Vote for design

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The forthcoming General Election demands us to be critical of all parties and interrogate their manifestos for the issues and policies that we believe to be most vital.

There are three issues that I expect parties to address – creative education (in its broadest sense), the embedding of design methods in both policy making and the development of public services and the nurturing of the creative industries. I have a professional interest in all three of these.

Creative education is not only fundamental to civilised values, but empowers citizens to contribute creatively to their communities and there is evidence that it enhances wellbeing. Indeed that was why Aneurin Bevan argued equally for the NHS and an arts policy in his ground breaking book In Place of Fear. Placing design within government and the public sector is demonstrably a good and progressive idea. You can pledge all the money you like to the NHS, but unless you address the issue of service design, then such pledges become meaningless. And creative industries exploit the talents of the UK’s filmmakers, craftmakers, designers, artists, writers and others to create wealth and employment.

If these were the only issues that matter (and clearly they are not) then only Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are in the running.

The Labour manifesto refers to design nine times in the context of the redesign of public services and the introduction of co-design principles. To be honest here I was very surprised at this emphasis. Labour also assert “We will guarantee a universal entitlement to a creative education”. The Greens have a similar policy and further claim “We will set creative government free”. Their manifesto has considerable reference to design, including the design of safer cities and communities. So, some fine words and general principles, from both parties, but not a huge amount of detail.

But it is the Liberal Democrats who win the design prize – 19 references to design, including three explicit references to “design against crime” (thanks Nick, all our research on this issue clearly made an impact). They also win the prize for creativity for their section “Pride in Creativity” which has clear policies for education and more detail on support for the creative industries.

Rodney Fitch once said that no other British Prime Minister had ever banged the drum of design quite as hard as Margaret Thatcher. And with the possible exception of Sir Robert Peel, he was probably right. So how do the Tories stack up in 2015?

Design is actually mentioned, between “theatre” and “film”. So, a very 1980s notion of what design is – which is curious given that the Cabinet Office actually has recently done some very fine work at embedding design in government. There is reference to support for creative industries, but mainly centred on tax breaks for the film industry and anti-piracy measures. The emphasis in education is on STEM rather than any reference to creative education. So the message is very much: we like the money the creative industries earn for us, we want people to have access to culture and arts, but how people are empowered to create that culture is not something we think is important enough to mention.

But when we move on to the SNP, a rather curious and frankly disturbing black hole opens up. Just a simple word search results in: creativity: not found; design: not found; arts: not found; culture: mentioned twice in terms of business (culture of innovation) & twice in terms of agriculture and aquaculture; creative mentioned twice, both in the context of the BBC. There are a couple of very passing references to creative industries (less than two short paragraphs saying little), and one whole page about fishing. In Scotland the fishing industry employs 4,000 people and the creative industries employ 85,000. No mention of creative education at all.

I am told that this is because all of these issues are devolved. Excuse me? Creativity and design are devolved? How does that work? Education is very definitely devolved but there is considerable reference to it in the SNP manifesto. There are five references to the devolved policy of “free” university education in Scotland. Five. Just in case you miss four of the references. Curiously there is no mention of the 1,000 further education jobs that have been cut and the 12% reduction in FE budgets resulting in a 48% reduction of part-time places, many of which are in creative disciplines.

There is an interesting and telling use of language and reference to ideas in the SNP manifesto that is very conventional in its political rhetoric and simply does not refer at all to those ideas and methods that are transforming the public sector across Europe, which some other manifestos on the “progressive” side do.

However, the SNPs wins the prize for repetition. In addition to the five references to “free” university education, the term “more progressive” was used eight times. Neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Labour Party mention “progressive” at all. The Greens refer to “progressive” seven times, but in terms of taxation and energy tariffs rather than the assertion of a political mantra.

But don’t take my word for it, read these manifestos with an open mind and make your own decision. Whatever we think of political parties and their manifestos, they are the best guide we have to assess how seriously parties take the issues that are important to us.

I’m voting for the party that helps us to design a better future.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. UKIP.

Creative: not found; creativity: not found. So no surprises there. The references to design are twofold. ”Design and print by…” a reference to the printers of the manifesto. And “The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was designed from the beginning to steal our fish”.

So long, Nigel, and thanks for all the fish.

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