Home » UK General Election: Industry & International Reaction As Labour Sweeps To Power

UK General Election: Industry & International Reaction As Labour Sweeps To Power

UK General Election: Industry & International Reaction As Labour Sweeps To Power

After 14 years in the political wilderness, Labour has stormed back into power with a huge parliamentary majority and will form the next government of the UK. Keir Starmer has unseated Rishi Sunak, but what does the entertainment biz want from the new boss and his troops, and what do those overseas think?

Performing arts union Equity was the first to have its say, with an announcement timed to land the same minute as the all-important exit poll, which confirmed a huge win for Labour, was released at 10pm local time last night.

“With the election completed, our new government must get to grips with the performing arts and entertainment, a critical sector for the UK’s long-term success,” said Paul W Fleming, General Secretary of Equity.

“We’ll be pressing the new administration to set out a long-term plan for UK arts funding to reach the European average, to tackle the high upfront fees charged by casting directories, to make Universal Credit fairer for freelancers, to ensure public subsidy only supports work on decent union terms, and to fight for better rights in the video games and TV commercials sector.” 

“There are no creative industries without this incredible workforce. It’s time politicians stand up and offer them the same recognition that is offered by audiences across the world.”

Equity says UK arts councils funding has been cut 16% in real time since 2017. Among Equity’s key demands are for UK arts and entertainment funding to be increased to 0.5% of GDP.

The election result saw Labour win 412 seats, well over the 326 required for a majority in the Houses of Parliament’s lower chamber, the House of Commons. This gives Labour a huge mandate to enact change, which the vote shows British people clearly want.

Marcus Ryder, CEO of the Film & TV Charity, said a Labour government would be beneficial for workers’ mental health.

”I am incredibly happy to see a new incoming government, who in opposition, clearly identified the need to address the growing number of UK workers experiencing mental health issues,” he said. “The Film & TV Charity have shown that people working in our sector are disproportionately affected by these issues, and so we are looking forward to working with the new government to ensure any new policies specifically address these workers’ needs and concerns.”

The UK’s industry has been hard hit over recent years through a mix of post-pandemic hangover, U.S. labor strikes, reduced budgets, the TV ad market downturn, streamer reset and other factors that have left workers reeling. Alarming research from the Film & TV Charity in January showed nearly half of freelancers are struggling to make ends meet.

Broadly, the response from the entertainment sector has been one of renewed hope and energy. This follows years of clashes with the Conservative government, and damaging episodes such as the attempted privatization of terrestrial network Channel 4.

Head of entertainment union Bectu Philippa Childs released a statement welcoming “news of a new government and the promise of change to a party who recognises the huge contribution the UK’s film and TV industry makes towards the economy and appreciates that it is a key sector for the future.”

Taking a swipe at the outgoing Conservative Party’s frequent ideological clashes with the BBC, she added: “After seemingly endless political shrill surrounding the BBC, we’re pleased to have a party in power that won’t use our world-class public service broadcaster as a political football. It’s essential that Labour understands the key role the BBC plays in the delicate ecosystem of the creative industries, and its importance as an incubator of skills and talent.

She also voiced pointed to Labour’s “commitment to championing access to the arts for all,” and hoped it would be “backing this up with a strong plan for developing skills, opening up apprenticeships and improving workers’ rights. We hope this translates into a fruitful relationship with ourselves and other trade unions as we continue to work to tackle some of the pressing issues facing the creative industries — sustained funding, improved rights for freelancers, and more sustainable working patterns and conditions.”

James Burstall, CEO of indie production group Argonon, struck a similarly hopeful tone, while outlining the ongoing challenges for the production sector.

“I have met some of the incoming ministers over the last 18 months and I am encouraged and hopeful that we will see strong, sustainable and much-needed support for our sector in the coming months and years. It’s urgently needed,” he said.

“Since the beginning of 2023, our world class creative sector has endured – and continues to battle against – a perfect storm of tough economic headwinds, fracturing business models and declining audiences, with huge knocks on effects for our world class production base as well as our talented freelancers at all levels. These are the immediate challenges we’re facing today.”

Producers body Pact was much more neutral in its response, saying in the past hour: “Pact is looking forward to meeting with the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport – once appointed – and discussing with them the issues that independent production companies are currently facing, as well as opportunities for future growth.”

Labour’s Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Thangam Debbonaire lost her Bristol Central seat to Green Party leader Carla Denyer.

Whoever is appointed should not allow Labour to treat the culture brief like a “Cinderella department,” according to Pat Younge, the storied British producer and Cardiff Productions boss.

He called for the appointment of someone “competent with political clout” and said the person should be given far longer than the average year-long term to bed in. “That lack of stability explains the lack of confidence and the absence of a decent strategy,” he said. “A period of settled leadership will be good for all sectors of the creative economy, especially advertising supported businesses who’ve suffered from the current casino economy.”

Ellie Peers, General Secretary of the Writers Guild of Great Britain, immediately called on Labour to work for “a better deal for UK writers, who have too often been underpaid, unprotected and overlooked, in an industry that is struggling to survive.”

Peers added that the new administration “must protect, support and nurture UK writers by introducing protections on fair pay and fair treatment, ensure our creative industries are sustainable, and – in a world being revolutionised by AI – introduce robust protections on copyright. In short, it must put writers where they belong – at the heart of the story.”

Directors UK CEO Andy Harrower had a similar reponse, calling on Labour ministers to introduce a series of measures that would “make a real improvement to the working lives of the UK’s freelance film and TV directors.”

These comprise introducing a freelancer commissioner in Whitehall who can represent and defend the interests of the country’s 4.3 million freelancers, creating a ‘smart fund’ “to pay creatives for the private copying and consumption of their content on digital devices such as laptops and mobiles,” grassroots arts schemes to encourage diversity, and ensuring the AI sector through robust regulatory action, “respects the UK’s ‘Gold Standard’  IP Copyright Regime and honours their obligations to that system through transparency, accountability and financial compensation.” 

International response

Emmanuel Macron, the French President who is reeling after the far-right Rassemblement National made significant gains in the first round of the French election over the weekend, has already been in contact with his new British counterpart.

He wrote on X he was “pleased” with his first discussion with Starmer and added: “We will continue the work begun with the UK for our bilateral cooperation, for peace and security in Europe, for the climate and for AI.”

Roberta Metsola, President of the EU Parliament, wrote on social media: “Congratulations @Keir_Starmer! The relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom is rooted in our shared values and longstanding friendship. As allies and partners, it is in our common interest to continue working closely together.”

The UK is unlikely to attempt to rejoin the EU in Starmer’s first term as leader, but there will be renewed hope that Labour, which is broadly more pro-European than the Conservatives, can bring the two groups closer together.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy congratulated Starmer on a “convincing election victory,” and added: “Ukraine and the United Kingdom have been and will continue to be reliable allies through thick and thin. We will continue to defend and advance our common values of life, freedom, and a rules-based international order.”

We’ll update this story with more reaction as it comes in.