Dealing with the (New) Labour Leadership

Blog (2015)

Richard Mollet, 18th September 2015

It is ironic that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party is causing a more dramatic change in UK politics than the General Election result in May.  Four months ago, the ramifications of the result were relatively minor as the Lib Dems were ushered out of government and a great many Ministerial faces remained in post.  Corbyn’s win is the polar opposite of that business-as-usual outcome.  As is already apparent, there is a major divergence in terms of personnel, style and substance from all that has gone before.  As far as publishing’s issues are concerned the key people will be Angela Eagle as Shadow BIS Secretary and Michael Dugher shadowing DCMS.  Ms Eagle’s views on intellectual property, if they exist, are unknown to us.  However we can take a great deal of comfort from the fact that the Trade Union Congress – driven by the Musicians’ Union, Equity and BECTU – has in recent years passed motions in support of strong copyright.  The PA hosted a seminar with Unite at London Book Fair this year and its officers are as passionate as we are about the importance of tackling IP infringement in order to support members’ jobs.  We will continue to develop these, now even more, important links.  Ms Eagle’s brief also covers universities and with Jo Johnson gearing up for a major statement on funding in the Autumn, there will be much to ponder in terms of the potential impact of this debate on the wider discussion on open access.  We are yet to see who from the Parliamentary Labour Party will take up the junior Shadow briefs looking at individual elements of the BIS brief. 

Michael Dugher – a former adviser to Geoff Hoon and a key member of the Brown No 10 team – is a huge supporter of the creative industries, not least through his strong passion for The Beatles and music generally.  He is likely to be more focused on challenging his opposite number on the BBC Charter Renewal, but he is a proponent of robust copyright.  Another key figure is the newly elected Deputy Leader, Tom Watson.  In the debates over the Digital Economy Act in 2010, Mr Watson posed important challenges to the creative sector over attempts to get ISPs to take on more responsibility for copyright infringement and wasn’t always perceived as supportive.  That said, he too is a known huge fan of British music and popular culture.  Nor can we ignore the new Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. It is obvious he is not a politician instantly sympathetic to the needs of business – especially larger ones – and has a track record of proposing higher taxes on both corporate and personal income. As Labour’s economic policy develops we can expect to take some flak from this quarter.  Elsewhere around the Shadow Cabinet table, Chris Bryant (Commons Leader), Jon Ashworth (Without Portfolio) and Gloria De Piero (Young People) are among those with whom we can hope to find a sympathetic ear on creative industries issues. 

Meanwhile, we should not lose sight of the non-shadow Labour MPs.  Iain Wright (whose move to Chair the Business Select Committee looks like a far-sighted step of genius in the light of other MPs’ anguishing over whether to serve under Corbyn) is the new Chair of the All-Party Publishing Group, and we hope that Tristram Hunt, having relieved himself of front-bench duties, may also be tempted to engage with publishing issues. 

As for the policies, it is already clear that there will be a great deal of discussion and debate before hard and fast positions emerge.  Issues directly affecting our sector will have to wait in an orderly queue behind the bigger questions of state, such as EU membership, Trident and welfare caps.  It would appear that Shadow Ministers are going to have a great deal of latitude in developing policy commitments – Corbyn is positioning his leadership as consensual and collegiate as opposed to dictatorial and omniscient.  This bodes well in terms of providing the opportunity to present ideas and arguments, but unless well managed by the Leader’s office, it could lead to contradictory stances being adopted across different briefs.  At some point, one feels, someone in the centre does have to take a position. 

In the wider scheme of things, it will be fascinating to see how the (much maligned) opinion polls react to the new-old Labour Party.  Corbyn won 250,000 votes in the leadership race (caveat: Iain Duncan Smith won an equally healthy 166,000 in the Conservative race in 2001) and has since put on 40,000 new party members.  At that rate of voter-galvanisation he could expect to see an increasingly better performance than the low figures which YouGov has already recorded.  The fate of the Party and his leadership depends above all on two key factors: electoral performance in next May’s local, Scottish and London elections; and maintaining unity in the Parliamentary Party.  These factors are inter-related, of course, in that those who would be minded to rebel will wait first to gauge the electorate’s view.  If, despite the almost total media cynicism, Corbyn can unite MPs around a clear anti-Tory, pro-public service, pro-equality platform, yoked to a mobilisation of support and energy in the country at large, he could be around for longer than many imagine.