John Whittingdale's speech to Tory party conference

Posted On: 
5th October 2015

Read the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale's speech to the Tory party conference in Manchester.

“Exactly twenty five years ago, I was in Blackpool working on the Prime Minister’s speech to our conference there. I was trying to persuade Margaret Thatcher to include a passage comparing the symbol of the Liberal Democrats to Monty Python’s dead parrot. As many of you know, I succeeded – although, I was never sure that she entirely grasped why it was funny. But it seems an even more fitting comparison today.

Margaret Thatcher had a huge respect for the Party Conference. So it is a huge honour for me to be standing here today as a member of the Cabinet of a majority Conservative Government under the only Prime Minister since her time to increase his Parliamentary majority at an election, David Cameron.

I am lucky to be supported by a superb ministerial team:

-              Ed Vaizey who has championed the Arts and Culture for the past five years,

-              Tracey Crouch – a Sports Minister who lives and breathes Sport,

-              Lucy Neville-Rolfe who comes from business and now also serves in the Business Department

-              and Joanna Shields who having run Facebook in Europe understands the importance of Internet Security and Safety

-              And I must also thank our excellent PPS’, Heather Wheeler and Sheryl Murray.

 Our Department is responsible for promoting so many of the things that make this country special.

Every year, millions of people visit our world-class museums; take in outstanding plays, television and films; marvel at new developments in the visual arts and architecture; look in awe at the buildings and places that comprise our glorious built heritage; read British newspapers; cheer on our sports stars; have a flutter on the horses; and experience our famous cultural and music festivals.

We have an incredible story to tell. As Dominic Sandbrook wrote in the Sunday Times recently:

“There are no French Rolling Stones, no German Beatles; there is no Italian Bond, no Spanish Rowling, no Dutch David Bowie.”

Conservatives are deeply committed to protecting and promoting British arts and culture, as well as our historic buildings, collections and museums. They are absolutely central to who we are as a nation.

Our creative industries too are world-beating. In a few weeks’ time, the latest James Bond movie opens –the 26th in one of the most successful film franchises of all time. And thanks to our film tax credits, the latest movie in each of those two other great franchises: Star Wars and Harry Potter, are also now being made in the UK.

Home-grown TV shows like Sherlock and Downton Abbey are watched around the world while American productions like Game of Thrones and 24 are, thanks again to our tax incentives being made here in the UK.

And British music artists continue to dominate accounting for 1 in 7 of all album sales around the world.

Our arts, our heritage, our creative industries also helped attract a record 35 million visitors to the UK in the last year. And ensured that London remains the most popular city in the world.

But it is not enough to persuade international tourists to choose to come to London. We need to persuade them to visit other fantastic parts of the UK like Cornwall, Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire and of course the North west.

Here in Manchester we already have one of our great orchestras, an international arts festival and the Imperial war Museum North. And we will be investing £78 million to create a major new arts venue called The Factory in homage to that great record label, Factory Records.

And Manchester will also play a key role in our plans to commemorate the centenary of the battle of the Somme next year.

So the arts, heritage and the creative industries are all helping fuel the Northern Powerhouse.

In Sport too, this country is punching way above its weight – and that is not just a reference to Nicola Adams’ gold medal.

All of the UK is currently glued to the Rugby World Cup and despite our disappointment at the England result, we are cheering on the other Home Nation teams. Just as we celebrated England’s stunning Ashes victory during the summer and the success of our Women’s Football team who beat Germany to take third place in the World Cup.

And this country is also starting to make its presence felt in international sports governance. I was delighted when Seb Coe deservedly won the presidency of the IAAF.

There is no-one better to run athletics – and it’s a pity he can’t run FIFA too!

However, sporting success starts at the Grass roots – as I know well since Alistair Cook started his cricket career at Maldon Cricket Club - of which I am a proud Vice President.

