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The Dark Side of Osborne's Wooing of 'Star Wars'

12/05/2013 22:06 BST | Updated 12/07/2013 10:12 BST
Huff Post UK

Nerds, rejoice! Yes, Star Wars is coming to the UK! The announcement this weekend that the latest instalment in the multi-billion dollar franchise will be filmed at British studios will no doubt excite the multitudes of fans, who'll flock to Elstree and Shepperton to catch a glimpse of all their favourite characters - about whom, I must admit, I know nothing.

Having Star Wars rock up on these shores is not something that particularly bothers me - although, the fact that it triggered this site into changing its Facebook cover photo to a picture of George Osborne as Darth Maul was probably worth all the faff there and then.

So why write about it, then? Well, it's because of Osborne's role in luring the production to Britain. Osborne holds a special place in my heart and to see his name cropping up in the Star Wars stories made my day. Osborne spoke about how he was "personally committed to seeing more great films and television made in Britain", and that the announcement regarding Star Wars was "clear evidence that our incentives are attracting the largest studios back to the UK." Really?

A quick Google search reveals that all previous Star Wars movies were also shot here, at least partially. Furthermore, the UK has played host in the past decade to the Harry Potter franchise, the trilogy of Batman movies, James Bond (obviously) and countless others. The suggestion that it is Mr Osborne's 'incentives' that are bringing movies to the UK is garbage. Film studios are always going to want to shoot in the UK, because we have two major advantages: the language, which makes things much easier for primarily American productions, and our own film industry, which by common consensus is populated by some of the most innovative, well-respected people in the business. Osborne shouldn't be claiming Star Wars as a personal feather in his cap when the Millennium Falcon (I very nearly put 'Enterprise' there, which would have seen me slaughtered in the comments, no doubt) was always likely to be pitched up here.

There's other things to be critical of in this whole situation, too. Mr Osborne was, according to the BBC, personally involved in bringing the stars of the Vodafone adverts here, meeting executives from LucasFilm to discuss the plans and to negotiate regarding tax breaks for the production. LucasFilm, I shall point out, is owned by Disney, a firm of which you may be aware. A firm with revenue last year of over $40bn. Tax breaks? Really? What's the point of grandstanding about overseas corporate behemoths like Amazon and Starbucks paying their fair share to the exchequer if the chancellor is personally going to offer one of the world's biggest firms a way around the system?

Everyone welcomes inward investment, everyone wants to see Britain open for business and attracting the very best - but surely it's a two-way street? Having Disney in the UK will create jobs in the short-term, but they have a responsibility to cough up while they're here. They get the benefits of an infrastructure that the British taxpayer-funded, remember. Disney aren't some isolated floating city, hovering down into this country, doing all their work internally, then whizzing off back to Hollywood. It's good that they should want to come here, but if they do, they should abide by our rules.

Osborne didn't need to genuflect towards the House of Mouse, because, as we've already established, the UK has a well-deserved reputation as the home of high quality cinema and moviemaking. But for how long? Osborne is at the top of a government that has slashed arts funding to the bone, axed the UK Film Council and is generally doing a great deal of damage in the cultural arena. Remember the 'Cultural Olympiad'? That withered pretty quickly, didn't it? It's very easy to make swinging cuts at the arts, because people generally perceive government spending on culture to be a waste of money. No-one wants to try to justify government subsidies for experimental jazz in Cardiff or youth offenders putting on a production of Chekhov in Harrogate, because they're afraid they'd look a moron. Yet studies have shown that for every pound spent on arts by government, another four are generated for GDP.

Osborne talks about his personal commitment to films and television, yet his government feels the need to attack an arts budget that is already, in proportion to other areas of government, miniscule, and reduce funding at the BBC with barely disguised relish. Never mind that the cultural jewels in our national crown are worth more than £850m to the British economy. Never mind the Olivier awards, Oscars and Grammys won by our stars. Never mind the sense of empowerment and achievement that the arts can give to the young and disenfranchised. Forget all that. This chancellor's 'personally committed' to attracting foreign companies that don't pay tax here instead of encouraging true British culture.

The Star Wars farrago pinpoints a number of worrying vacuums at the heart of this government's attitude towards the economy and the national culture. It shows that the chancellor is easily swayed by the powerful corporations and the headlines that follow. It shows that there is no real weight behind their claims to be closing tax loopholes and making companies pay their fair share. And it shows their disgraceful attitude towards the arts that jeopardises our nation's future in one of the few remaining areas where we can legitimately claim to be true world-leaders.