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.

Reading data: people from US states that voted for Trump less likely to read or be involved in the arts

 

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43.1% of US adults read literature, according to the NEA’s Annual Arts Basic Survey and the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Find the interactive map of the data here

In the fallout of Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections, a multitude of commentators – from mainstream media analysts through to social media users – have been keen to analyse, deciphering the results and reaching conclusions as to what the precise cause of Trump’s victory actually was.

The Guardian commentator George Monbiot, for instance, has attributed Trump’s victory to the neoliberal consensus that has gripped with globalised world since the late 1970s. The Spectator’s Theo Hobson, meanwhile, has tasked liberal democracy with being too “flawed” to function, and in its failure paving the way for Trump to ascend to prominence.

While we dissect the different voter demographics for clues and reason – is it simply the case that rich white people won Trump his election victory, as exit polling data indicates? Or perhaps it is simply the case that America has a problem with the idea of a female president, as Patton Oswalt neatly opined in a single tweet that read: “What I’ve learned so far tonight: America is WAAAAAAAY more sexist than it is racist. And it’s pretty f******g racist.”

With so many potential theses being thrown around the digital and traditional media spheres, we thought we’d throw our own into the mix. Given that we are a collective of creatives, bound by a single motto (“there’s nothing in the rulebook that says a giraffe can’t play football”) and focused on supporting artists and artistic endeavours of all kinds, you may not be surprised to hear that we believe the election of Donald Trump was due, in part, to a lack of literature – to a lack of inspiration, imagination, and art in general.

We might also argue that there are too few giraffes playing football in this day and age; although unfortunately the datasets we have on even-toed ungulate mammals playing sports of any kind is, at best, inconclusive.

Fortunately, we aren’t just postulating when it comes to the correlation between reading and art (or lack thereof) and Donald Trump’s election victory.

While Trump himself has said he doesn’t read books, it may not be the greatest surprise that areas in the USA that provided him with the greatest levels of support are also those in which the lowest number of people read books (either regularly or at all) or are inclined to get involved with creative or artistic projects.

Indeed, data pulled from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) show that in places like Mississippi, where Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton by almost 220,000 votes (almost 60%), only 21.7% of people from the state read literature, and only 38.5% of people personally created or performed art.

By contrast, those states with the highest rates of reading and artistic engagement were also the ones that polled most strongly for Clinton. Colorado, New Mexico, New York, California, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire and Maine all scored at least 48% or above for literature reading levels, with the majority of these scoring closer to 60%. Indeed, some of the only outliers to this trend at New Jersey (voted Clinton), which had a 40.7% rate for literature and 44% artwork participation, and Pennsylvania (voted Trump), which had a 47.7% literature reading score, and 48.3% rate of art participation. Interestingly, Pennsylvania was among the closest run races of the election night, with Trump winning by a marginal 48.76% to Clinton’s 47.68%.

Fans of the Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders – who ran Clinton extremely close for the Democratic nomination earlier in the year – will be pleased to know that Vermont (Sanders’s home state) had the highest rate of literature readers – at 62.8% – and an impressive 64% of Vermont residence said they regularly created or performed their own works of art.

Of course, correlation can never be seen as causation, yet we would still make the case that a greater inclination towards creativity and art – as well as a passion for reading – are more likely to move people to vote in favour of progressive change, and intellectualism, as opposed to supporting a demagogue who has faced constant charges of racism and misogyny, and who has boasted about his inclination towards sexually assaulting women.

This may well be because books so often contain within them the power to express important ideas in an engaging, thoughtful way – and can teach us truths about the world we may not otherwise see. Some scientific studies even indicate that reading literature is highly correlated with other kinds of behaviours, such as civic engagement and volunteering.

Indeed, as we’ve posted in previous articles, literature turns us into citizens of the world; makes us smarter; and encourages us to be kinder. And famous artists, scientists, politicians and astronauts have also told us of the importance of books, reading and literature. Neil Armstrong, for instance, said simply “the knowledge you gain from books is fundamental to all human achievement and progress.”

Likewise, a passion for art and creating new creative works speaks to an inclination towards the imagination: which, in order to flourish, grows from the idea that anything is possible – and that idealistic, wonderful things are within our grasp if only we choose to reach for them. Such an ethos seems to stand in stark contrast to the world of Donald Trump – a man who dismisses the science of climate change, who refutes the idea that it is better for human beings to co-operate with one another than oppose each other, and whose complete inability for nuanced thought means he thinks a potential solution to the trends of globalisation we have experienced in recent decades is to build a wall between the USA and Mexico.

Unfortunately, recent years have also seen an increase in the number of libraries closing across the USA – and with them a declining availability and accessibility of literature for many citizens. Simultaneously, cuts to public schooling and education – and increasing costs of higher education – mean that opportunities for young people to access art and literature are further diminished. Since our formative years are just that – formative – such disinvestment in education seriously threatens to undermine the power of literature and art to influence people, and encourage them to think in ways that create new possibilities.

