Propel | 2021 Senedd Elections

The Welsh Government elected at the 2021 Senedd election will have the power to make laws that affect the daily lives of artists, performers and creators the length and breadth of Wales. From the sectors’ recovery post-pandemic to funding for arts organisations and creative community projects, we gave the leaders of the main political parties a chance to share their vision for arts and culture in our election spotlight series. Today, Neil McEvoy of Propel outlines his party’s vision.

Propel’s vision for the arts is a straightforward one, and that is for the arts to actually happen. It’s been a terrible 12 months for those who value love, creativity, connection, diversity and freedom of expression. It’s been a great 12 months for multinational and monoculture corporations.

As a party Propel has committed, through our Contract with Wales, to end Welsh lockdowns and not return to them. We’ve taken that position for a number of reasons, but primarily because they do more harm than good. The Welsh Government’s own risk assessments say closing most indoor venues will have only a ‘low to moderate impact’ on virus spread, compared to maintaining social distancing.

But the impacts they predict from lockdowns are damning. They claim ‘Long-term / lifetime “scarring” effects on socioeconomic outcomes will result – lower incomes, increased risks of unemployment, of poor health and of premature mortality.’

They also say that:

‘The nature of employment in the most affected sectors means that effects will tend to worsen inequalities – the most affected tend to be low paid, in insecure employment, and young people… More broadly, recessions tend to impact most severely on people who are already “disadvantaged”.’

If we look beyond Wales, the potential for significant harm is even more stark. In a Lancet article authors including Richard Sullivan, who is Professor of Global Health at King’s College London, argue that:

‘Like UNICEF and others, we believe that lockdowns kill people through disruption of health services and deprivation of livelihoods. At the bottom of the global pile, recession is not just a matter of having less: it is a matter of life and death.’

They’re not alone. In a speech to the United Nations Security Council, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, told ambassadors:

‘There is a grave danger that many more people will die from the broader economic and social consequences of COVID-19 than from the virus itself, especially in Africa. And the last thing we need is to have the cure be worse than the disease itself.’

The former Director of Global Health at Imperial College London, Kalipso Chalkidou recognises: ‘…it should not be a choice between doing nothing and lockdowns. It should be about appraising different policy options using a more holistic approach.’

This is Propel’s position. Many people working in the arts fall into the category of being low paid, in insecure employment and young. This means the arts are most likely to be severely disadvantaged by lockdowns.

And it’s at every level. Think of your local DJ, your wedding photographer and musician, artists who need tourists to keep their sales going. All largely out of work and relying on handouts.

I’m struggling to remember the last time I heard live music being played. We all used to be stunned by the Taliban’s ban on musical performances and wondered how there could be a country without live music. Now we’re experiencing what that is like. Amazingly, I spoke to one dance teacher who told me that over the summer he wasn’t allowed to teach any moves that might cause his students to sweat.

But the choice is not ‘do a severe lockdown or do nothing’. With effective social distancing measures in place and shielding the most vulnerable, the arts can and should continue.

That goes for venues too. In Cardiff, where I live, the Boneyard and its art studios are gone. The same for live music venue Gwdihw. Porters Bar, with its adjacent theatre, is set to close. They’re all in the process of being erased to make way for corporate flats the city doesn’t need.

This is concerning for me and I’ve campaigned against these closures. The city’s culture is simply being lost.

It’s precisely why Propel has committed to introduce a Direct Democracy Act that would put power in people’s hands. Through collecting enough signatures to force legally binding referenda, unpopular planning decisions could be overturned, which would protect the arts.

With Propel in Government after May we will safely end lockdowns. The creativity and passion that has been suppressed for the last year will be free to flourish again. This is what we live for and this is what we must vote for.

You can read Propel’s Contract with Wales here.