Sloppy Lobbies

Feature in Issue 7-2 | Summer 1995

Paul Vates takes a light-hearted view of the arts lobbying business, and the forthcoming ACE Drama Department’s Green Paper.

‘Hey everybody! There’s a Green Paper coming out on Drama!’ Some of you will, in response to this, be jumping up and down with glee. (Hmm…) Some will be thinking something along the lines of ‘Oh no! Not again! We’ve heard it all before.’ (Sigh.) Finally, some, like me, will be tutting and wishing the whole thing would just go away and die. Who cares what the people at the top think, know, or claim they know? They never seem to have any kind of inkling what’s going on down here, do they? Or do they?

The whole point of Reports and Papers – no matter the subject – is often to inform those very people what is going on. How else can they find out?

Well, luckily for us, there is another way – Lobbying!

West Yorkshire Playhouse chief Jude Kelly recently stated that regional theatres must form a ‘national grid’ to fight their cash crises. ‘We are clearly seeing that people outside London can have nearly such good facilities, but not as good,’ she says. As for the Drama Dept’s Green Paper: ‘It must conclude that small grass roots companies and touring companies should all be preserved.’ Pause for applause from all small grass roots companies and touring companies.

‘Oh no!’ Moans a little voice. ‘Not again! We’ve heard it all before!’

So is this Green Paper really going to show the way? Or are we ‘theatricals’ simply sharpening our knives again getting ready for the need to press our case in this ever-falling spiral of funding cuts? We’re surely not going to blame the government-again?!

Ooh! A radical thought has just occurred to me… As I mentioned earlier the other way of contacting the dead, er… living, in seats of power, traditionally involves a system called Lobbying. Greenpeace have been doing it for years – under the banner of ‘campaigning’ because dictionaries explain that campaigns are for public interest. The inference is that lobbies are for small and private purposes. Purposes like: ‘Ahem – could, er, the Arts have more money please?’

Lobbying is all about facing the legislators head-on and bringing pressure to bear on behalf of other parties

Lobbying, lobbyism and lobbyers/ lobbyists are for special interest groups. Now, our system of government and funding works in two ways. Things change through elections or lobbies. It’s topical, as I write, with Lord Nolan’s Committee about to suggest new restrictions on MPs being ‘paid’ to ask questions in parliament in order to apply pressure or influence for the passage of bills, etc. Lobbying is all about facing the legislators head-on and bringing pressure to bear on behalf of other parties.

Quick commercial: You’ve gotta problem? Want more subsidy? Sounds like a job for The L-Team!

Such people exist. Professional lobbying consultants and organisations, like Jennifer Edwards at the National Campaign for the Arts. Her job is to, well, lobby for the Arts. (Notice the user-friendly word ‘campaign’ in the organisation’s title?) But, isn’t her job a never-ending one? Surely no one can believe that there will come a time when all the Arts are content with their funding and infrastructures? So lobbyists will always remain a part of the equation.

Yet, all this provides no solution. My radical thought?…

Vociferously complaining/promoting/pushing/pressing/urging (delete as appropriate) for ‘improvements’ always seems to create further problems. Can ACE ever really fulfil its functions? A thankless task indeed. And suddenly – as if from nowhere there appears a knight from Camelot. Coins glint in the sunlight as the monies from The National Lottery tumble at our feet. A timely diversion. We little people scurry for the hand-outs.

But, back to my thought. What would the powers-that-be do, if, and it’s just a thought, everybody went quiet? If no one asked any questions, if no one presented their case, no one stood up for their beliefs, no one whispered a single word of annoyance? This is a thought perhaps too horrific to contemplate…

To finish…

Q: How many lobbyists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: One, of course. But, just to be sure, let’s spend a lot of money and time debating it and push for a Green Paper: The Light Bulb Changing Review…

If you are interested in finding out more, or getting involved in current lobbying activities for Mime and Physical Theatre call MAG on 0171 713 7944.

This article in the magazine

Issue 7-2
p. 12