Performers plan big-hitting parliamentary lobby group

Nuala Calvi

Details have been unveiled for a new parliamentary pressure group that aims to raise the profile of performers issues at the highest levels of government and give a voice to artists who lack the lobbying power of people “like Bernie Ecclestone”.

The Performers’ Alliance Parliamentary Group will include MPs from across the political spectrum and be chaired by Ann Keen MP, parliamentary private secretary to Chancellor Gordon Brown and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Theatre Group (APPTG).

Unlike the APPTG, the new group is officially registered and will be run by Equity, the Musicians’ Union and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, giving unions more control over the kind of issues that MPs raise in parliament on their behalf. It is expected to be much more active than its predecessor, as well as having a wider brief, although the APPTG will continue to operate.

MU member and Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who will be one of the vice chairs, told The Stage: “There are many performers who do not earn vast sums of money and/or have the Prime Minister living in their house in Barbados. Frequently, they have low levels of earnings and hence do not have the same ability to persuade the government as people like Bernie Ecclestone. The Performers’ Alliance Parliamentary Group is being established to ensure that their voice is heard.”

Neil Gerrard, Labour MP and former board member of Theatre Royal Stratford East, has been recruited as secretary to the group, whose other vice chairs include Conservative MP Peter Luff, a strong campaigner on circus and licensing issues and also a co-chair of the APPTG, cross-bencher and former actor Lord Rix, and SNP MP Peter Wishart, a former keyboard player with Scottish band Runrig. One further vice chair is yet to be confirmed.

The group will have its first meeting next month, followed by an official launch in November.

All members of parliament and a select list of peers will be invited to join, with the aim of establishing a core membership of around 30-40 interested MPs who can be relied upon to sign Early Day Motions, put questions to the house and form part of delegations.

Equity’s research and parliamentary affairs officer Matt Payton said: “Some of these things we can do now, by phoning round a few people we know, but we don’t have any organised way of carrying that forward. The benefit of this group is that we’ll have a presence on the ground and people on hand for us to call on. We will provide them with the background and information they need but we will be setting the agenda and they will raise our issues at the highest level.”

Equity’s campaign for increased theatre funding in the upcoming comprehensive spending review will be one of the first things the group will focus on, while the MU is expected to raise the issue of the government’s failure to prioritise the status of artists in its policies on the creative industries.

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