Cultivating culture

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg claims the Liberal Democrats are serious about investing in the arts and sets out how his party plans to promote creativity in schools and support artistic endeavour across the board

One of the peculiarities of election campaigns, and this one is no exception, is that some issues are designated ‘political’ and some are not. The arts is one of those issues that doesn’t normally get on to the question lists of interviewers, and politicians are probably just as much to blame.

But the truth is that more people take part in cultural activity in this country than vote. Two thirds of the population have gone to a museum, gallery or archive in the last year, and, even if fewer people go to the theatre, it still has a huge impact on the economy.

In fact, the UK now has the largest creative economy in the world relative to GDP. The predictions suggest that the creative sector will employ 1.3 million people by 2013 – more than financial services.

Now is the moment to harness the potential in that burgeoning creative economy. Despite the banking collapse we still, as a nation, rely too heavily on casino banking in the City of London. Our economy, still, depends on a single square mile rather than on the 100,000 square miles in Britain.

But as we pick ourselves up out of the economic crisis we have an opportunity – let’s use our talents for making and creating things. I want to build a new economy, in which we no longer worship risk-taking and greed, but we value ideas and expression.

There is, of course, a lot of work to do. Despite all the glitz in the early days of Labour’s Cool Britannia, under this government creativity has all too often remained an afterthought for policy-makers, rather than a vital aspect of decision-making.

And the self-named “modern” Conservatives certainly emulate the Blair-esque ease with the art world. But there is a real danger that this is more the result of a capacity to be all things to all people, than because of any new commitment to practical support for our creative industries.

The Liberal Democrats are different. Liberals have, encrypted into our DNA, a belief that creativity is what moves society forward. Innovation and spontaneity have always been our weapons against old, established orders. Throughout history, arts and culture have been a way of bringing people together, but they have also always been the tools by which we subvert vested interests and break open concentrations of power. Creativity, put simply, is what makes change possible.

I want to live in a Britain where change is always possible. The work you do, the role you play, is as important to the Liberal Democrats as some of the issues we’re best known for, from our sole opposition to the illegal invasion of Iraq, to our unwavering defence of human rights and civil liberties, to the part we have played in getting climate change on the mainstream political agenda.

Because, in all of those areas, progress has only been possible when people have refused to be dictated to by established authorities and that irreverence is a spirit you keep alive. But, talk is cheap. Politicians must now spell out how they will support creativity.

Liberal Democrats will start in our schools. I’ve never made it a secret that I enjoy the theatre, and when I was younger I had the privilege of performing alongside others who have since gone on to lead very successful acting careers.

I, on the other hand, went into politics and have appeared three times in panto in Sheffield, acting was a great love of mine and I never would have caught the idea of drama unless I’d been encouraged to do so in school.

I want all children to have the opportunity to explore those sides of themselves. Liberal Democrats, by making cuts elsewhere in government, have identified an extra £2.5 billion for schools, which will allow teachers to cut class sizes and provide more one to one tuition.

Combined with our plans to scale back obsessive centralised targets and to rip hundreds of pages out of our prescriptive, restrictive curriculum, we will ensure that children have the freedom and attention to learn imaginatively and pursue their creative talents.

We will also make sure that vetting laws don’t discourage or prevent as many artists, dancers, actors and writers as possible from working in schools. And we’ll ensure all trainee primary school teachers spend time learning about sport and the arts so that they are more able to give pupils a well-rounded education.

After school, I want us to help young people, and older people, develop creative projects and businesses. So we’ll set up a Creative Enterprise Fund offering training, mentoring and small grants or loans.

We’ll also end the bureaucratic nightmares that hold performers back, like Labour’s live music licensing system, for example. It has become a complicated, time-consuming regime which has even caught schools, hospitals and colleges in its tentacles, and is stifling the kind of small-scale live music that is so important for the future.

So we’ll exempt small venues with capacities of less than 200 and go back to the rule where any venue can put on a performance of un-amplified music by one or two people without a licence. That is how we can foster new talent and new community venues. And Liberal Democrats recognise how extraordinarily competitive careers in performance and the arts can be, and how many of the people working in them are struggling.

So, by closing the loopholes enjoyed by the very wealthy, we will make sure that everyone else pays no tax on the first £10,000 they earn, getting, on average, £700 back. Practical help, an end to pointless restrictions and an elevation of creativity in school.

It sounds so obvious, but despite 13 years of a Labour government that seemed, once, to understand the importance of creativity, we are still waiting. Liberal Democrats will do things differently. We’ll stand up for performance and the arts, because it is creativity that makes anything possible. In this election, everything is possible. It’s time for something different, something better.

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