Media Measurement Creativity Marketing

Will Labour’s gravy train get the UK back to Cool Britannia?


By Gordon Young, Editor-in-Chief

April 25, 2024 | 5 min read

With Labour likely to win the general election, the UK’s world-famous creative industries are praying for a restoration of funding. The Drum’s Gordon Young believes they’d have more luck cozying up to our marketing giants instead.

Thomas Heatherwick talking at Creative Futures

Thomas Heatherwick talking at Creative Futures

One night recently, I got to the party like it was 1999. I was at Heatherwick Studios, at an event reminiscent of the dos I attended in the heyday of New Labour.

The great and good mingled over cocktails and canapes to hear about a new creative manifesto - which was being launched in the run-up to the next UK general election. The manifesto - Our Creative Future - implores whichever party wins the UK election to put more emphasis on the creative industries; which include film, TV, arts, gaming and building design.

The document - and an open letter to which the industry is invited to put its name - was coordinated by a new collective, The Land of Hope and Story, under the auspices of Creative UK, the not-for-profit which was born out of Creative England.

Designer Thomas Heatherwick made a rousing speech reminding the people there that creatives are well placed to solve some of the biggest challenges we face, such as the UK’s housing crisis (we need 5m new homes).

The speakers were at pains to point out that this was a politically neutral movement - but I suspect any Brexit-supporting Tory in the audience would have thought twice about bringing their true selves to this event.

One speaker, the actor Adrian Lester was less subtle, decrying the almost ‘purposeful’ decimation of creative infrastructure by the current government and pointing out that being British now prompted sympathy from people he met when travelling abroad.

The bottom line, the basic assumption in the room, is that Labour is poised to win the next general election and will be more likely to start investing additional public money in their sectors… more subsidies for the arts and more grants for bodies such as Creative UK.

The gravy train is about to leave the platform.

It is hard not to disagree with the aims of the manifesto. A greater emphasis on creativity, for example, in education is to be welcomed.

But the gathering gave me a sense of de ja vue. Back in the 90s and early Noughties, when public money was flowing into the sector, I munched many a mini-quiche as I made my way through the Cool Britannia era.

However, the odd thing was, despite claiming to be for the creative industry, hardly any of the people at the receptions I went to were part of The Drum’s world. They were film producers, artists, drama companies, government officials and leaders of cultural bodies who spoke endlessly about grants and subsidies.

My fellow guests didn’t know what to make of me, as very often I was the sole representative of creative marketing, which I argued was a real ‘industry’ in that it was not dependent on public money. Of course, it not only powers much of popular culture but indirectly pays for the production of much of the work the TV industry, for example, is so proud of.

At this Creative Future event, I again felt that same tinge of resentment. Big ad agencies, brands and media seemed under-represented, unconsciously perhaps shown a cold shoulder, deemed a bit too commercial, a bit too grubby for this luvvy love in?

To avoid the mistakes of the past this is an impression Creative UK should correct. It needs to positively engage the marketing industry and, more importantly, its clients. I suspect, that even a Labour government may, for example, rather talk about funding more troops for the army as opposed to dance troupes.

Therefore to be sustainable - and to deliver on their manifesto - they should aim to develop a commercially powered virtual cycle, encouraging brands to invest in the creative sector as a way of building their businesses, enriching culture and generating jobs in the process.

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