Thangam Debbonaire MP speaking at Remix Summit London 2024
Thangam Debbonaire MP speaking at Remix Summit London 2024

It’s an utter joy to have been given this opportunity to be the champion of the arts, culture and creative industries in politics. So if I sound a bit overexcited or overwhelmed that’s why. Because this is honestly my second dream job, the first one is obviously to get to be the actual Secretary of State and actually do some things and not just talk about them!


So I know that in this summit you’ve been asking yourselves how technology and arts can be harnessed for the future. And you’ve looked forwards. Towards a revolution in culture and the creative industries.

Now to me the arts and the creative industries have always been at the forefront of progress and emerging technologies. The clue is in the name. We are creators, you are creators.

DJs for example, to pluck an example not entirely at random, have been using technology to make great dance music since I was dancing – I mean, I’ll let you into a secret I still do, but in private – and that was 40 years ago (I don’t know if any of you were around in Manchester in the 1980s).

To be fair, what that gave me was a love of the fact that you could be part of something that was just really fun and that was using great technology.

And the creative industries in turn play an integral role in technological advances. It is the creative industries that stimulate ideas of what another world could look like. And that’s what encourages us to push beyond our frontiers.

I was speaking only yesterday about something really political and I used Halo Jones as an example, the 2000 AD character that I read avidly as a teenager (again I’m really showing my age now). I went back and read Halo Jones recently and thought it was so interesting that they almost predicted AI.

The role of government is to create the environment within which creative people – from across the worlds of culture, technology and entrepreneurship – can thrive and push boundaries. It is people, not Government, that make art and culture.

For Labour this means:

  • finding ways to get more money into the ecosystem of the creative industries;
  • ensuring that every child has access to quality creative education; and
  • guaranteeing, or helping you to guarantee, working together, diversity and equality for those whose stories are told, those who create, and those who consume, art and culture.

Fostering the creative industries is what Labour will do in government. In fact its what we have always done.

Some of you may know, if you know your political history, 60 years ago next February it was Labour’s Jennie Lee, the first ever Minister for the Arts, who published the era-defining White Paper, A Policy for The Arts.

She recognised their all-encompassing nature. She recognised that culture exists in an ecosystem, and she recognised that you don’t sustain it by focusing narrowly. You sustain the ecosystem, you help people within it thrive, by focusing on infrastructure, education, skills, health, and finance – that’s a quote by the way, she said all of those, but I’m adding in perhaps above all else, diversity and equality.

She even wrote:

The promotion and appreciation of high standards in architecture, in industrial design, in town planning and the preservation of the beauty of the countryside, are all part of it.

(‘It’ being arts and culture).

It is Labour that brings in the game changing ideas.

In 1946, we set up the Arts Council.

In 1969, the Open University.

In 2001 my good friend Chris Smith did free museums and art galleries, throwing open the doors of our cultural institutions to all. I think that was such a Labour idea.

The Tories have failed, people want change

But the challenge is to do that again in a different climate, in the current climate.

Since 2010, the Tories have overseen the degradation of cultural life in the UK. Arts, culture and the creative industries have been undervalued, sometimes dismissed, or savagely attacked by them – and you can probably all think of the examples.

But a good example of that is that there have been 12 Culture Secretaries in 14 years. That’s a record by the way, there is literally no other ministry that’s had such high turnover at the top. I think that shows the disdain with which successive Conservative Governments have treated the people who create and enjoy arts and culture.

It began with Jeremy Hunt. £19m cut from the Arts Council England in 2011.

The Culture, Media and Sport department had its budget cut by a quarter between 2010 and 2015.

Brutal Tory and Lib Dem cuts to local authorities ripped the roots out of the cultural life of our country. And we’re still seeing that now. You’ll remember even two weeks ago theatres that have been closed because of local authority cuts.

Putting up barriers with our friends and neighbours in Europe.

Telling ballerinas to retrain in cyber during the covid crisis. Remember that one?

None of this has been about what’s right for the country. None of it.

It’s about a perverse ideological decision to focus on culture wars instead of culture. And to divide.