Because, of course, Donald Trump – for all his talk of change – in many ways does not represent anything of the sort. He is not a man of new possibilities; but instead epitomises the private, corporate power that many of his supporters claim to have railed against, and which is in itself one of the core tenants of the neoliberal consensus that has been with us for so many years.

Literature and art, on the other hand, represent just this: the potential to create and imagine new worlds, new beginnings and possibilities; real change, in other words. To that end, the author Ursula K Le Guin has called on writers to imagine alternatives to the capitalist system.

Whether or not literature has the power to spark a revolution remains to be seen. What we do know is that human beings have within them the power to do incredible things – even those that were previously thought to be impossible. And we also know is that reading itself is associated with empathy and kindness and truth – not one of which Donald Trump stands for. This, if nothing else, should be cause to triumph the power of reading literature and creating works of art.

Encouraging people to consume more literature is therefore critical. As we try to digest and process Trump’s victory (you can listen to our conversation on this topic on the Extra Secret Podcast here), perhaps the first form of protest we can all participate in is one of the simplest: going to our local library, checking out a good book and then looking to get involved with a local or digital creative arts project.

If you’re stuck for ideas on which books to check out of your library, why not kick off with one or two of the titles on our list of essential reading for the Donald Trump Apocalypse? And if you’re looking to get involved with a creative art project, remember that we here at Nothing in the Rulebook would love to hear from you and feature your work – so do get in touch!

Until that end, comrades, do not despair; just keep reading, and keep your minds open to all the possibilities in the world.

 

Thoughts of a stand-up comedian: Next year is my year

 

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Competition season is upon us. I’ve already crashed out of two large competitions for new acts, Laughing Horse New Act of the Year and Leicester Square Theatre New Act of the Year. They’re a frustrating experience and I hate them. There’s nothing quite like the imposition of competition to make an activity which I love doing, stand-up, stressful and unpleasant.

I’m not saying this, of course, just because I failed to progress in two of the biggest competitions; but it is a factor. Laughing Horse wasn’t fun, partially because I was so very bad in it. My poor performance can, in part, be explained by a lethargic audience, tired after sitting through fifteen other acts (I was on last), including one who did a good fifteen minutes on stage instead of his allotted four. But I was also lacking in my usual energy, my presence was stilted and I visibly lost faith and interest when my first joke didn’t provoke huge laughter.

Leicester Square Theatre was frustrating for the opposite reason. I was really good and didn’t progress. I was on second and got big laughs from a large crowd. I came off stage delighted, certain that if I wasn’t placing first on the night I’d be given a wild card through to the next round. Three days of nervously checking my emails followed, before all the quarter finals were set in stone without me in them.

I don’t mean this blog to come across as the ravings of a bitter man, although it is by definition. The three acts who progressed through my heat, James Bennison, Red Richardson and Joe Jacobs, are all excellent. I wouldn’t place myself above them in a competition. There is, though, a definite annoyance at being really rather good, being told so by my peers, and then getting nothing from it. I’m insecure and ambitious and these slight failures make me ask questions that I probably needn’t. Are there inherent problems in my act? Am I actually good enough to make it as a comedian? Am I deluded?

All the comedians I’ve talked to about this, and I’ve talked to a good number because I am very insecure, have said similar things. Firstly, competitions don’t matter. They’re an accelerator, helping you get to paid gigs faster, sure, but if you’re actually any good, the recognition that a trophy brings you will come along in time anyway. Secondly, they’re essentially random. Good comedians won’t get through and rubbish ones will. It all depends on the audience, where you’re placed in the running order and a myriad of other factors. You shouldn’t worry so much, you’ll get lucky in time.

I think these are half true. Sure, a good comedian will eventually find success anyway, but I’d rather find it sooner than later. Besides, you get a thousand pounds for winning a big new act competition. I’d quite like a thousand pounds. Secondly, there is a certain element of unfair randomness but generally speaking the people who win competitions are good. There’s always a way I could have been better, without compromising my act, to wow an audience. It’s easy to blame fate, to blame the very nature of the universe. It’s harder to accept the inevitable unfairness and try to do the best with it you can.

So what now? I’m at the point, after six months and a hundred gigs, where I can comfortably do fifteen minutes in front of a packed Saturday night crowd. I’d like to move onto more paid work but there’s no real urgency yet. The mantra, repeated to friends and myself, has become “next year is my year”. I feel I’m growing as a performer all the time, I’m getting significantly better at dealing with troublesome crowds. I’ve got a healthy amount of material. I’m developing an identity. Most importantly though, I’m consistently funny. I’ve actually been paid real money. Twenty whole pounds of it.

“I tried out a joke about Jeremy Corbyn and homoeopathy the other day, and nobody in the audience either knew what Jeremy Corybn or homoeopathy were.”

Aside from the vague objective of ‘improving’ my goal is to have a half hour I’m happy with for the Edinburgh festival next year. With underlying themes and everything. I’m gradually managing to put together something that feels fairly consistent; but it’s difficult finding the time and space to try it out all at once. Most spots I do these days are ten minutes long, and I’m proud that I’ve migrated onto these longer sets from doing just five minutes so quickly, but it’s still barely enough time to lay down anything with a longer, more considered narrative.

