly the sort of galvanising initiative that is needed to bring a little more hope and optimism to the world at a time where so much around us seems created to inspire fear and cynicism.”

For more details about the work of Theatre Centre and #BallotBeats please contact Emily on emily@theatre-centre.co.uk or call 020 7729 3066. You can also follow them on Twitter (@TCLive) and Facebook.

 

Creatives in Profile: Interview with Andrew McMillan

McMillan photo credit Urszula Soltys

Andrew McMillan. Photography by Urszula Soltys

Few writers have exploded onto the literary scene with quite as much acclaim as Andrew McMillan. The South Yorkshire-born poet’s debut collection, ‘Physical‘, was the first ever poetry collection to win The Guardian First Book Award. The collection also won the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize,  a Somerset Maugham Award (2016), an Eric Gregory Award (2016) and a Northern Writers’ award (2014). It was shortlisted the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Costa Poetry Award,  The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2016, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Polari First Book Prize. It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2015. He currently lectures in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University and lives in Manchester.

It is a true honour to bring you this detailed interview.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

MCMILLAN

I just bought a house in Manchester with my boyfriend, so for the first time I feel I can say I permanently live somewhere. I was born in Barnsley in 1988 and lived there until I went away to university, and then a couple more times after university as well- I moved to Liverpool when I first started working at LJMU,  and now I’m moving on to MMU in September which I’m really excited about. I like decorative bowls, which I guess is a lifestyle choice, and I got drunk the other week and told Ben we could get a dog, so that’s going to be a new thing as well.

INTERVIEWER

Is creativity and writing your first love, or do you have another passion?

MCMILLAN

It was always writing. From being very young, I used to write little horror stories and then moved on to writing poems; there was a magazine called Young Writer, which I don’t think is around anymore, that would publish work and run competitions and send you a proper contract to sign and things like that so it felt like something special. Then I ran away from it for a long time in my teens, I wanted to be an actor, and then a politician, but really what I liked was standing up in front of people and talking to them, and using words in an eloquent way and so when I started reading 20th Century poetry again at college, and I found Larkin and Gunn, then I started writing poetry again.   I’m passionate about all different art forms, I think all artists always wish they were proficient at something else, but I have no other skills, I can only write (and most days I can barely do that); I’m very interested in fashion, in clothing as another form of communication. If I had the right skills I might have liked to have been a fashion designer.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

MCMILLAN

Too many poets to mention by name, but I’m a writer because first and foremost I’m a reader, I read as much as I can, of contemporary poetry; you can be inspired by what you don’t enjoy too, you can frame yourself in active opposition to a thought or an idea as well as taking inspiration from others’ work in a positive sense.

Jon McGregor, and his novels, are the reason that I write poetry the way that I do.

Tom Spanbauer, another novelist, and in particular The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, changed my life.

It’s a terrible cliche but I’m inspired much more by urban dilapidation than I am by beauty, a wreck rather than a masterpiece (that’ll probably be my epitaph too)

My parents, their lives, their warmth, their support, is a constant inspiration. And I’ve only ever wanted to make them proud.

INTERVIEWER

Your debut poetry collection, ‘Physical’ was released by Jonathan Cape in 2015. Its themes of and focus on masculinity seem particularly appropriate for our society right now – much has been made, for instance, of the ‘crisis of masculinity’. What do you think it means to be a man in the 21st Century?

MCMILLAN

Any discussion of masculinity has to really start from an acknowledgement that men still occupy a very privileged place within society; but for young men, particularly young working class men, things are really bad. It’s no one cause, but a confluence of things, such as a stigma around mental health for young men, an economic earthquake in the latter half of the 20th Century that ripped away traditional manual jobs and didn’t replace them with anything,  so what you have is a generation of young men who feel they shouldn’t talk about their emotions or hurt, who can’t see themselves in the role their fathers or their grandfathers might have had, which was to exchange their strength for money in the workplace, and so they feel they don’t have a place, or they feel they don’t know how to be a man, and so that lack has been replaced by, in some cases, getting bigger and bigger at the gym, or getting a ‘status’ dog- a loss of identity or position is being replaced by caricatures of masculinity because these young disenfranchised lads don’t see how else to assert the fact that they exist.

What has been really interesting, as I’ve grown up, is to see the change in fashion in what men are being told they should look like. So a pressure women have felt since the dawn of time, is now being focussed on men. And its often a male gaze on other men – so you know see heterosexual men posting topless pictures on Instagram, not to try to find sex; but so other heterosexual men will comment on how good they look; they need validation, and they’re not getting it from outside, so they’ve got it from each other, in a competitive way I’m not convinced is entirely healthy. As with everything, its also economic; so the idea of the ‘new man’, which came around in the 1990s, was intrinsically tied to wealth and middle-class status, so for young working class men, they’ve had to create a hyperbolised identity in order to survive.