This has damaged not just the sector but the country.

Valuing arts and culture

In Labour we know that arts and culture are central to our national story – that our cultural lives are part of our sense of national pride.

But when you take money out of an ecosystem, you make it more elitist, not less.

That’s why, when the Tories are in power, the cultural life of this country suffers.

When we’re in power, arts and culture are made central. We were just reminiscing in the green room about ‘Cool Britannia’ and other moments. I’m hoping we get to do something like that, we won’t call it ‘Cool Britannia’, but we’ll do something like that together. This is what we do, every time.

And if our hard work pays off and we win the general election, you will have in me a Culture Secretary – and by the way Keir is saying that, he wants me to be his Culture Secretary, not just the shadow Culture Secretary – who knows the importance of the arts and creative industries. They are not optional. They’re essential.

And that’s because above all else, you bring us joy.

And it’s joy that makes life worth living. Whether it’s the song at your wedding or the first film you took your kid to see. Everyone, everywhere, should be able to share in that joy. And actually everyone everywhere already has some stake in it but isn’t always aware why that matters so much and isn’t getting the full potential.

Because, over the last 14 years, despite what I’ve already said, the creative industries have found a way to carry on. Too often in spite of – not because of – the government.

So I’d like to ask you all, what you could do with a national champion in the corner of the creative industries, fighting for the creative industries.


My vision is that every single one of us, no matter where we live, is able to experience and be part of the very best art and culture we have. Anywhere.

The creative industries are one of our greatest exports. And they already are an integral part of everyone’s life as I said. But they could be so much more.

To do this, we need to value the ecosystem as a whole.

Culture as an Ecosystem

I don’t want arts and culture to be seen as over here and the creative industries seen as over there.

The publicly invested sector feeds the commercial sector, and vice versa. And by the way, I use the term investment because it is, it’s not a subsidy, public money is not a subsidy, it’s Research and Development, it’s an investment. The creative industries are an essential part of Labour’s plan for economic growth. And we have to have economic growth but it has to be spread around the country, fairly distributed, so that we can invest in everything we want.

One of the things that artists, musicians, game-makers, digital creators all tell me is “just give me some space and some decent internet”. That’s why one of the first things I announced in this role was “Space to Create”, the first ever national cultural infrastructure plan, to boost creative spaces across the UK.

And this is a big deal. Because there are cultural deserts in our country. There’s no cinema in Wigan for example. We lost our cinema in the centre of Bristol recently which is extraordinary.

It’s not because there aren’t creative people. Of course there are. It’s just that for reasons of austerity, local authority cuts, 14 years of Tory governments, a hard cost of living crisis, our creative industries and our creative people are too often robbed of the opportunity to create. Someone gave me the example this afternoon that creative people are still trying to create but they’re holding down two other jobs at the same time.

And of course this means we need more money in the arts and creative industries. Of course. And I am constantly thinking, I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning thinking about how to achieve this, especially in a context where the country and people are facing huge financial challenges. So I really do genuinely welcome all suggestions by all of you.

One of the first things I will do if we get into government is put in place a plan for the widest possible range, for the widest amount of finance, to go into the creative industries.

Because we have to recognise the talent we’ve got. We are really good at this, we’re really good at creativity, it’s a great export, it’s a great engine of growth. A musician friend of mine was saying to me the other day, there’s a reason why film companies come to this country for their soundtracks to be recorded, we’re just really good at this.

So every single opportunity there is to get more finance into the creative industries, whether that be private investment, philanthropy, new partnership models, state investment, the lottery, every single one should be taken and I will be doing everything I can to deepen and strengthen them.

It’s my personal mission – though I think it is an open door – to make sure that when Shadow Chancellor – hopefully soon Chancellor – Rachel Reeves is talking about our industrial strategy, she’s talking about creative industries, she’s talking about arts and culture, and she’s talking about joy as well as jobs.

And to be fair to Rachel I do hear her saying those things, I also see her at quite a lot of the same events I go to. Because she already gets it. But I can make sure she carries on.

