Cultural Policy Under New Labour

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Institute of Communication Studies


This research examines cultural policy during the three Labour administrations of 1997 to 2010.

The CONTEXT of the research is as follows. Cultural policy has always been informed by a mixture of economic, social and cultural goals. But many commentators have argued that a great deal of public policy since the 1980s has been increasingly directed by economic rationales such as national competiveness, efficiency and wealth generation rather than by social goals such as participation, equality and diversity. In this context, some analysts have noted that cultural policy has increasingly been oriented by economic and social goals. Given that cultural policy is obviously oriented towards cultural goals, such as providing access to means of expression and to aesthetic objects and artefacts, this raises the possibility that such traditional goals of cultural policy might be in tension with economic goals. The research investigates the nature of such potential contradictions during the New Labour era, and how potential conflicts were negotiated and understood. We focus on three particular areas or sub-sectors of cultural policy in order to address these issues and to make comparisons: creative industries policy, copyright policy and arts policy.

The AIMS AND OBJECTIVES of the research are as follows:

Firstly, we aim to provide an explanatory account of cultural policy under the Labour government of 1997 to 2010, emphasising relationships between economic, social and cultural rationales
One major way in which we seek to provide such an explanatory account is by identifying the key people involved, and conceptualising the factors constraining and enabling their actions. We also seek to identify the key relations between the major players - for example, what kinds of social links and ties there might be, in the form of shared university and employment backgrounds, allegiance to particular political causes and groups, etc.
A third objective follows: to investigate the potential fruitfulness of applying public policy analysis developed in other areas such as health and welfare to the analysis of cultural policy
Fourthly, we aim to make comparisons across the major elements (sub-sectors) of cultural policy identified above (i.e., creative industries, copyright and arts policy) during this period. This means exploring how the key people in different sectors might pursue different mixes of economic, social and cultural goals. Some areas of policy may for example be more economically or socially oriented than others (copyright, for example, is integral to economic development, and this may mean that policy-makers emphasise economic goals at the expense of cultural ones).
Finally, we aim to analyse the techniques and strategies (such as law-making, regulation and subsidy) that states and political parties use to pursue their goals in the realm of cultural policy.

We envisage the following POTENTIAL APPLICATIONS AND BENEFITS. In an era of deep public spending cuts, with the arts and cultural sectors particularly vulnerable, there is widespread concern that the basis on which such decisions are made, or the implications for other government departments and public policy priorities, are not fully understood. This research will provide better understanding, for researchers, policy-makers and members of the public, of the links between cultural policy and other policy considerations, as well as an improved understanding of the non-state actors included in cultural policy making, at a time when this area is subject to unprecedented scrutiny.

Planned Impact

The climate in the UK, as in other European economies, is one of huge proposed spending public spending cuts, with the arts and cultural sectors looking particularly vulnerable. A number of cultural sector public bodies, such as the Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Agency are already scheduled for closure. While debate about the merits or otherwise of individual decisions is not our remit here, there is widespread concern that the basis on which such decisions are made, or the implications for other government departments and public policy priorities, are not fully understood. This research will provide better understanding of the links between cultural policy and other policy considerations, as well as an improved understanding of the non-state actors included in cultural policy making, at a time when it is subject to unprecedented scrutiny.
Beyond the current financial crisis, the role of culture, media and design as (unevenly) growing elements of the world economy suggest that increasing numbers of state and non-state actors will seek to become involved in what has hitherto been regarded as largely a matter of national policy.
We thus envisage a range of beneficiaries and audiences, including, but not limited to, those with an explicitly cultural or academic remit. These include the primary policymaking departments such as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; Department for Business, Innovation and Skills & HM Treasury (both arts and creative industries as have, at times, also been the object of attention from the Department for Education and the Department of Communities and Local Government); non-Departmental Public Bodies such as Arts Council England, British Council, Technology Strategy Board, NESTA, BFI, Ofcom; regional and local policymakers with an interest in cultural/creative policy development e.g. Creative Scotland, Mayor's Office for London, Creative Business Wales. Local Enterprise Partnerships are currently being established on a city-region basis and, out of 56 LEPs, some 22 have the creative industries designated as a local priority sector.
There is also the potential for benefit in industry bodies such as the BRMI (British Recorded Music Industry) National Museum Directors Conference, Society of West End Theatres, as well as trades unions in the cultural industries including BECTU, Musicians Union, Equity and the National Union of Journalists, and think Tanks and research institutes that concern themselves with cultural policy such as, Demos, IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research), Policy Exchange, as well as specialist consultancies (eg. Burns Owens Partnership, Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy) and activist networks (eg. European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, Featured Artists Coalition). Finally, there are international bodies with a cultural industry remit including the European Commission, UNESCO, UNCTAD, the Council of Europe.
The outlined impact activities will be directed by all members of the research team. In terms of producing material for non-specialist audience, Dr Oakley & Dr Lee have considerable experience and media contacts developed through previous employment in the policy and consultancy environment. They have both been extensively involved in government-commissioned work and in providing policy advice to government and to NDPBs. Dr Oakley is currently a member of the Mayor of London's Cultural Observatory Steering Group and the New Era Economics Panel at IPPR, which is considering 'post-crash,' economic development, including the role of the cultural and creative industries.
The focus is on the development of cultural policy in the UK, but many of the issues examined including the regulation of intellectual property, the growth of the creative and media sectors, and public funding of cultural and artistic activities, have global impl


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Hesmondhalgh D (2014) Were New Labour's cultural policies neo-liberal? in International Journal of Cultural Policy

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Hesmondhalgh D (2015) Culture, Economy and Politics

Description The research provides an explanation and an evaluation of cultural policies under the New Labour government of 1997 to 2010. It shows how those involved in cultural policy during this period strove to redeem it from the marginal position it has traditionally occupied in public policy by emphasising its contribution to economic and to some extent social goals. We trace debates about the positive and negative effects of such instrumentalism, and also discuss the way in which increased funding and subsidy during the period was accompanied by an increasing use of public management tools, which were often experienced within the sector as limiting and even oppressive.
Exploitation Route We hope that our findings might help public understanding of how cultural policies are formed, and why well-intentioned efforts in the realm of the arts and culture sometimes founder.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description In May 2016, the book was read by the then Labour Shadow Minister for Culture, Thangam Debbonaire MP, and the lead author met with Debbonaire to discuss findings at the House of Commons in June 2016. Debbonaire said that the book had influenced her thinking. Debbonaire stood down as Shadow Minister for Culture, but follow-up discussions are now planned with her successor.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic