Keir Starmer’s speech at the Labour Creatives Conference

Thank you Cush, and thank you for that warm reception.

It’s a real pleasure to be with you today.

And there are a lot of people to thank for making all of this possible. 

Bank of America and Bloomberg Philanthropies for their support for today’s event…

But more importantly, for their long-standing support for the arts.  

And thanks to the Guildhall of course, to Jonathan and Emily, for welcoming us to this wonderful venue. 

It’s been quite a while since I was last here.

And if I remember rightly, last time I had long hair and was wearing flared jeans.

But for six years, I came here every single week.

Every Saturday morning, starting when I was 11, I would take the train from the village of Hurst Green to London Victoria…

With my flute under my arm.

To spend the day here as part of the junior exhibitioners programme.

Now don’t worry, as you can see I haven’t got my flute with me today – and I’m certainly not going to play a piece for you. 

But listening to that incredible performance just now reminded me of the thrill of playing at the Festival Hall…

The opportunities music gave me – my first ever trip abroad was to Malta with the Croydon Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. 

And the excitement you feel, when you have an encounter with the arts that changes your life.

Everyone here will know that feeling…

That sense of being drawn into something bigger than ourselves. 

Of being truly moved – by a piece of music, a painting, or a play. 

Of losing yourself, and finding something new in that space art creates. 

These encounters with art and culture change us forever.

They certainly changed me forever.

And when I left my village and went to the city of Leeds, I discovered a whole new world of indie bands – like Orange Juice and the Wedding Present.

Back in the day, using a guitar borrowed from my good friend John. 

Even now, listening to Beethoven and Brahms as I read the papers on a Sunday morning takes the edge off some of the more uncomfortable stories. 

That’s the power of your industry. 

It’s not just nice to have. 

It’s essential – for our economic growth as well as our personal growth, who we are.

Because 2.4 million people work in the creative industry. 

It’s worth £125 billion – and growing fast. 

The UK is one of only three net exporters of music.

We have the second largest art market on the planet.

Only the US exports more advertising than us.

And that’s not the only thing we lead on – nobody exports more books than we do.

When I meet international leaders, I know I am standing on the shoulders of our cultural reputation. 

Our music, films, games, fashion, literature….

What we make and produce is known and loved in every corner of the globe.

You’re not just important to Brand Britain – you are Brand Britain. 

Attracting major foreign investment from companies all over the world who recognise and value British talent.

The CEO of Warner Bros Discovery recently told me about the investment they’re making in studios in the UK.

Making films like Wonka, which I can tell you was a real hit with my kids. 

And at home as well as abroad – 

The creative industries have the power and the potential for levelling up like nothing else.

Look at the leading industries in towns and cities around the country.

Gaming in Leamington Spa, Dundee and Guildford.

TV production in Cardiff, Yorkshire, Salford and Leeds.

Music and live events in Manchester, Liverpool and Wakefield. 

Fashion in Leeds and London.

Publishing in Peterborough, Oxford and Cambridge.

World class industries, all of them – and it’s time we got behind them.

That’s why today we’re launching a sector plan to support the entire ecosystem of the creative industries.

Recognising them as a force for growth as well as a force for good. 

Because whilst of course we welcome the investments and tax reliefs announced in the budget last week, and we’re proud that it was the last Labour government that introduced the tax relief in the first place.

The truth is – the Government has no strategy for the arts.

No recognition of its fundamental role in the economy, health, education or our global standing. 

No plan to harness the potential of the creative industries.

And no ambition to safeguard its future and support the next generation.

Because under the Tories we have seen a creativity crisis in schools. 

14 years of arts subjects being diminished and devalued.

GCSE enrolment in arts subjects is down by 47%.

And it’s working class kids who bear the brunt of that collapse in the arts. 

That’s why, as Bridget Phillipson, our fantastic Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said on Monday a Labour government would put creativity at the heart of the curriculum.

Right now one measure of excellence is the Tory EBacc.

An accountability measure that values Latin and Ancient Greek but not music, drama or art. 

Seriously – in what world does learning to act, dance, sing, or paint…

Count for less than learning a language from more than 1,000 years ago?

The ancient Romans and Greeks would have had something to say about that!

So from day one, Labour will reform the school accountability framework, to make sure arts count. 

We will update the ‘progress eight’ performance measure…

Use it to help all children study a creative arts subject, or sport, until they are 16.  

And we will review the curriculum… 

So creativity and oracy – confident speaking… 

Is woven into everything our children learn. 

Speaking skills are so important to disadvantaged children… 

A massive part of the class ceiling. 

It’s about helping every child find their voice… 

Learn who they are and what they believe…

And tell their story in their own way.

That is the power of art in a nutshell… 

Every young person must have access to music, art, design and drama… 

That is our mission. 

Because we know that for our creative industries to flourish…

Every child needs to be given a chance. 

We’re lucky enough to have the Roundhouse in my constituency – I visited for the launch of their Centre for Young Creatives… 

Giving children from across the borough state-of-the-art equipment. 

You could see their eyes light up when they realised this was for them. That sends an incredible message to those children – that they are valued.

Because talent doesn’t discriminate – opportunity does. 

And I’m proud that Britain punches above its weight in awards shows around the world…

But, on the other hand – we all know there’s more to do. 

Only 60 percent of nominations for solo awards over the last 10 years were state educated…

…when 94 percent of pupils attend state schools.

Think of the opportunities we’re missing. 

The huge talent we have in this country, just waiting to be unlocked.

And we don’t just need people on stage and screen. 

