We live in interesting times. This term, actually a Chinese curse, reflects all the hope, possibility and opportunity of a period – as well as the worst that we can imagine from it.
What has been “interesting” recently is the overwhelming cultural and political view that the British public is a nasty species that requires constant regulating, probing, prodding, nudging and containing. I say this with particular regard to what has come to be known as the Night Time Economy, but the tendency goes much further.
Over Christmas, for example, there was much coverage of a survey by the Post Office showing many people would be spending New Year’s Eve at home with friends and loved ones. In a sign of the times, the reports came with a stocking filler full of anti-fun, with advice on what precautions to take when taking the risky adventure of having friends over. “If at all possible, cover carpets to prevent damage from spilt food and drinks,” they recommended, as well as the particularly mean-spirited humdinger: “Protect your valuables so they’re not damaged, broken or worst yet, stolen!” Tis the Season to be Jolly.
Well Old Acquaintances should not be forgotten – and raising a glass with our fellow citizens is part of what makes us who we are. That is not to say that one shouldn’t have nights in with friends. What is far more worrying is the pernicious notion that, wherever we are, we are up to no good.
The figures for going out are impressive. With over 300m visits across Britain per year to nightlife venues, the Department for Communities and Local Government has found that the Night Time Economy provides town centres with between 10 and 16 per cent of their total employment, with around 80 per cent of jobs going to young people (in London a disastrous one in four of whom are unemployed). In the capital in 2013 alone, overseas visitors spent £11.26bn on going out at night, and EY has estimated London’s Night Time Economy could be worth up to £30bn a year by 2030. Nightlife is vital to our nation and our way of life.
Clearly politicians, councillors, the police and others don’t think about people as problematic on an individual level. Increasingly, however, the “public” at large is seen by these officials through the prism of risk, and over-stretched police (who have faced significant funding cuts) have resorted to so-called “stats-related policing” rather than working out in partnership with venues how to mitigate any of the costs of nightlife.
As a result, the Night Time Economy has suffered heavy blows from the wrong-minded notion that it is a place full of “anti-social behaviour” (which is never defined specifically), “alcohol-related crimes” (there is no such thing in English law) and “crime spikes” or “hot spots”, in spite of serious crime being far lower now than in the recent past. “Zones” and “impact areas” are continually imposed, with all types of restrictions on the public, as well as the Orwellian-sounding and ubiquitous Public Space Protection Orders.
But we have a very different yardstick to measure the public against too: our hosting of the Olympics. What a terrific representation of who we really are. The fearful outlook that, when the public gets together, it only spells trouble has thankfully been debunked over recent years. In fact, Britain is now a fabulously well behaved country. I often joke with older police officers about the 1980s and what was once referred to as “Friday fight night”. These days, the young are only violently using their Twitter or Snapchat to share their latest nonalcoholic cocktail date, or using Instagram to record their favourite DJ performance.
This is serious business too, with the Night Time Economy generating nearly £70bn in revenue each year in Britain. It is one of our most robust economic engines, dynamic, creative, fun, inspirational – and where the next cultural phenomenon is always hatched. That’s right. The Sub Club in Glasgow, The Warehouse Project in Manchester, The Rainbow Venues in Birmingham, or the new Sankeys in London – in fact any one of our world-class venues – are the breeding grounds for the next Adele, Tinie Tempah, Ed Sheeran and Jessie J.
From the Beatles to advertising, London Fashion Week to film-making, our vast post-war cultural contribution has been enormously informed by our dance floors. We go out, we meet one another, we eat, drink, dance and have fun.
While some try to invoke a horror “tableaux” of bad behaviour, we know that millions of Brits and visitors from around the world go out every week and are well behaved, make new friends, fall in love, enrich our economy, regenerate our towns and cities, and in actual fact act as a deterrent to crime, by lighting up our streets and being the eyes and ears.
More than that, going out is what being British is all about. We are not famous any longer for our ship-building or coal – but we are recognised for our contribution to music and culture globally. It pays enormous economic dividends each year – but part of what makes Britain such a welcoming and impressive destination, or country to live in, is also how we put on a good show.
Sure, being chairman of The Night Time Industries Association, you might expect me to encourage everyone to go out and have fun. But as a member of the public, having been lucky enough to grow up in Britain (in spite of some of that violence way back when), I have witnessed our incredible clubs around the country first hand. Dance music transformed Britain and indeed the world in the 1980s. Dancing together, new friendships were formed and ideas sparked.
The tragic attack on revellers in Istanbul, as with the Bataclan, shows another version of the attack on our way of life. As a citizen, I’m so very proud of how professional and excellent our cultural spaces really are – and how all people who enjoy them help make our cities dynamic, exciting and profitable all round.
So, let’s not let nasty ideas or hateful actions close our way of life down. If in doubt, go on and get out. Happy New Year!