There are three things which are absolutely certain about the forthcoming general election:
1. I ‘m one hundred percent definitely going to vote
2. I won’t be divulging how on these pages
3. The election campaign is going to dominate the news for the next five weeks.
And last night I had a foretaste of a party debate when I joined fellow writers at a hustings organised by the Society of Authors and the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS). Representatives from seven parties had been invited, but, in the event, only four turned up to discuss their parties’ policies on the arts and, more specifically,writing and books.
There were some interesting facts and figures to start with: the arts account for some twelve percent of GNP, the UK is a net exporter of music, writers earn an average of £11,000 a year.
So, not surprisingly, there was some discussion about what the parties would do to enhance writers’ salaries. While the Liberal Democrat, Green, and Labour representatives thought that it would be feasible to introduce legislation ensuring that writers were on a level playing field with large organisations when it came to negotiating contracts, this idea was clearly at odds with the Conservative ideal of a free market, and their representative, Ed Vaizey, claimed that he very much doubted that any government would be interested in such a move. Interestingly, both the Lib Dem, Martin Horwood, and Conservative, Ed Vaizey, took the credit for improving the lot of writers by increasing personal allowances to £10,600, so take your pick!
Hugh Small of the Greens was interested in copyright issues and rectifying the unfairness of the current situation in which writers have to police their publishers to ensure that the rules of copyright aren’t infringed, while at the same time admitting that he wasn’t likely to be in a position to do anything about this after the election.
There was a heated exchange about the future of public libraries, during which Martin Horwood had to work speedily to correct and amplify his initial statement that libraries were now the bastion of middle class homework clubs, and Chris Bryant (Labour) argued for a proper standard against which to judge the viability of public libraries and any future restructuring of them.
Chris Bryant then put in a quick plug for the novel he’s writing (the title of which eludes me) and Ed Vaizey announced that his memoirs would be called “It Was Good While It Lasted” (or words to that effect). Is he already staring into the jaws of defeat?
Afterwards I had a pleasant natter with some of my fellow writers, and we established that our concerns were all of the above – minus the literary works of politicians – plus our children and their future job prospects, and culminating in where we buy our underwear.