‘Creativity Is for People – Art’s for Posh People’

Popular Culture and the UK’s New Labour Government

Authored by: Kate Oakley

The Routledge Companion to Global Popular Culture

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415641470
eBook ISBN: 9780203081846
Adobe ISBN: 9781136175961


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This chapter considers both the understanding and treatment of popular culture in a particular period of British political history, that of the New Labour government, 1997–2010. Widely seen as popularizing, through identification with pop musicians and football (soccer), as well as through initiatives such as the Millennium Dome (McGuigan & Gilmore 2002) and the National Centre for Popular Music (Brabazon & Mallinder 2006), the chapter argues that in fact New Labour struggled with popular culture, much as its predecessors had. While seen as useful for the branding of a ‘young country’, particularly in the early days of the Administration (Blair 2004), and for differentiating themselves from Conservative predecessors with the latter’s concern for heritage and what was seen as a nostalgic understanding of Britain’s culture, New Labour’s promotion of popular culture, with the interesting exception of film, was largely symbolic. For the most part, cultural funding supported the institutions it has always supported (Jancovitch 2011), the interests of rights-owners were consistently preferred over those of popular culture audiences, and popular cultural ‘tradition’ was left to the mercy of the marketplace in a way that would have been unthinkable for ‘high’ cultural forms. Yet, far from being a specifically New Labour problem, the chapter argues that this represents a long-term tension in the Labour party (Bianchini forthcoming 2014), and on the British Left in general, and a public policy failure that is characteristic not only of the UK.

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