Lucy Powell interview: Culture wars create ‘false divide’, says Labour frontbencher
Political debates about statues and heritage foster a “false divide” in society, Labour’s new shadow culture secretary has said – as she insisted she is an “ordinary parent” who is “not a North London luvvie”. Lucy Powell, who was promoted to the culture brief in Sir Keir Starmer’s November reshuffle, said that she would be a “more difficult opponent” for the Conservatives on woke issues and that she planned to take culture wars debates head on. In her first newspaper interview since taking the new role, the MP for Manchester Central set out her stall as an “ordinary northern parent”.
She also pledged to show how Labour would use culture and sport to “level up” the country. Sir Keir has often avoided talking about culture wars issues such as no-platforming and the removal of statues. He faces divisions in his party over questions like whether he should deliver speeches in front of the Union flag.
Lucy Powell: ‘I’m not woke, but I’m not anti-woke either’
Ms Powell, 47, said she would be “navigating some of these issues for Labour” in her role covering culture, media and sport.
“I wouldn’t say I’m woke. I’m not woke, but I’m not anti-woke either,” she said. “I’m just kind of fairly ordinary.
I will absolutely sort of cry my eyes out at Strictly Come Dancing where a deaf woman wins it and a same-sex couple are the runners up. I think that was a fantastic kind of illustration of where woke and anti-woke meet. “I do think it’s a bit of a false divide in this country, isn’t it sometimes?
“I think there’s no question that the Conservative Party, especially in the crisis mode that it’s in, will seek to get itself back on what it sees as stronger ground for them, which is on culture wars.” Pitching her own credentials as a politician in touch with voters on cultural issues, she added: “But I think they’ll come up against a more difficult opponent in me on that, I’m afraid, because at the end of the day, I’m just an ordinary northern parent, and mum and woman, like everybody else who doesn’t really have any truck for those false divisions. “I’m obviously not a North London luvvie anyway.”
Lucy Powell on the election campaign trail in 2010 with comedian Eddie IzzardCredit: PA
Ms Powell said that while Boris Johnson had pledged grants to artistic and cultural institutions as part of the Government’s “levelling up” strategy, the centralised nature of the funding meant local councils had little say in how their communities were rejuvenated.
“I’ve seen first hand how culture and sport in Manchester were absolutely critical to the Renaissance of the city,” said Ms Powell, who was born in the city she now represents. “Without that, we would not see the sort of vibrant growing city that we see today. “And they were early decisions that were taken by the civic leaders at the time to really invest in sport and culture as part of the economic redevelopment of Manchester.”
Central to that “Renaissance” was the BBC’s decision to move part of its operations to Media City in Salford in 2011, which Ms Powell said has created a whole “ecosystem” of creative work in the city. She is therefore sceptical of the role of Netflix in the decentralisation of the UK’s creative industries, and pointed to the recent decision to invest in Pinewood studios, in West London. With Netflix, she said the Government has “no ability” to direct investment and promote a “levelling up agenda and all that we want to see in terms of content coming from all parts of the UK, all different types of audience”.
“Actually, the BBC and Channel Four and others do that brilliantly,” she added. “But they’re now competing against streaming services that don’t necessarily have those same values and don’t have those things or policy demands.”
Labour’s ‘big job to do’ at the next election
After several torrid weeks for Mr Johnson, Ms Powell said Labour is not resting on its laurels and knows it has plenty of work still to do. “We don’t take anything for granted,” she said.
“We’ve got a big, big job to do at the next election – a huge job.
“We are, behind the scenes and in front at the same time, working very, very hard to build that platform of what our offer at the next election is going to be.”