We need people who make things happen behind the scenes.

Whether that’s as a make-up artist, in management, or in manufacturing.

As a set designer or a sound technician.

Even a lawyer can be useful in the arts!

But wherever young people end up, whatever they do in life…

The creative problem solving, curiosity and confidence that I learnt here all those years ago will always be invaluable. 

On Monday I was at a primary school in Harlow, and the children played a piece of music for us.

I saw how they were all looking up at the teacher, looking around at each other, learning how to work as a group.

These are life skills every employer values.

Private schools sell themselves on this.

And I want every child to have that same chance – 

To fall in love with the arts…

To benefit from the skills it teaches, whatever they go on to do.

And to know that it is a possible career for them to pursue.

But in 2021, the Government said arts subjects ‘weren’t a strategic priority’. 

That they were focused on the subjects needed to ‘build back better’.

But this zero sum thinking between the arts and sciences misses the point entirely.

Because there is no building back without the arts. 

Arts and sciences aren’t in competition – they’re in collaboration…

The spark of creativity that fuels every new discovery, idea and solution…

You are the first brick in building back better. 

Look at this room!

The engineering, technology and scientific understanding…

To perfect the acoustics for that music we heard this morning.

And think of the imagination…

The collaboration…

And the love of music and architecture that inspired those to build it in the first place.

So to anyone who still thinks the arts are a ‘soft’ subject.

Not a strategic priority. 

A middle-class ‘add on’.

I say – you just don’t get it.

With Labour, creative skills won’t be treated as a luxury, but as a necessity. 

Because we know they’re essential to our economic growth and our national identity. 

That’s why we have a plan. 

We know that the Apprenticeship Levy is too inflexible. 

That’s why we’ll create a Growth and Skills Levy, so we can train the young creatives of tomorrow.

And we’ll create a new national body, Skills England…

So people from every background and every region have the opportunities they deserve. 

And we’ll support technical skills too, at new Technical Excellence Colleges.

So the training available for our young people meets the needs of the creative industries… 

Technology and the arts, working hand in hand.

And of course we’ll champion our world beating creative Higher Education. 

But all of this comes with a challenge – because in an industry dominated by freelancers and SMEs…

We need to make sure that work always pays. 

Otherwise it becomes the preserve of the privileged. 

And that’s bad for the industry as well as the people who work in it.

So we’ll level up workers’ rights… 

Crack down on late payments…

End unpaid internships…

And we will do our bit to support the arts and creative industries…

To create more opportunities for working class kids and more secure jobs in the sector.

Because we want the arts to be for everyone, everywhere.

That’s why we’ll take art and culture across the country.

Working with national museums and galleries to put art where people are. 

In schools, hospitals, town halls, community centres and shopping centres….

As well as in local libraries and museums.

And we can’t let access to culture be at the mercy of ticket touts who drive up the prices.

So a Labour government will cap resale prices so fans can see the acts that they love at a fair price.  

Arts for the people and by the people.

Because this is something I don’t think the Tories understand. 

Look how the Tory Culture Secretary in 2014 – if you can cast your mind back a dozen culture secretaries or so –

Said that only the ‘chattering middle classes and champagne socialists’ care about ticket prices. 

They think working people don’t need culture. 

There is a patronising view that working people don’t care, and shouldn’t care, about the arts.

When I went to see Dear England, I saw so many people in the audience who maybe hadn’t been to the theatre before – hadn’t thought it was ‘for them’.

We should be welcoming and encouraging everyone to our theatres, museums and galleries.

I mean – just look at how the Tories sneered at Angela Raynor for daring to enjoy the opera. 

And try telling my dad – who loved Shostakovich – that working people don’t need culture.

Try telling that to thousands of working class kids who might long to work in the arts…

…but have got the message loud and clear from this government that it’s not a ‘real job’.

That ballet dancers should be retraining as cyber experts.

That’s why the Tory culture wars always end up as a war on culture.

The creative arts shouldn’t tell working class kids to ‘know their place’.

They should help them find their place in the world. 

Arts and culture are about bringing us together, finding what we have in common, searching for truth and meaning. 

But these culture wars are about dividing us, distracting us and disrespecting working people. 

With Labour, that war on culture will end.

We will build a new Britain out of the ashes of the failed Tory project. 

And culture will be at the core of each one of our five national missions. 

But that won’t happen without you.

So we know our job is to create the conditions for you to take risks and thrive…

Not tell you what to create.

Labour has always understood this.

From the Arts Council – when the Labour government put creativity at the heart of rebuilding out of the ruins of the war…

To the Open University.

From Jennie Lee, the first Minister for the Arts…

To Chris Smith, who flung open the doors of our museums and galleries to the nation.

And today – with Thangam Debbonaire – imagine a Shadow Culture Secretary who cares about culture! 

A Shadow Culture Secretary who gets into trouble with Parliamentary Security for practising with her string quartet late at night!

A Shadow Chancellor in Rachel Reeves who fully understands the value of the arts.

And a Shadow Education Secretary in Bridget who’s committed to putting creativity at the heart of the curriculum.

Because we know that is how we will get this country back on track. 

We will work together, hand in glove with our creative industries.

No more sticking plaster politics.

A long term, comprehensive plan….

For a decade of national renewal.

Together, we will raise the next generation of creatives …

Together, we will harness the power of your industry to create wealth in every community… 

Together, we will place the arts back where they belong… 

At the centre of a new, hopeful, modern story of Britain…

And what we stand for. 

Thank you.