Image Credit: David Dibert
Download Project Report
Economic nationalism, the political and consumer support for domestic industries, might be a bête noire of economists, but has never gone away.
It might be a long time since people in the UK were encouraged to show their patriotism by buying British cars, but the government is still an official sponsor of the Great British Food campaign, politicians earn plaudits by holidaying in Cornwall rather than Tuscany and, as debates over Europe have shown, arguments about national and economic identity remain deeply entwined.
But, despite its high profile in the UK, the idea of economic nationalism for the creative industries is still largely an alien one. While tortuous market failure arguments are deployed to justify government support for the production and distribution of British films, the rationale (and funding criteria) is essentially a cultural rather than an economic one. Otherwise, as has been pointed out, it would make more sense for National Lottery funds to be spent on producing video games. As for audiences, there would seem to be little sentiment that British films warrant particular attention. Despite the efforts of the BFI and the media hurrahs that surround success at the Oscars, encouraging people to watch British films in the same way that they should eat British beef are unlikely to succeed.
Similarly, literature is regarded as one of the cornerstones of British identity, but young people are encouraged to read Shakespeare and Dickens on the basis of understanding and enjoying our cultural heritage rather than to maintain the country’s publishing industry. While policy arguments around the licence fee rarely dwell on the fact that the BBC underpins an internationally competitive television production industry.
For many, the idea of ‘buying British culture’ would be an anathema. These are, after all, markets that prize originality, the latest trends and a ceaseless quest for the new. Whether it is Scandinavian television dramas, Japanese animation or Brazilian samba, many consumers actively seek out the unfamiliar. In so far as the British consciously focus on culture from the UK, it tends to be at the local rather than national level – the music scene in Manchester, the ‘Bristol Sound’, visual art in Cornwall or theatre in central London.
Where national sentiments have their strongest impulse is in design, fashion and crafts – industries in which authenticity and providence have always been important. A successful instance of this is the New Craftsmen, with its store in Mayfair exclusively selling crafts, furniture and jewellery from artisans working cross the British isles. As a curatorial device, the New Craftsmen shows how British identity and traditions can be skilfully used to showcase contemporary design.
But ultimately, however, economic nationalism is a reflection of weakness rather than strength and there are sound reasons for eschewing it. People should consume and explore culture freely, without prejudice as to where it was made. Attempts by French radio stations to restrict English language pop music, or US bumper slogans cajoling people to buy American cars are scorned not just because of their xenophobic overtones, but because they are symptomatic of nations struggling with economic and cultural decline.
The UK’s creative industries don’t need economic nationalism – what they need is an economic strategy, a distinction not always fully made. This means a coherent and properly resourced plan that goes beyond celebrating the sector and instead commits substantial investment into education and skills, start-up support , affordable workspace, infrastructure, innovation and R+D, stimulating private finance and promoting exports. If all of those were in place, then there would be no need to urge customers to ‘buy British’ – for, without having to be told, they would be anyway.
Created in Britain
Economic Nationalism and the Creative Industries
Jun 20, 2016
A global research and consulting practice for culture and the creative economy
Nov 4, 2021
How are major cities around the world responding to climate change through cultural policies and programmes?
The Green World Cities of Tomorrow: Culture and Sustainability
Apr 22, 2021
5 Priorities for World Cities in the post-covid recovery period
Culture and the Climate Emergency
Dec 4, 2020
Culture can play an important role in recovery and renewal across the UK, if the right local decision-making is put in place
Culture and the Recovery: Levelling Up Culture?
Sep 23, 2020
This focused, coordinated set of measures can not only rescue the sector, but position it to lead the recovery
Central London’s celebrated cultural offer is in peril
Aug 21, 2020
Three big questions as applications close for Arts Council England’s Cultural Recovery Fund
COVID-19: Government support packages for culture and creative industries #3
Jul 30, 2020
The UK’s £1.57 billion recovery package: priorities for a New Deal
COVID-19: Government support packages for culture and creative industries #2
Jul 20, 2020
Cities are using their unique capabilities to lead recovery and renewal
COVID-19: Cities, Culture and the 3 ‘P’s: powers, partnerships, place
Jul 7, 2020
Investing in recovery, planning for transformation
COVID-19: Government support packages for culture and creative industries #1
Jun 30, 2020
Recovery and renewal will depend on how we address the three dimensions of the crisis
COVID-19 is a triple blow to culture and the creative industries
Jun 3, 2020
In the face of radical uncertainty leaders and policy-makers will have to take planning and collaboration to whole a new level
‘Plans are useless, planning is essential’
May 13, 2020
Nobody knows what will happen next, but we have a good idea of the three necessary steps out of the crisis
Relief, Recovery and Renewal: navigating our way to a new kind of future
By BOP Consulting
Tom is a Senior Associate of BOP. Tom currently leads our work on World Cities and works on a range of innovation and cultural masterplanning projects.
Planning a new project?
If you are interested to learn more about our work or if you have a project you would like to discuss, get in touch.