And encouraging grassroots sport helps achieve other goals too. A good sports policy is a good health policy, a good social policy and a good anti-crime policy. And because it makes people fitter, it’s good an economic policy too.

So we have launched a consultation for a new strategy for sport that will get the country moving. And I am delighted that the Premier League is working with us to substantially increase their investment in grassroots football in clubs and schools.

But there is another race in which I want the UK to stay ahead – the global race in skills and technology.

The pace of technological change is growing ever faster. In 1983, when I accompanied Margaret Thatcher on her election tour, I was put in charge of the Mobile Phone. There was nothing very mobile about it. It was the size of a brick with a handle. And we soon discovered that journalists in a car behind the battlebus could tune their radio to listen in.

Today, mobile phone coverage and high speed broadband are seen as essential to modern life.

By next year, every household will be guaranteed access to basic broadband. And the agreement that Sajid reached with the Mobile Phone Companies last year means that each is investing to ensure that it provides coverage across 90 per cent of the UK geographic area by 2017.

The Government is also investing too - to make sure that superfast broadband is also available in every part of the country. We have already ensured an extra 3 million homes and business can access superfast speeds and every week another 40,000 are added. With more than four out of five homes and businesses already able to obtain superfast speeds, we are on course for at least 95 per cent of the UK to have access by 2017.

But we will not stop there. We know that fast and reliable internet access matters, perhaps even more, to businesses and communities in our rural areas. So we are working with providers on how to ensure that fast broadband is available to every business and household throughout the UK - and then towards rolling out ultrafast broadband delivering even faster speeds.

The digital revolution is giving consumers more services and choice than ever before. Ten years ago, most households could receive just five channels. YouTube, Facebook and smartphones were barely heard of.

Today, we can enjoy a choice of programmes on a range of devices which was unimaginable at that time. So it is right that we should think about the role of the BBC in that new landscape as its Charter comes up for renewal next year.

At its best, the BBC is the finest broadcaster in the world. Its reputation for quality and creativity as well as accuracy and objectivity is rightly admired across the world.

The BBC plays a crucial role in projecting Britain’s image across the globe. And it provides programmes which are enjoyed by millions every day.

But the reason that it is governed by a Charter which requires renewal each ten years is to provide an opportunity to ask questions about the way it is governed, the way it is paid for and what it does.

That was the purpose of the Green Paper I launched in July and I am delighted that 80,000 people have already told us what they think.

Some I have no doubt are in this hall today. And I know from the many letters and conversations that I have had that you have sometimes felt that the BBC has not always been as fair or as impartial as it should. Although the BBC are right to point out that it is a complaint often voiced by other parties too.

But what is important is that the public should have confidence that complaints are examined independently and carefully. And that it is no longer the case that if you make a complaint against the BBC, the decision on whether it is justified is taken by the BBC.

That is just one of the key issues which we are considering in our review.  And if you haven’t yet told us what you think then you still have a few more days in which to do so.

When it was first created, my Department was labelled “the Ministry of Fun”. And it is true that all these things for which we are responsible add hugely to the enjoyment and quality of life. But just because something is fun does not mean that it is trivial. Those things that enrich our lives also enrich us financially. They are increasingly important components of the modern global economy – and Britain is staggeringly good at them. 

I am deeply fortunate to work in an area of Government that is so diverse. I am passionate about our creative industries - fashion, music, the arts, film, TV and games and I am determined to help them stay at the top of the international league.

I admire our sports men and women and am committed to do all that I can to help them in their endeavours and to encourage many more to get involved.

I am honoured to be a custodian of so much of our national heritage, from our Royal Palaces to our War Memorials.

But above all, I am proud to be part of a Conservative Government which has no need to prove its patriotism, no need to disown our history, and no need to apologise for celebrating our culture. A Government, led by David Cameron, which can celebrate our wonderful, eclectic, dynamic, diverse and inspiring nation, and help it to take its rightful place on the world’s stage.”