Creativity Versus Fish

Great Britain

It happened again last week. Someone threw the example of the fishing industry at me in their argument for Brexit. Passion always overrides the facts; they had passion. I had facts. I knew I would lose, because nobody wants facts thrown at them. They only confuse people; look at Mr Trump.

So, a few facts.

In June 2017 479 MPs declared for remaining in the European Union and 158 declared for Leave. That’s a 3:1 ratio in favour of staying, which the BBC then tried to flatten out in their misguided attempts to offer ‘balanced news’, by creating an artificial representative balance. They then fell into another trap; because all those Brexit items are a bit boring, they succumbed to lightweight gossip journalism, endlessly covering the antics of capering ninnies like Johnson and ‘Farridge’ over the presentation of essential production data because you know, yawn, turn off.

The Brexit scandal has many fingers pointing out where the blame lies, and there are too many culprits. The latest, the involvement of Cambridge Analytica, adds to the outrage but makes no difference. The blame for this disastrous mess starts and ends with David Cameron, very likely the worst and weakest prime minister ever appointed to the position.

Now comes an analysis from the highly respected musicologist Howard Goodall on the coming difficulties creative people will face.

Creativity relies on the openness of cultural exchange – something we can currently do within 27 countries. You only have to look around in our towns and cities to see the extraordinary positive impact that freedom of movement has had on the creative industries. Of the 3 million EU citizens who live in the UK a huge number are involved in them. As Theresa May offers vague reassurances about their post-Brexit rights while simultaneously trying to ship Windrush descendants back ‘home’ to countries they weren’t born in, does anyone have any faith at all that a sensible working solution will be found?

Mr Goodall points out that touring Europe with an orchestra is about to become near impossible. MPs think that’s just the arts and unimportant. For decades one of our national traits – a penchant for free-thinking creativity – was derided and dismissed. Had I been born a decade earlier, my desire to be a writer from an early age would have been treated as a social stigma. How times change; today British films, music, video games, crafts and publishing are taking a lead role in driving the UK’s economic recovery, accounting for 14.2 per cent of the UK’s Gross Value Added.

And yet a combination of toxic patriotism, anecdotal evidence and old-school racism pushed through a vote that only one in three MPs wanted (thanks to dirty data tricks we’ll never know how many people actually voted themselves out of a future).

Which brings me back to fish.

One simple fact would have knocked out the fishing industry argument last week.

The UK fishing industry is worth £774 million.

The UK creative industry is worth £84.1 billion.

Politicians have never understood how creativity makes money. They don’t understand the value of origination, copyright, licensing, sales territories, social reach or anything else connected with creativity. Like your granddad, they don’t understand how you can manufacture and sell something that’s invisible. The UK’s days of steel, wool, clay and iron are past. Now we make and sell ideas. And a few fish are a drop in the ocean.

(Above fig. 1; fish, below fig. 2; creativity)

9 comments on “Creativity Versus Fish”

  1. Peter Tromans says:

    Yikes, Christopher, steel, wool, clay and iron might not be what they were, but we still have the most brilliant and creative engineers, many of whom are trying to make things. If you think it’s going to be complicated organising an orchestra tour, imagine, for example, a motor car: raw materials into components that are parts that go into into bigger components and border crossings between here and continental Europe between many of the steps. Add repeated customs clearances and import duties into the process and the whole supply chain turns into a slow and expensive disaster.

    Don’t misunderstand, I support your argument totally, but feel that you should widen your definition of ‘creative’ just a little, especially when highlighting the failure of our politicians to appreciate it.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    Peter, your engineers are part of the creative world that Chris is talking about. The fact that the ultimate product is physical doesn’t change that. It’s where Chris is wrong. In Canada we faced that precise problem decades ago and signed a deal with the USA to facilitate the manufacture of cars on a N. American wide basis. (Although Mexico wasn’t involved.) Parts were manufactured wherever and then assembled wherever and sold where people wanted them. Car parts were exempted from any tariff, etc. restriction. It worked well enough that NAFTA was negotiated, the one they’re having so much trouble with now.
    Ideas cannot be trapped in a country, look at the Renaissance, but orchestras can be. I remember hearing about performers held at the border for lack of a certificate saying that there were no qualified Canadians available. How many YoYo Mahs are there? or St Petersburg Ballet Companies or Victor Borges or any other creative name? It was easier under Henry VIII.
    Fishing. I didn’t see the article so I don’t know the argument, but I live on the Pacific Coast of Canada and there has been a battle for a hundred years over ocean fishing grounds, the freshwater sources of salmon, the licensing of fishermen and the sale of fish. (First Nations fishermen could take from the rivers during the spawning run but only for their own use, not to sell to non-natives.) Fishing is not a sunset industry – we can only hope – and the fish may be only a drop in the ocean compared to the creative industries – but the people who work at it, fishing, processing, packaging, transporting and selling, are not. My fish market posts the source of every fish they sell, right down to the fishboat that caught it and where, and fish are an increasing part of people’s diet regardless of cost. Look at a map of the B.C. coast and realise that Canadian fishermen work all the way up to the Alaska Panhandle and all the inlets between there and the 49th parallel. We wouldn’t negotiate that away.

