Natalie Bennett – “This Government really doesn’t get culture.”
Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party spoke about climate change at a recent event at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland.
She spoke to Sophie Dishman about the arts and culture sector in Britain, the Spending Review cuts and the impact of leaving the EU on the sector.
S: What do you think of the cuts to the Department of Media, Culture and Sport?
N: Well I think this is part of the whole much broader issue of austerity. I think the media really had the wool pulled over their eyes in terms of the recent Spending Review in that there was all these cuts threatened and then George Osborne didn’t make them and somehow he presented this vision that he had saved these things.
And of course he hadn’t done that and there are massive cuts across a whole range of government departments including Culture, Media and Sport and I think this is part of a much broader problem with this government is that they don’t seem to get the importance of culture in particular, to our society.
You know, one point they’ll be celebrating how much the cultural industries contribute to the British economy but then they’re cutting back spending on support for those industries, they’re cutting back support and encouragement for study of those kind of subjects in school in fact they’re really trying to squash them hard, so this government really doesn’t get culture, I’m afraid.
S: How do you think the cuts will impact the arts and cultural sector in Britain?
N: Well I think we’re standing in the absolutely beautiful National Glass Centre at the moment and [it] shows what happens when you invest in the arts, when you know create different centres all round the country, very much being decentralised, you know not focused on London is really important.
If we cut back the funding for these sorts of things, cut back funding for local theatre groups and local activities, the arts/culture is a central part of our lives. I talked about the economic importance but actually even more fundamental than that is the fact that art and culture in our environment enriches all of our lives and we’ll be poorer without that spending.
S: Do you think the arts and culture sector is important?
N: Very much so. As I said, first of all this is at the core of the community. You know the local amateur theatre group, the local little art gallery where perhaps lots of children get their first real glimpse of art, some of them have the talent, the interest, the ability, get interested and who knows where they’ll end up.
And you know it might be perhaps for the older generation hard to understand that an exciting culture sector these days is computer games but that’s a really important area of artistic endeavour and of course economic return as well so all of these things are critical to our lives and the quality of our lives.
S: Do you think Britain has a strong arts and culture sector and if so, why?
N: I think Britain does have a really big arts and culture sector and that’s partly because we’ve had a long history of that, you know there’s a history going back generations and we have wonderful institutions like the National Gallery, you know like the British Museum (I used to be a volunteer at the British Museum so I have a real soft spot for that). We have all of that, we have the tradition of centuries and we have here modern traditions – music, the Beatles and all of that sorta stuff. It’s all there, the foundations are there and it’s something we really want to see continue in the future.
S: Do you think the EU referendum will affect the arts and culture sector if we do decide to leave and if so, how?
N: I think if we left the EU, what we’d see is obviously a basic loss of funding, particularly funding that goes into some of the more disadvantaged areas of Britain, I mean for example I was in Newport in Wales recently and it does rather seem that pretty well every sign about a new building or something’s been rebuilt has an EU symbol on it to show the EU funding and quite a few are arts facilities so there’s a real funding gap there.
But also that free movement of people is a real issue – I know there’s quite a lot of artists at the moment who’ve been finding rents and general working costs in Britain rather expensive and have moved to Berlin. And you know some of them might stay there, some of them might come back having had their lives and experiences and skills enriched by that time in Berlin and if we leave the EU then we’re likely to lose those opportunities.