Get Off The Floor

by Neil Nisbet

The arts world has been in a bit of panic over the last few days since it became clear that the Conservative Party had, apparently, won the general election in the UK and, in short order, the arts would be doomed.

First of all let’s clear something up. The Conservatives didn’t win anything. In order to form a government in a UK parliamentary election you need a majority, not just any old majority but 326 MPs (Member of Parliament). The Conservatives got 306, it’s a majority but close enough doesn’t count, no 326 MPs, no government for you.

To form the government they had to make a deal with the Liberal Democrats and their 57 MPs. If the Conservatives want to get anything done then they need those 57 MPs to vote with them. The rule of politics is simple, you can’t govern if you don’t win and that goes for everything, not just elections.

Votes are needed to pass everything from creating new laws and reforming old laws to passing budgets. If you don’t have the votes then you’re not getting anything.

If the Conservatives start getting too right wing radical for their new Liberal bedfellows then combing their 57 MPs with the 258 from the ousted Labour Party’s voting bloc is enough to put the brakes on.

There are 28 votes to be had from the “other” category than includes The Green Party and the Scottish National Party, amongst others, but the Conservatives would have to bring at least 19 of them over to their side of the fence. Not at all likely considering the ideological differences at play.

Of course should the Liberal Democrats be so suitably horrified with a Conservative proposal that they, en masse, turn against their new best friends then the coalition would be effectively over and we would all be in for some seriously fun times in the world of political theatre.


Many news commentators have pointed out that a coalition of the right wing Conservatives and the left wing Liberal Democrats is on the same level as George W. Bush being Vice President to Barack Obama. It really is just a bit mad.

As far as arts policy goes however the two parties are in agreement. Being unreservedly vague is the best policy!

The Liberal Democrats say this much;

“Liberal Democrats have a proud tradition of championing the arts, culture and heritage. Liberal Democrats recognise the enormous contribution that arts, heritage and culture make to the lives of citizens. We believe that culture should be valued for its own sake as well as for the undoubted benefits to other areas, such as the economy, health, crime prevention and education.”

With the Conservatives saying;

“Culture, media and sport are all vital for our quality of life, as well as being huge generators of wealth and prosperity for our economy: tourism is the UK’s fifth biggest industry and the creative industries account for 7.3 per cent of GDP.”

Two things we know for sure are the Conservatives want to cut £66Million from the budget of the Department for Culture Media and Sport (which provides Arts Council England with its funding) and they want to shore up arts funding from the National Lottery.

When it was first created, the UK’s National Lottery did just that, provided money to the arts (which it still does although to a lesser extent). There’s nothing really new in the proposal then. The crucial factor is how Central Government funding will be balanced with Lottery funding. Will the numbers go up, or will they go down?

The Liberal Democrats are apposed to this idea. Their manifesto states that; “We would also change the way the Lottery is taxed to generate more money for good causes.”

If you work in the arts then, realistically, it shouldn’t matter where the money comes from as long as it comes and is sustainable in the long term.

There’s nothing to suggest that the National Lottery is more or less dependable than the whims of Central Government and the vagaries of the global economy, the reasons for which we’re facing cuts to begin with.

Pressure Points

Should the worst come true with massive cuts in central funding to ACE and arts programmes across the country then the new coalition government does at least make it easier for activists to put pressure on the politicians.

There are 57 particular pressure points we can think of, here in TheLabâ„¢

No matter your personal political ideology the Liberal Democrats are, whether you like it or not, in a very strong position to veto almost anything the Conservatives want to do, they just need to summon up the courage to do it if things start getting really bad. They are, effectively, an opposition within the Government itself.

Via their website the Liberal Democrats provide a handy list of who their MP’s are and how you can get in touch with them and start lobbying when things get tough. DanceUK’s “Dance Vote” project was a bit weak willed, now they have some real targets to focus on.

Let’s also not forget that elections are happening all the time (thanks to people being corrupt or dying, etc). Finding Conservatives who won their seats by slim majorities is very easy thanks to the BBC’s Election 2010 website.

Eric Ollerenshaw, a Conservative MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, won his seat by just 333 votes. That’s a big incentive for him to not act like a right wing jackass for the next 5 years.

He, along with many others, should be a prime pick for activists to lobby in terms of specific policy votes because you only need to get a few hundred people in his constituency to vote against him to put him out of a job and chip away at the Conservatives shaky “majority”.

The more people that remind him of this, the more insecure he will become.

If you think that sounds too much like hard work then consider this. The Conservative party picked up 10.7 million votes from the 29.6 million people who voted. That means the vast majority of people who voted wanted another party to be in power.

Sadly, arithmetic and democracy are not always on the same page but there is a loud opposition voice, we just have to needle it a little to wake it up.

Get Off The Floor

For the moment we would advise the wacky world of the arts to stop freaking out, threatening to leave the country and to generally stop laying down on the ground and crying like little children begging the big bad government not to hurt them.

Get up because there’s a fight to be had and nobody says you have to fight fair, it might even be fun!

[ Photo by Coldspire ]
[ Liberal Democrat MP List ]
[ Election Results from the BBC ]