So Now We Know
Reporter: Peter Lathan
Dateline: 2nd May, 1997
Although, at the time of writing, the exact size of the majority isn't known, the Labour Party has been elected into office by the biggest landslide for a very long time. As I write, John Major has just gone in to see the Queen to hand in his resignation and all the indications are that the Labour majority will be 149.
What does this mean for the arts, and theatre in particular?
In the short term, I suspect the answer is "very little": Tony Blair has made it clear that there will be no change in spending limits for the first two years of a Labour government. Of course, the scale of the victory is such that he may feel they have a mandate to change that position, but I must confess that I doubt it. He has placed such an emphasis on trust in his campaign that (unless he is truly demonic!) he cannot abandon such promises.
Those who are looking to the Left to force a change upon the moderate majority of the Labour Party will be disappointed. With the massive majority he has - larger than Margaret Thatcher's at her most powerful - Tony Blair has the ability to sack twenty or more dissident MPs and still have a larger majority than anything John Major has ever had. Major's slim majority placed him in hock to his Euro-sceptics: Blair has no such problem with any wing of his party.
So what arts-related legislation can we expect in this parliament? Possibly one of the first will be the abandonment of additionality of Lottery funding, which will produce £1 billion, some of which will be used to set up NESTA, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. This will almost certainly have the effect of actually reducing the amount of money available for arts projects. Lottery Promotion Company founder Dennis Vaughan, who was the first to lobby for a National Lottery, believes this will leave the arts worse off by £1.4 million a week!
It is possibly, even probably, true that there will be more sympathy for the need for subsidy for the arts in a Labour government - Tony Blair's expressed desire to put British arts back at the centre of the world's stage can be seen as evidence of this - but it is not something that is going to happen soon. I rather suspect that we'll see small-scale changes in this parliament, with more radical measures (in all fields, not just the arts) reserved for a second term in office. For there will be a second term: the size of the majority makes it almost certain.
Unless Tony Blair abandons his cautious, softly-softly approach, I can see a parliament in which Labour channels more money into education and health, in which a Scottish (and, possibly, a Welsh) parliament is set up - in which, in fact, he carries out the election promises - and then, after four years, he goes back to the country for a madate for more radical change (including, possibly, the introduction of proportional representation).
Those new proposals, together with the effect of some of the mistakes which will inevitably be made, will reduce the majority, leaving him with around 100 (similar to Margaret Thatcher in 1987) to carry out the new manifesto. And that parliament of 2001 will probably be the last under the first-past-the-post system.
Just call me Mystic Meg!
(Not bad! I came pretty close. Except for the proportional representation bit, but that could still happen. After all, it is still 2001!)