  3. Brooke says:

    Goodall’s article/post is an excellent, elegant piece–well argued and well written. I’m glad you included it in the blog as well as twitter.

  4. Peter Tromans says:

    It is an excellent article by Howard Goodall. By coincidence, I’ve also experienced the jumping through hoops process in order to work in Houston, most notably attending an interview at the US consulate consisting of two questions: where did you meet and was it love at first sight? Of course, that was long before the days of ‘Homeland Security.’

    Arguably, the vote for Brexit was an honest cry of revolt. The path of revolution is almost invariably a leap from the frying pan of oppression into the fires of hell or, perhaps more precisely, a country run by the likes of Leslie Faraday, those who don’t care for anything other than a fast buck for themselves and trade on emotive one-liners rather than logic.

    At some point in (the absolutely wonderful) ‘Wild Chamber,’ Arthur says, “Politicians can’t improve our lives; it’s up to us.” It is sadly too true. Those of us with the education, experience and general means can take up the challenge. Still, for many people, the young, the old, the unemployed, the sick, it’s much more difficult. A recent example is a woman, a Commonwealth citizen, who has lived in the UK for half a century, worked, paid taxes, married, had children and grandchildren, grown old, been widowed and become disabled. A Leslie Faraday in the Home Office sent her a letter explaining that she is an illegal alien and should return to her own country. Her possibilities for appeal were limited, costly and arduous for an elderly, disabled person. After a lot of pain, she’s won her case, a case that she should never have been made to fight. The lady is not from the Caribbean, but Canada. Leslie Faraday cannot even claim to be an honest racist, just a cruel and mindless bureaucrat. Mindless bureaucracy – wasn’t that one of the things that Brexit was supposed to save us from?

  5. Brooke says:

    To Peter’s point, Alan Greenspan reported that the value of the US economy, goods and services produced, has increased five-fold in the past 50-plus years, but the economy is lighter in actual weight. I assume the same is true of UK economy. Physical materials are lighter (your tablet versus your dad’s IBM Selectric) in large part because of new material engineering and work outputs are lighter because they are knowledge products—discovery, code, counsel, etc., which tend to have much higher value. A client, an investment banker, wrote a nice piece for WSJ about how creativity is growing GDP across all sectors.

    Unfortunately we’re on a fault line of the new vs old economy which consumed a lot of non-renewable resources (fish, land, etc.) for profit. The scary thing is politicians exploiting the rift –rather than trying to help people adjust to it. The recent US senate hearings on FB were a horrific example of what we are facing. Mr. Fowler writes about scary things such as snakes, darkness. I don’t know of anything more scary than the politicians we have now.

  6. Jan says:

    Might be just a few fish Chris but the fishing industry disappearing could destroy quite an few coastal towns. Read Helen ‘s post through this is a big employer in more towns than you might think. Granted this interim Brexit agreement they have come up for fishing around the UK is pretty bloody dreadful but the Brexit vote reflected people’ very real discontent with the status quo. If you came from a fishing town these grievances were very specific. .

    Seems bit crazy that you are telling us that the fishing industry can be written off because another “industry” – for want of a better word – is worth far more dosh. You are willing to write a lot of futures off here. Not people disadvantaged by lack of cultural exchange but people disadvantaged by lack of a decent job.

    I come from a town destroyed when the steel plant stopped being economically viable. Not easy Chris not easy at all.

  7. admin says:

    Of course I’m being a bit provocative, and it’s never easy to change, but I still have friends who want the UK coal industry back, despite its harmfulness and disastrous effect on generations of workers. Britain is now a radically altered place, and politicians need to better understand how the new economy works.

  8. Jan says:

    Thing is Chris the French would LOVE our coal reserves they have had to adopt the nuclear power option (- a potentially much more difficult alternative! ) We have thrown a viable industry away because 1. Mrs Thatcher was determined break the unions + 2. Arthur Scargill was daft enough to be goaded. Mining wasn’t exactly the healthy option for its workers but as it seems to have been replaced by sod all was worth sticking with.

    Whose Howard Goodhall anyway? Does he lead the Howard Goodhall ragtime band ? Or I am I thinking of Benny Goodman?

  9. Wayne Mook says:

    A point is we sell most of our fish abroad, esp. Europe, while we import fish, I’m told it’s a matter of taste & preference of the consumer in each area. One of the main production plants is in Portugal, One Brexiteer, said there would be a downturn until we brought our production industry back, though he never said who would invest in this.

    In Manchester we used to have cotton, we never heard the clamour to save our industry. Oddly enough, recently for the first time in decades in Manchester there is a number of firms working together so raw cotton is processed, spun, dyed and then woven into a finished product, it’s been a long time since bails of raw cotton have arrived in Manchester and have gone through the whole process. It is of course high tech and a lot smaller scale than in the past, and this comes from a creative area, the clothes are designed, in fact the whole thing starts with the creative process.

    As for the film industry and other creative industries a product is made and sold, a film actually exists and is shown, also the props, costumes, sets; even the cameras someone have to design, make & then operate. A book exists even if it is on an e-reader and the medium it exists on has ancillary jobs. It surprises me how people don’t see the creative side of making things & the physical side of the creative.


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