Creative Education

The creative industries are an ecosystem of ideas and entrepreneurship because innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And what everyone working in these fields has in common is creativity. That most human instinct.

But in so many other jobs, in fact I’m struggling to think of any other job where creativity isn’t valuable, where it isn’t a really key skill that everyone should have.

So, some of you, people my age maybe, will remember “Every Child Matters”? That was from the last Labour Government. Yeah, we had three-word slogans before they did.

And because every child matters – it was a good slogan – because every child matters, we believe quality creative education for every child is essential.

So I want every child to have the best music, art, drama, the full spectrum of creative experiences.

Because the creative industries – like so many of you in this room – need workers equipped with the skills to take on the dynamic jobs of the future. And everyone else, whether they’re architects or teaching assistants, needs creativity.

Creativity is not just about preparing young people for the jobs of the future, but it’s about the joy it brings into their lives both now and later. I really feel this as a former professional musician and now a happy amateur, and I just think it’s such a gift.

My string quartet – I have a parliamentary string quartet – we were rehearsing really late last night and we had such a lovely time, one of us is still a professional but the other three we’re happy amateurs, and I just feel that whatever it is that you’re good at, being able to discover it and then enjoy it for your full life course is so important. And I think we heard this week that it might even help stave off dementia which would be an added benefit.

So, I’m working with Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s brilliant Shadow Education Secretary, who’s absolutely committed to this.

Because there’s no biological reason why a young person born in the poorest part of my constituency or the poorest part of the country is any less capable, has any less potential, than those born in the richest part.

I want to tear down every barrier to opportunity. That is a mission. And that is a Labour way.

Because in Labour we know, as you know, that where you were born, who you went to school with, who your parents are, who you know, should not be what determines your future. Should not be what determines whether or not you can find your creativity.

And a creative education is just too important to leave to chance.



Now diversity and equality, in who is creating art as well as who is consuming it, and whose stories are told, that for me is the most important revolution. If you like it’s the next stage on from Jennie Lee.

We cannot underestimate how far the creative industries have come on this; but we must not be complacent about how far we have to go. And I mean both horizontally and vertically.

Technology can play a huge part in diversifying the creative industries, but it does start with asking difficult questions.

Let’s take museums and galleries, such as the world class one we are in now. I’m going to ask every institution, do you represent outdated or offensive interpretations of their contents? Are they presenting a narrative that reflects the complexities of the UK’s history? Are they reaching out to diverse audiences and spreading their collections as widely as possible?

And of course many, many great museums, art galleries, collections, institutions, are seizing the opportunity that technology presents, as well as in real life experiences. And in so doing they are connecting with children, with digital content promoters and publishers in spreading the word and making great art and objects more accessible.

And I know for instance at this summit many of you have been speaking of the power of immersive experiences to reach new audiences. These are all examples of how cultural institutions can and do harness technological advances to bring art and culture to everyone, no matter what background they have or where they live.

So, I said I’d ask those hard questions and quite often I already get good answers, but I’m going to keep asking them because I know that that progress that we’re making is so important, and it’s so important to keep it there.

Are we drawing on everyone’s abilities?

Are we giving everyone a chance to develop their interests?

Does everyone share equally in the joy and the jobs?

Where are women?

Where are people of colour?

Where are people from working class communities?

I’ll keep asking those questions if we’re in government of every creative organisation. And by the way also of the media organisations and the sports organisations, because I have those in my portfolio as well and each has their own challenges.

We know we are all better off when everyone’s included.

You know that. And in Labour we know that because its our founding principle. We are the party of equality.

It’s who we are.


So, if we win the general election, Keir Starmer will lead a decade of national renewal. He’s fired up about this by the way. Every day I see it.

And arts and culture will be central to that.

The creative industries can and should be the engine of our economic growth.

And a Labour government will work with everyone across the cultural industries to foster this national renewal. Because it really is time to put 14 years of Tory government behind us. And we will, together, paint, perform, film, sing, dance, design and write a new more prosperous and joyous story for Britain.

Thank you.





(Speech given on 31st January 2024)

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