With David Cameron capable of forming a government free of the need to negotiate red lines in darkened rooms, what are the likely implications for publishing and the creative sector?
- The Conservative Government will be relatively stable and capable of being formed early. With the Digital Single Market debate well under way in Europe this is vital. Ministers can go to European Council meetings secure in their briefs, and with their interlocuters knowing that they are in situ for five years.
- The broad direction of policy, supportive of a robust IP framework and insistent on the need for an evidence-based case for change, will remain in place. It is welcome that there is no prospect of it being negotiated away by any minor coalition members.
- What happens in education policy will depend as much upon the personalities of the relevant Ministers as anything else. The strong commitment to text books and a belief in a small core curriculum is likely to remain. However, the zeal with which specific elements of this policy is pursued may vary according to taste. The planned reforms to A levels will stay in place.
- Similarly, whether BIS Ministers remain committed to the “Finch settlement” on open access may depend as much on personal interest and competing priorities as anything else.
- The SNP’s strong performance sees the return to Parliament of their Perth MP, Pete Wishart, who has been a strong advocate of the creative industries. His voice should ensure that there is reinforcement, rather than opposition, to the Conservative position.
However, there are some darker clouds on the horizon.
- The Conservative pledge to seek a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU is going to dominate the political agenda for the next year up to and beyond the promised referendum in 2017. This leaves the Digital Single Market policy in the dangerous position of being a political football – ready to be kicked into touch or into a goal according to the pressures of the wider debate. We have already seen signs of this with No 10’s unhelpful December paper; but at least then we had some pro-EU Lib Dem ministers to help temper the message. And although UKIP’s parliamentary presence will be small and marginalised, the Tory high command will not be able to ignore its sizeable share of the vote.
- The Conservative’s fiscal policy – as set out in the March Budget – will now come into full effect. This does imply strong cuts to local government spending which in turn implies even further pressure on library budgets. We can expect to see further vociferous debate on this issue.
- Likely leadership elections in both Labour and the Liberal Democrats will mean their focus will be elsewhere in the short-term.
We look forward to engaging with the new Ministers, and in time to discussing policy with new opposition spokespeople as well as Select Committee Chairs and members.
Richard Mollet is chief executive of the Publishers Association