What May May Bring?

Blog (2015)

Richard Mollet, 24th April 2015

We are less than two weeks away from the general election and with the polls stubbornly refusing to betray a preference for either of the two main parties, those on the fringe are able to maintain the prospect of their presence at any impending coalition negotiations. 

In one way, and putting any personal preferences to one side, the creative industries are in the happy position of being able to maintain an indifference to the outcome.  Both Conservative and Labour manifestos demonstrate clear support and understanding of the importance of intellectual property to the creative businesses which form such an important vertebrae in the UK’s economic backbone. The profound daftness of the Green Party’s baseless anti-copyright anti-market philosophy stands as a useful reminder of the fact that copyright still has its fervent opponents, but also that they are largely marginalised from mainstream debate – in the UK at least.

But we have been here before.  In 2010 there was a similar sense of relaxation about the prospect of a government of either hue. Labour had just passed the Digital Economy Act, which for all its shortcomings was a clear statement of support for rights holders and one which had been given fair wind by the Tories and Lib Dems. What no one had foreseen, however, was the the insidious influence of certain US tech giants would have on the inner machinations of the Number 10 operation, resulting in the woeful Hargreaves Review and an absurd three years of head-banging debate as to whether copyright boosted or hindered the creative economy.  We must hope that there are no similar nasty surprises germinating in the serried ranks of special advisers due soon to occupy the upper floors of Downing Street; luckily the intense human intelligence operation of recent years would suggest not.

However, there is one dimension in which a general election result will have a big impact on policy, and that is Europe. A Conservative “win” – i.e. a result in which they are the biggest single party – would presage a debate on the UK’s membership of the EU culminating in a referendum possibly as soon as Autumn 2016. In this world, the ongoing development of the Commission’s policy on the Digital Single Market takes on a different complexion. Would a country toying with exit have any locus in the discussions? Or would the effect be the reverse, in that a European Council and Commission determined not to lose Britain from membership might bend over backwards to accommodate UK interests. Fat chance one might think having spoken informally with certain Eurocrats, but the reality would likely be a mix of the two positions, with discussions and negotiations a bewildering minefield of pro and anti-British sentiment. The multi-dimensional chess game which the EU resembles at the best of times would take on a complexity familiar only to particle physicists.

Not that a Labour “win” (the same caveat applies) would be any the simpler. A likely partnership with the SNP could well stymie policy discussions across a range of issues, not just those concerning the constitution and nuclear weapons. And although an SNP presence would possibly bring the welcome strongly pro-IP voice of SNP MP Pete Wishart to the fore, there is every indication that Westminster would be a difficult place for anyone to do business for at least a few months.

It is hard to view either of these prospects with complete equanimity. The best that can be said is that if one focuses on the fascination of the political calculations, rather than the consequences of those sums, then it is set to be one of the most exhilarating periods in British politics of the modern era!