12 October 2012
Posted in General
Jayne Kirkham reports from the Conservative Party Conference 2012
Three conferences in three weeks and I’ve reached the point where I feel like writing, ‘Tories, Birmingham: went’. Partly because I’m tired but mostly because there really isn’t an awful lot to write about. I arranged my stay around any Culture, Media and Sport speeches and activities both within the main conference agenda and the fringe. They were, however, far and few between and then mainly concerned with the OIympics Legacy with celebratory cheering scheduled as a warm up for the Prime Minister’s speech.
It was all rousing stuff: I cried. However, I think the tears were justified when, having told us that jobs, influence and investment are the real legacy of the Olympics and rolling out two wide-eyed medallists to prove the point, sports minister Hugh Robinson said, ‘The message is clear: please go out and buy your lottery tickets.’ It was a stark reminder that no matter how much culture, media and sport bring communities together, or enrich our understanding of who we are or who we can be; there is no real government support. Lord Coe may highlight the “nourishing and sustaining role of laughter”, but we have to pay for it ourselves through the Lottery. We could spend hours in the pub debating the merits of the Lottery but here, all I’m saying is Mr Robinson neatly summed up how the Conservatives view themselves as the party that helps people who help themselves.
Most over used word of the conference? ‘Strivers.’ I think everyone had been schooled to use it, including the barista in the coffee bar. Although, blessings upon him: he used it with delicious amounts of froth and irony.
Having heard only very bad things about the education reforms and the impact of the English Baccalaureate on arts education, I wanted to hear more from the Tories. But i didn’t hear the E.Bacc mentioned once. There was talk of literacy, a lot of talk of literacy – all rather specialised and exclusive. Couldn’t help thinking that while they all get their knickers in a phonic knot… no, hush my mouth, I’m just a writer; what would I know? But there were also some excellent conversations about mental health and well-being. Can’t say too much because someone ‘Chatham Housed’ us but I was able to join the dots between the arts and well-being and the conversations will continue. As with the other parties, this far out from an election, there were no exciting new policies, just back-slapping and photo opportunities to assert leadership and whip in those that would stray from the fold. Even if there was money in the country’s piggy bank, it was evident in Birmingham that Conservatives would not be spending it on arts or cultural activities. Boris Johnson said he wants to put training and infrastructure not just into sport but the economy as a whole to ‘make life easy for the strugglers and strivers, and to help those that can’t compete.’ But he also said, ‘you don’t do it out of compassion.’ So does that mean it has to make hard-nosed business sense? If that’s the only criteria they can measure, then kiss goodbye to those few remaining small scale theatre and arts programmes that ‘nourish and sustain’, that enrich our understanding of who we are and who we can be. And kiss goodbye to good health and well-being. And go and buy a lottery ticket.
Jayne Kirkham is Chair of the Guild’s Children’s Committee