Athena

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Cul­tural Cru­sader

Can the new Cul­ture Min­is­ter solve our her­itage puz­zle?

AFTER a long pe­riod of sta­bil­ity, it’s nearly all change at the Depart­ment for Cul­ture, Me­dia & Sport (DCMS). It’s good­bye to Cul­ture Min­is­ter Ed Vaizey, who had been in post for six years, so was get­ting to­wards his sell-by date any­way (and also had the poor judg­ment to back Michael Gove). In spite of his nick­name of ‘Lazy Vaizey’, Mr Vaizey was both en­er­getic and pop­u­lar. Also de­parted is his fel­low Goveite and boss John Whit­ting­dale, who had held the top job as Sec­re­tary of State for just over a year, but was an im­pres­sive per­former, helped by his long ex­pe­ri­ence as chair of the Cul­ture, Me­dia & Sport Select Com­mit­tee.

In spite of its sig­nif­i­cant and wide-rang­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties—broad­cast­ing, broad­band, mu­se­ums, the Arts, tourism, her­itage and, of course, sport—with something like a mere 400 staff, DCMS is among the small­est White­hall de­part­ments and seems to have lit­tle trac­tion with the all-pow­er­ful man­darins at the Trea­sury. Con­se­quently, min­is­te­rial of­fice at DCMS some­times seems like a way sta­tion for MPS on the way down or out, yet many sig­nif­i­cant fig­ures have held jobs there, in­clud­ing Chris Smith, Jeremy Hunt and Tessa Jow­ell.

Given the fact that DCMS has the pas­toral and prac­ti­cal care of such a num­ber of our great­est na­tional as­sets, from the BBC to Stone­henge, it should com­mand greater re­spect and at­ten­tion than it of­ten does. It is fash­ion­able to dis­dain politi­cians and state in­ter­ven­tion in many as­pects of our cul­ture is rapidly de­clin­ing, but, nonethe­less, what the min­is­ters at DCMS do mat­ters a great deal. Thanks to re­lent­less lob­by­ing and sym­pa­thetic min­is­te­rial ears, na­tional mu­se­ums have flour­ished in re­cent years and are much ad­mired at home and abroad.

What min­is­ters don’t do mat­ters a great deal as well. For some time now, they have pretty sig­nally failed to of­fer her­itage the sort of sup­port it needs. The Trea­sury’s will to ‘ra­tio­nalise’ VAT and DCMS’S fail­ure to fight that corner ad­e­quately meant that full-rate VAT was im­posed on the re­pair and main­te­nance of his­toric buildings in prob­a­bly the most her­itage-un­friendly act car­ried out by any gov­ern­ment. This has been bad news for own­ers of his­toric houses—most of whom are not grandees —who have also not been helped by in­ac­tion on the is­sue of her­itage main­te­nance funds.

Our new Sec­re­tary of State at DCMS, Karen Bradley, the MP for Stafford­shire Moor­lands, lists her recre­ations in Who’s Who as ‘travel, wine tast­ing, cook­ing, puz­zles’. Per­haps not the most cul­tural cre­den­tials, but what we need in a Cul­ture Sec­re­tary is not nec­es­sar­ily some­one who knows the dif­fer­ence be­tween Karachi and the Car­rac­cis—we re­quire a tough, en­er­getic and ar­tic­u­late cham­pion whose views count in the Cabi­net. When Tracy Crouch ar­rived at the depart­ment last year, as a ju­nior min­is­ter, she had few ob­vi­ous cul­tural cre­den­tials, but she zoomed up a steep learn­ing curve and it’s good to see that she’s stay­ing at DCMS with the con­tin­u­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for tourism and her­itage.

Our new Prime Min­is­ter has as­sem­bled a Cabi­net of com­pe­tence rather than charisma, so per­haps we should have lit­tle doubt that the new Cul­ture Sec­re­tary will have suf­fi­cient po­lit­i­cal smarts to do the job we so ur­gently need her to do. Ad­e­quately sup­port­ing our her­itage in an age of aus­ter­ity will cer­tainly test her love of puz­zles.

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