Mike Quille outlines what should go into a democratic, socialist Labour manifesto for the next election
We desire to assure to our people full access to the great heritage of culture in this nation.
Those words are from the Labour Party Manifesto of 1945 (see above). What does culture mean to us now, and what should the next Labour Manifesto say about it?
Culture matters to everyone. We all develop and flourish as social, human beings through engaging in cultural activities. We play sport, watch television and films, go to pubs and restaurants, listen to music, meet together for religious or spiritual purposes, and communicate using social media.
We get all kinds of exercise, entertainment, and enlightenment from cultural activities. They make life meaningful and enjoyable, and are essential for us to live the ‘full, happy, healthy lives’ that the 1945 Manifesto promised.
But corporate capitalism, with its restless search for private profit, stops us accessing and enjoying culture fully. Just as private ownership and control of the means of production prevents the enjoyment of the full fruits of our labour, so private ownership and control of the means of cultural satisfaction prevents the full and equal enjoyment of culture by everyone.
'Culture is BAE Systems Britain', appropriated Government overseas advertising image, Stephen Pritchard, 2018.
That’s why the Labour Party needs to present radical and comprehensive culture policies in its next Manifesto. It needs to commit to cultural democracy – to democratic management and social ownership of all the cultural activities that working people need.
Massive problems currently flow from the unequal and undemocratic ownership and control of culture.
In sport, owners and management bodies are failing to make sport accessible and affordable for everyone, through sky-high ticket prices, undemocratic regulatory authorities, and subsidies for elite sport at the expense of school sports and grassroots sports. Commercialisation of most major sports causes regular scandals involving drug-taking, cheating and corruption.
In the media, private ownership of large swathes of the means of human communication by gigantic corporations like Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook prevent us enjoying human communication without being watched, manipulated and influenced by commercial, capitalist interests.
Our daily activities of eating and drinking are also cultural activities. We eat and drink in company, with family and friends, for pleasure and to express and enhance our common and social natures. Yet corporations produce and sell us food and drink loaded with too much sugar, salt and fat, and unhealthy amounts of alcohol. Their profits depend on obesity and drunkenness.
In the arts, there are long-standing problems of inaccessibility, irrelevance and inequality, which ACE is spectacularly failing to solve. Imagine the outcry if there were far more hospitals per person in the London area than elsewhere, or far more schools for the better off than for the poor, everywhere. Yet money from taxes and Lottery tickets funds massively unequal cultural provision for residents and tourists in the London area, and for the better off everywhere.
It’s harder to become an arts practitioner – actor, writer or musician – or to get your work published, performed or filmed, if you’re from a working class background. There are no legal barriers to class-based discrimination in the arts – or any other cultural activity, for that matter.
Finally, the Tories’ failed policies of economic austerity have also led to libraries, museums and other cheap or free cultural facilities being cut back across the country.
So what should the next Labour Manifesto commit to? What would be the modern equivalent of its 1945 Manifesto?
Firstly, it should cover all the cultural activities which matter to working people, not just the arts. An inclusive approach to culture is essential if we want to transform the world for the benefit of the many, not the few.
Secondly, it should enable social ownership and democratic control of all the institutions and agencies which fund, manage and deliver cultural activities.
Detailed commitments in the Manifesto should include:
– Dismantling the barriers of class, cost and geography that stop working people from accessing culture, as consumers and as practitioners
– Embedding cultural education (both appreciation and practice) into the national curriculum
– Reclaiming the media (newspapers, online platforms, TV and radio) by reforming its funding, ownership and control, and providing space for working class voices and community-based providers.
– Shifting public spending on the arts and sport towards more support for grassroots participation, more support for working class communities, and more support outside London
– Increasing the representation of the working class in all cultural institutions (especially the arts, sports, religion, and the media) in terms of content, audiences and practitioners
– Regulating, taxing, and democratising relevant cultural institutions, including food and drink corporations, media and broadcasting corporations, arts facilities, sports clubs etc.
– Applying more democratic and accountable social ownership models to cultural institutions including ownership by the state, local authorities, and local community co-operatives
Cultural democracy was promised in 1945, and is long overdue. Now is the time for the Labour Party to present a democratic and socialist culture policy in the next Manifesto – because culture matters to the many, not the few.
Mike Quille is a writer, reviewer and chief editor of Culture Matters.