INTERVIEWER

Looking around at current trends in poetry, what are your thoughts and feelings on the ‘poetry industry’. If we can define it thus. And how would you advise aspiring poets to break out onto the ‘poetry scene’?

MCMILLAN

Poetry is in a really good place now and I look around at my peers and think I’m lucky to be part of a really exciting generation. I think the key thing for anyone to remember is that they only write because they like reading, so keep reading, keep involved, go to invents; BUY as much as you can afford to- if everyone who writes poetry bought poetry we’d all be millionaires. It might seem daunting on the outside, but poetry is a very small, very friendly world and people help each other out, and remember each other too, so showing your face at events or holding the doors open for writers at a literature festival (as I did in Lancaster for three years) is always going to help you out in the community. I would say as well that I think whilst its good to set up your own nights, to read poetry in front of your friends etc, its also important to seek out an audience and criticism from outside people you might already know.

INTERVIEWER

When looking to submit poetry, what are the steps and key aspects to consider before doing so?

MCMILLAN

If its to a poetry magazine/journal- have you read the magazine before, do you know if they take that kind of work, what’s the poetry editor’s name, have you read their guidelines etc- all those basic things that will get you in the good books before an editor even gets to the poems. Also get ready for rejections, you’ll get a lot. Tons of them. Some will say encouraging things, some will just be a little slip of paper saying ‘Thanks but no thanks’. It isn’t a criticism of you as a person, or even that the poem is bad, it just meant it wasn’t the right fit for that editor for that particular magazine. So perseverance too, if you believe in the work, keep at it. Most of the poems in physical got rejected from nearly every magazine you could name, and the book still did alright 😉

INTERVIEWER

In terms of writing poetry, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when writing your initial drafts?

MCMILLAN

Not to end the poem too soon, and not to have any sense of where the poem might end, you have to surprise yourself, if its predictable or too simple a journey for the reader to make, they won’t want to make it again.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or audience in mind when you write?

MCMILLAN

I always like to steal an answer of Thom Gunn’s when I answer this, in response to a fan letter he said something along the lines of:

‘If I had an ideal reader, I think it would be myself, when I was younger, maybe thirteen or fourteen, and to say to them, its OK really’

I think that’s probably true of me; but I also don’t just want a gay audience, or a male audience – I’m really just writing poems about the body, so they’re for everyone.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

MCMILLAN

Any act which seeks to make an interruption to the crushing and terrifying monotony of being alive.

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘poet’ mean to you?

MCMILLAN

Someone who wants to put on some spandex and power slam words into the page

INTERVIEWER

James Joyce argued poetry was “always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality.” In the modern world, ‘actuality’ is increasingly hard to define – we live in a culture of ‘fake news’. Many have argued that poetry has an element of truth to it that reality sometimes does not. What role do you think poetry has in a world of ‘alternative facts’?

MCMILLAN

Again, I’ll quote someone else much more articulate, Rita Ann Higgins ‘To get to the poetic truth, it is not always necessary to tell the what-actually-happened truth, these times I lie.  Poetry has to have a truth in it, it has to be driving towards some universal truth, otherwise there’s no heart in it, but around that, it can make things up. Poetry shows us the real truth in something, and to do that it might often have to make things up.

INTERVIEWER

Since Percy Bysshe Shelley penned the Masque of Anarchy, poetry has been used by writers and artists as a means of revolt against the status quo and to champion causes, giving voices to those who perhaps would not otherwise be heard. What are your thoughts on poetry as protest?

MCMILLAN

Maybe the very act of writing a poem is a protest, its always a peaceful political act in many ways I think, however angry the poem. Poetry shouldn’t just be polemic or rant though, it has to be more nuanced than that I think. But in an age of Trump or ‘strong and stable’ or Twitter or 24hour news, the very act of slowing down, of going to a page with a pen, and saying what can I do with this ancient language that is new, how can I compress and distill, that feels like a protest against something, perhaps.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

MCMILLAN

I’m just finishing up a second collection of poetry which I’m excited about, so hopefully I’ll be able to talk more about that soon.

INTERVIEWER

Aristotle said that poetry was “finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular”. Do you believe in a universal language – or any sense of universal human thought?

MCMILLAN

I don’t think I do, really; I think there are brief moments of connection with another human being, but they’re very often transitory.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

MCMILLAN

I got drunk: We bought dog.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for writers?

MCMILLAN

  • Read
  • Read everything
  • Read stuff you hate
  • Read stuff you love
  • Read novels
  • Read poetry
  • go to art exhibitions, watch strange films, talk to strangers
  • put yourself out in the world in a way which allows things to happen to you
  • never get drunk and promise to buy your boyfriend a dog

 

You can keep an eye out for updates on Andrew’s projects and upcoming shows through his website, and purchase copies of his debut collection ‘Physical’ online