© Claude Monet

UK Arts & Culture: A European legacy worth fighting for

Brexit: how to make Great Britain ‘Little England’ again
8 May 2017

After Theresa May’s triumph in the local elections and with the campaigning for the election now beginning to heat up – but at what tepid and feeble levels of debate – we see even more starkly the paradoxes inherent in our increasingly undemocratic and sclerotic political system.

First we had a referendum, clearly unnecessary, disastrously prepared and executed which resulted in a very narrow vote to leave the EU. By now it has been widely accepted as having become more about anger and a desire for disruption than any informed understanding or debate about the true long-term consequences of what Cameron and his advisers brought down upon us.

Next we have an inexperienced and unelected government led by a Remainer whose simplistic reiteration of the mantra "Brexit means Brexit" has not only further divided the population of the United Kingdom and stifled the debate that should have followed the referendum outcome, but has put at serious risk the 300 year union upon which the UK has been so successfully built.

Then our unelected Prime Minister sought to prevent Parliament from having a meaningful role in evaluating and managing this most dangerous challenge to our national welfare, prosperity and cultural cohesion – but only to allow the vote when she and her political analysts became convinced that her measures would not be critiqued or opposed.

Finally, once parliament’s feeble acquiescence was assured by the calamitous lack of effective opposition, the Prime Minister made the boldest of U turns and imposed on the nation a snap election so that by giving further ground now to the most intransigently blinkered of Brexiteers she hopes to be able to keep them quiet once she returns with an enlarged majority.

Are these the democratic processes for which the UK has long been admired around the globe?

We should remember that the wealth and power of the Great Britain that Brexiteers would so delusionally like to bring back was based substantially on wealth accumulated through slavery and the slave trade, exploitative colonialism, the cruel oppression of the poor and of children in the satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution, countless broken promises and a history of appalling leadership at many critical points of history including the lead into the two world wars and many other conflicts before and since in which we have been involved.

To me however, our UK has been at its greatest as a major partner in the European project which has brought previously unimagined levels of freedom and prosperity to hundreds of millions of people since the Second World War, as the successful creator of a citizenship and homeland of rich cultural diversity and mutual tolerance, a haven of peace and opportunity, and a society where the arts, sciences, education and every aspect of culture can thrive as it has so successfully done, over the last 40 years.

And how much greater our UK could have been if our leaders had wholeheartedly engaged with the challenges of leadership and reform from within the EU rather than using our power to carp, diminish, undermine and opt out.

Our poorer and most politically and economically neglected cities and regions can only thrive with the help of EU funds and clever initiatives – just think of the extraordinary success of the Eden project in irrationally "leaver" majority Cornwall. Who created the Eden project? A Dutch former jazz musician and music promoter.

In Cornwall again, creative and cultural development agency Creative Kernow benefits from European funds to support over 200 artists, communities and creative businesses across the region. Sage Gateshead, the internationally-acclaimed concert venue, was built over a decade ago thanks to a European contribution of £5.6 million. The Midlands received annually around £336,000 from EU funds for culture in recent years while, rather ironically, public spending on culture, heritage and the arts has been slashed by £24 million since 2010 across the region…

European Structural and Investment Funds, the EU’s main funding programmes for supporting growth and jobs across EU member states, have also been an important source of funding for the arts and cultural sector along with the European Regional Development Fund (£2.6 billion between 2014 and 2020) and the European Social Fund (£2.53 billion). The total benefits for the creative and cultural sectors from EU funding sources must be maintained, as well as our participation in Creative Europe, the Digital Single Market and the European Capital of Culture programme for which a UK city should be designated in 2023. At the very least because the UK’s creative industries are the fastest growing of the UK’s economy, contributing £87 billion in GVA and creating three times more jobs than the economy as a whole.

Our universities and schools, our orchestras and theatres, our designers and engineers, our scientists, our doctors, nurses and NHS staff, our media and IT innovators, our broadcasters, our fashion industry, our rock and pop musicians, our chefs and restaurateurs, the whole fabric of our wonderfully enriched and energised society is at risk.

Emmanuel Macron’s resounding victory over Marine Le Pen has been well described as the first sign of a return to politics of idealism and optimism – qualities so strikingly lacking in the mood in the UK in recent years. How irrelevant we will seem if a newly revitalised EU does bring in reforms just as the economic revival also kicks in.

Let us fight against the small minded and ignorant arrogance of those who dare to shout that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, when it is so blindingly obvious that the closer we continue our engagement with the EU, the better the deal will be for all of us – and for Europe too. But let us also avoid falling into the passivity and inertia of believing that because we, the Remainers, were in an arithmetic minority we have lost our powers to defend what is good for all of us. If we do not stand up for these principles and values, we will indeed become ‘Little England’ again.

Jasper Parrott
Executive Chairman, HarrisonParrott