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General Election 2019: the party manifestos and the arts

by Chris Sharratt

Searching for references to the arts in a general election so dominated by Brexit really is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Of course funding of the arts and culture in Scotland is devolved, but decisions made in Westminster can ultimately have an impact across the UK.

With that in mind, the dearth of any big ideas about the role of arts and culture in society and its importance both socially and economically is disappointing if not unsurprising.

So, as the main parties’ manifestos continue to be published, what are they saying about arts and culture so far?


The Labour Party’s manifesto, going under the title ‘It’s Time For Real Change’, offers just over 200 words on what it describes as ‘Britain’s thriving arts, culture and creative industries’.

Its key culture pledges are:

• The creation of a £1 billion Cultural Capital Fund to ‘transform libraries, museums and galleries across the country’.
• The introduction of a £160 million Arts Pupil Premium in every primary school in England in order to ‘ensure creative and arts education’.
• A review of the copyright framework to ensure ‘fair remuneration for artists and content creators’.
• A Town of Culture competition to complement the current UK City of Culture competition.
• Continued free entry to museums ‘because everyone should have access to our shared heritage’.

Labour also says that it will work with trade unions and employers to encourage diversity in the creative sector, and that it wants ‘continued participation in EU agencies and funding programmes’, including in the ‘vital’ area of culture.
Read the full Labour Party manifesto

Liberal Democrats

‘Stop Brexit – Build a Brighter Future’ is the Liberal Democrats’ election manifesto pitch, and it argues that Brexit is a threat to the UK’s arts funding. Arts and culture in society is characterised in the manifesto as ‘essential for personal fulfilment and quality of life’ and part of what ‘turns a group of people into a community’.

Although concrete policy proposals relating to the arts are scant, it pledges to:

• Maintain free access to national museums and galleries.
• Protect National Lottery arts funding.
• Support growth in the creative industries by continuing to back the Creative Industries Council, a joint sector and UK government forum. It will also continue to support ‘tailored industry-specific tax support, promoting creative skills, supporting modern and flexible patent, copyright and licensing rules, and addressing the barriers to finance faced by small creative businesses’.
• Create creative enterprise zones to grow and regenerate the cultural output of areas across the UK.

Addressing the status of the arts within schools in England, it also pledges to ‘protect the availability of arts and creative subjects in the curriculum and act to remove barriers to pupils studying these subjects’. This would include abolishing the controversial English Baccalaureate performance measure in England.

Read the full Liberal Democrats manifesto


We know that the SNP wants to stop Brexit and is also calling for a second independence referendum in 2020 – both popular stances with many in the visual arts sector in Scotland. But what does its manifesto say about arts and culture?

The answer is not a great deal. It does, however, describe the creative industries as of ‘huge importance to Scotland socially, culturally and economically’. Additionally, ‘culture and creativity’ is listed as integral to ‘Scotland’s economic strength’, with the sector described as contributing ‘more than £7 billion to the Scottish economy each year and support more than 80,000 jobs’.

Specific pledges that are important to the arts include:

• Continued support of tax incentives for creative industries.
• Support for ‘more work to increase equality, inclusion and diversity’ in the creative sector.
• In the event of Brexit happening, a commitment to ‘argue for streamlined visa schemes for artists and performers’ in order that ‘Scotland’s culture sector and creative industries can continue to benefit from international partnerships and shared experiences’.
• To support tourism in Scotland by calling on the UK government to examine a reduction in VAT for the hospitality sector.
• To oppose Conservative plans to introduce a minimum salary threshold for immigration, which would prevent anyone earning less than £30,000 from being admitted to the UK.

Read the full SNP manifesto

Green Party

There’s no mention of either arts or culture in the contents section of the Green Party (of England and Wales) manifesto, titled ‘If Not Now, When?’. Read on, though, and a few references appear under different policy headings. These include pledges to:

• Increase central government funding to councils by £10 billion a year, with this enabling councils to both improve frontline services and also to ‘nurture arts and culture in their areas, keeping local museums, theatres, libraries and art galleries open and thriving’.
• Modernise and reform copyright and intellectual property rights legislation in order to protect those working in the creative economy from ‘commercial exploitation’.
• Enable children ‘to develop their creative potential’ by restoring ‘arts and music education in all state schools’ in England.
• Reduce VAT on museum and gallery tickets as part of a plan to ‘boost the leisure and cultural sectors’.

Read the full Green Party (of England and Wales) manifesto

Scottish Greens’ key focus is climate change which of course affects us all. Read the full Scottish Greens manifesto

Conservative Party

The Tories’ manifesto announces the party’s intention to ‘Get Brexit Done’ and ‘Unleash Britain’s Potential’. But as many political commentators have already stated following Sunday’s launch, there’s not a lot of detail or new ideas in the manifesto.

On arts and culture, the headlines are:

• A pledge to maintain free entry to the UK’s national museums and continue ‘creative sector tax reliefs’.
• A £250 million ‘cultural capital programme’ for local libraries and museums.
• An ‘arts premium’ to secondary schools in England in order that pupils can ‘learn creative skills and widen their horizons’.

The manifesto says a Tory government would ‘maintain support’ for the arts and culture sectors, and it also acknowledges ‘the world-beating strengths of the UK’s creative industries and its unparalleled cultural heritage’.

Other commitments include a pledge, in a section on the UK’s place in the world, to ‘work with our cultural institutions like the BBC and British Council to expand our influence and project our values’.

Read the full Conservative Party manifesto here

Brexit Party

Nothing on arts and culture at all…