As Labour sets out culture strategy, music figures bid to become MPs in a Keir Starmer government

As Labour sets out culture strategy, music figures bid to become MPs in a Keir Starmer government

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to open up the arts to young people from a wider background.

Starmer’s speech at the Labour Creatives Conference yesterday (March 14) at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama outlined how the party would prevent the sector being dominated by the privately educated. 

Sir Keir said that Labour would make sure investment in culture was “at the core” if he was Prime Minister. 

Beverley Knight is among figures from music and the arts to back the ambition for all children to have access to creative subjects they enjoy.

The Labour leader recalled his appreciation of Orange Juice and The Wedding Present as a student, although he now appears to prefer listening to Beethoven and Brahms with the Sunday papers.

“What we make and produce is known and loved in every corner of the globe,” said Sir Keir, who also acknowledged that the UK is one of only three net exporters of music

The UK creative sector is worth £125 billion (“and growing fast,” said Sir Keir) and employs 2.4 million people.

Labour’s policy in the arts will be led by Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debbonaire, who trained as a cellist at the Royal College Of Music and performed professionally. 

Labour has already pledged to tackle ticket touts exploiting the secondary market, so it is clearly readying policies for the sector.

The party could end up with some experts from the world of music if the candidates are successful in the general election.

For the music industry, the most high-profile figure pushing to become an MP is Ivors Academy chair Tom Gray, also a member of Gomez. Gray previously led the #BrokenRecord campaign on streaming. He has previously called for a national strategy for music.

Gray has been selected by Labour in the Brighton Pavilion constituency. It is currently held by the country’s sole Green MP Caroline Lucas, who likely had a huge personal vote but is standing down at the election. Former Green leader Sian Berry will contest the seat.

“I hope people realise I am a force to be reckoned with and I will not be another MP on the back benches,” Gray told the Brighton Argus. 

Gray also referenced his music campaigning as a positive benefit. 

“The creative economy has been outpacing the rest of our industries in this country in terms of growth for a long time,’” he said. “The UK is already a cultural superpower but the Conservatives don’t know how to lean into it.

“I can’t wait to have a government that is excited about putting music back in schools, about what British film is and giving our musicians visas to travel.”

The Ivors Academy said Gray will remain committed to his elected role as chair in the run-up to the election. Previous chair Crispin Hunt stood unsuccessfully for Change UK in 2019 in the European elections.

"We are delighted that Tom is running to become an MP as it provides brilliant new opportunities to champion songwriters, composers and our sector at Parliament,” said the Ivors Academy in a statement. “Collectively, we have made good progress promoting the value of creativity and the creative industries with government, and how they can support our sector and protect music creators' rights. But with our sector facing threats, such as from AI and the potential undermining of copyright law, we need more influential advocates than ever." 

I hope people realise I am a force to be reckoned with

Tom Gray

In recent years, another trade body, UK Music, has been a revolving door for political figures. Former Labour MP Michael Dugher joined as chief exec and left to be replaced by Conservative special advisor Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, who recently quit to work with PM Rishi Sunak

UK Music also brought in former MP and Labour deputy leader Tom Watson as chair in 2020, although he has not been particularly visible in the role.

Despite being a member of a Mercury Prize winning band, Gray is not the most famous musician standing for Labour. That honour must go to Blur drummer Dave Rowntree, a former councillor and Parliamentary candidate who has been selected as Labour’s candidate for Mid Sussex in the next election. Blur had a No.1 album in July 2023 with The Ballad Of Darren.

In theory, Mid Sussex is a safe Conservative seat. Formerly held by Lord Soames, Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson, it was newly represented by Mims Davies in the 2019 election with a 53.3% share of the vote for the Conservatives. 

Dave Rowntree would need a swing of around 18% to take Mid Sussex, which is not even in the top 150 target seats for Labour. But in a landslide result, the Blur drummer could well make it as an MP.

With the election date still unknown, not all constituency parties have selected their candidates. In Croydon East, potentially a safe Labour seat, the selection process was halted amid internal complaints about personal data.

The final selection will be made on March 23 with Olga Fitzroy among the three candidates. The sound engineer and campaigner is a Music Week Women In Music winner and a former Parliamentary candidate in South Croydon.

Of course, with Kevin Brennan, Labour has a sitting MP (and songwriter) in Cardiff West who can also be expected to contribute to the policy debate around the music industry. 

As well as being a key member of the Culture, Media & Sport Committee during the streaming inquiry, he is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music. 

Brennan released folk album The Clown And The Cigarette Girl on Revolver Records in 2021. 

He made an unsuccessful attempt to introduce streaming remuneration reforms via a Private Member’s Bill, but remains active on the key issues. So the music industry will be watching how he – along with the new intake of MPs – help to frame the debate around music, technology and regulation in the next Parliament. 

Musicians' Union general secretary Naomi Pohl said: “A Labour Government would deliver better conditions for freelancers, would support music spaces, boost music education and address issues with touring in Europe.
“They have made promises on many of our key issues and, while we know the economic environment is incredibly challenging, they have committed to practical support that will put us on a better footing to grow the music industry and nurture musical talent.”

PHOTO: Dan Kitwood/Getty


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