With less than a week to go before the May 6 general election in the U.K, politicians from the main parties have finally got round to debating the future of the music industry.

So far, the election has been dominated by issues such as the budget deficit, immigration, tax but the music industry and the arts in general has been largely ignored.

Perhaps the one exception is under-threat digital radio station BBC 6 Music: Labour prime minister Gordon Brown latched on to it by attempting to portray BBC cuts as playing to a Conservative agenda, and saying 6 Music should be kept.

Conservative leader David Cameron - ahead in the polls - is a fan of bands like Keane and the Smiths, which are played on the alternative and modern rock station, but says the BBC should do less. "So while I might like listening to Radio 6 because it's my sort of music, you can't do everything," he said.

Election Debate

So it was appropriate that it fell to BBC 6 Music today (April 30) to host a one-hour debate, "How will the election affect the UK music industry?" with the Conservative former shadow culture, media and sport secretary, John Whittingdale, Labour's minister of state for culture and tourism, Margaret Hodge, and the Liberal Democrat shadow culture, media and sport secretary, Don Foster.

Feargal Sharkey, chief executive of umbrella trade group U.K. Music, was also in the studio.

Sharkey and Hodge found common cause in the government's £300 million ($458.9 million) investment on music education including rehearsal space, although her questioning of Conservative support for such government spending in future was not apparently based on any Conservative statement. And any government will face serious spending constraints because of the budget deficit.

Responding to host Richard Bacon's comment that Labour's manifesto ignores the music industry, Hodge could only say "watch this space."

Cross-Party Agreement

In fact, there was not a lot of difference between the MPs from the three parties. The anti-piracy measures in the Digital Economy Act were welcomed by all three, but Whittingdale and Foster voiced concern about the rush through parliament of the Bill.

"We did not have time to examine it properly," said Whittingdale. "I suspect we will have to come back and look at it again."

The issue of scalping also came up and Whittingdale - also chairman of parliament's Culture, Media and Sport select committee - said that while he did see a possible need for a secondary market, the profiteering element has become a "very big problem" and may need further attention.

Term extension on royalties for performers entered the debate after a question from 6 Music broadcaster, songwriter and artist Tom Robinson, and there was support for extending the current 50-year term. Whittingdale referred to a letter he had received from former Motorhead guitarist 'Fast' Eddie Clarke, 59, who was concerned about his future livelihood when his royalties cease.

The EU-wide issue is being considered by the European Commission and Sharkey said the next government "clearly has a role... to seal that deal."

Licensing Act

One issue that did prompt heated debate was around the Licensing Act and its impact on live music in small venues such as pubs and bars, which are now unwilling to go through the bureaucratic process of applying for a license.

Foster argued that "in small venues we've seen a reduction" in live music, but Hodge pointed out that the government was consulting on exempting venues of under 100-capaciy from music licensing, adding that it needs to "balance the desire to have live music with the impact on [venues' residential] neighbors."

Naturally, each of the parliamentary candidates spoke out in favor of saving BBC 6 Music - even Whittingdale did not agree with his leader that the broadcaster should do less.

Perhaps the more interesting philosophical debate is within the music industry, by those such as Feargal Sharkey who want to engage with government and secure funding in certain areas, and other elements of the biz who have always been proud to stand on their own feet.

"I'm almost totally anti the support of the music industry by government," said Bill Drummond, formerly of KLF, in a pre-recorded comment.

"I think we've long had a history of phenomenal success for our music industry and actually that's not got a great deal to do with any government of any color," added Whittingdale, who added that "there are things government can do to make it easier for music." He backed action on piracy, reforming licensing for small venues and returning National Lottery money to its original causes including arts and music.

The politicians also got to choose a song: Whittingdale went for Biffy Clyro's "The Captain" (he recently organized for the band to play live at the House of Common), Foster went for Bob Dylan's "Black Diamond Bay," and Hodge chose Don McLean's "Vincent."

But based on their song choices, one listener texted: "I'm not inspired to vote for any of them."

Postscript: Election Winners & Losers

Meanwhile, there's been no obvious theme music for any of the parties, but the xx's "Intro" is the BBC's soundtrack for all its trailers for election coverage, which should boost the band's sales.

As for an election loser: Blur drummer Dave Rowntree is standing for Labour as a parliamentary candidate in the Cities of London and Westminster, which has an 8,000 Conservative majority. "We almost certainly won't win," Rowntree told the Guardian.

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