Did London Design Festival director Ben Evans foresee the Cabinet reshuffle when he lined up Peter Mandelson to give the LDF opening address last month? Given Evans’ Labour pedigree, you might think he’d been tipped the wink, but knowledge of Mandelson’s impending return to the Cabinet would have been dynamite if it were known a month ago.
We had hoped London Mayor Boris Johnson would use the LDF opening to affirm that he, like his predecessor Ken Livingstone, espouses design as a way of improving life in the capital in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games. But Johnson remained silent and Mandelson, then EU Trade Commissioner, took to the podium.
Now though, as Business Secretary in the Cabinet reshuffle, Mandelson is arguably in a stronger position than Johnson to foster design (see News, page 5). Fortunately for the creative community, Mandelson has been here before. One of Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia brigade of the late 1990s, he was involved with the Millennium Dome and served as Secretary at the then Department of Trade and Industry. He is design savvy, with credentials including his grandfather Herbert Morrison, the Labour politician who drove the Festival of Britain of 1951.
At the LDF opening Mandelson cited the importance of intellectual property in the European economy. But as he also maintains that UK manufacturing is far from dead, we can expect him to back the Design Council’s ongoing Designing Demand initiative to put design at the heart of UK business.
But there are other issues. As small to medium-sized enterprises, design groups need support in the face of the downturn pundits expect to decimate sectors such as retail and financial services. They need help with overseas business and advice on sustainability.
Several new Government appointments impinge on the creative community. But Mandelson’s is the most significant for design. While controversy surrounds him, let’s hope it serves to draw attention to the design cause.