I can find spots which are fifteen to twenty minutes long at the club where I’m now a regular: Cafe Mode. However, the audience found there, drunk party goers, aren’t the kind of people who are going to appreciate twenty minutes of satire. I tried out a joke there about Jeremy Corbyn and homoeopathy the other day, and nobody in the audience either knew what Jeremy Corybn or homoeopathy were.

The material will come together in bits then. Grown by a series of amendments to my existing cannon, trying out little new jokes that can be added to what I already have. The occasional longer two to three minute bit. I’m hoping to gain the confidence to perform new material for longer stretches, at the moment I give up at the slightest sign of trouble. Too cowardly to accept anything but instant love from an audience. A brave comic allows themselves to die. I’ve got to learn to commit suicide and come out unscathed. It’s not as dramatic as that really though, it’s just comedy.

About the author of this post

Daniel Offen is an aspiring comedian and writer. He has written four jokes and half a book. He assures us he is capable of all of the usual thoughts and emotions of an unusual twenty four year old man and will talk about them at length. He deals primarily in irony and whimsy. He tweets as @danieloffen.

 

Jeremy Corbyn passionately backs the arts and creative industries

Man of the moment Jeremy Corbyn has written a passionate article in The State of the Arts, arguing what we here at Nothing In The Rulebook have always known: that there is creativity in all of us and, as such, government should be supporting the arts with funding – rather than slashing art council budgets left right and centre.

In an attack on the increasing inequality of opportunities within the arts and creative industries, the Labour Leadership frontrunner argued that “every child deserves the chance to learn a musical instrument, act on stage, and develop their creative imagination.” He also pointed out that “the arts and creative industries are the backbone of much of our cultural heritage” and, as such, would be protected and defended under a Corbyn-led opposition Labour party (and, of course, under any future Corbyn-led government).

“It is my firm belief that the role of government must be to work alongside arts communities and entrepreneurs in widening access to the arts, and for this broader engagement to stimulate creative expression, as well as support us in achieving our social objectives,” Mister Corbyn wrote.

Corbyn argued that the Government was using the guise of a misguided – and economically illiterate – austerity programme to make savage, ideologically driven cuts to the UK artistic industries – and was following on from the moves of Thatcher in the 1980s, which, Mister Corbyn noted, “sought to disempower the arts community, [in an attempt] to silence the provocative in favour of the populist.”

In a rousing call to arms, Corbyn wrote: “Beyond the obvious economic and social benefits of the arts is the significant contribution to our communities, education, and democratic process they make. Studies have demonstrated the beneficial impact of drama studied at schools on the capacity of teenagers to communicate, learn, and to tolerate each other, as well as on the likelihood that they will vote. The greater involvement of young people in the political process is something to be encouraged and celebrated.”

“Further, the contribution and critique of our society and democracy which [the arts have] the capacity to offer must be protected. To quote David Lan, “dissent is necessary to democracy, and democratic governments should have an interest in preserving sites in which that dissent can be expressed,” The Labour Leadership frontrunner said.

Analysis

“While it is as yet unclear what Jeremy Corbyn would personally make of Nothing In The Rulebook, both myself and my esteemed accomplice, Billy the Echidna, believe he would be firmly in favour of our project, and would like to take this opportunity to invite him to contribute to our site any time – alternatively, he can always pop by and say hello at our residences at London Zoo or the Natural History Museum,” Professor Wu says.

“Jeremy Corbyn has worked with and for the arts sector throughout his time in parliament, and his most recent article demonstrates why he is winning the hearts and minds of people throughout the country, and across the political spectrum,” Professor Wu adds. “For too long, funding of the creative industries have been slashed, and creative individuals from poorer or less fortunate backgrounds have been denied the opportunities to express themselves that they deserve. We can’t all be Benedict Cumberbatch, you know.”

Billy the Echidna agrees: “The devastating £82 million in cuts to the arts council budget over the last five years is repealing creativity and increasing callous commercialism, as priceless community programmes, art galleries, operas and other artistic and creative organisations are targeted by a neoliberal ideology that places value on currency, rather than human beings.”

“It is heartening to see the levels of support Mister Corbyn is currently experiencing, as the government needs MPs like him who are able to offer an alternative programme for the arts – which supports their ability to enrich the cultural lives of hundreds of thousands of people, while also promoting a feeling of community ownership and spirit, from which we all benefit,” Billy adds.

Both Billy and Professor Wu noted that the Government cuts to arts funding seemed driven by a vehement, ideological drive to attack the artistic industries, which appear to frighten conservative minds, due to their propensity to foster original thought and promote ideals at odds with neoliberal ideology.

“Faced with the challenges ahead, we both firmly support Mister Corbyn,” they said. “To use a popular social media hashtag, let’s just say, in Jez we can!”