UK CULTURE MINISTER SUPPORTED CUTTING HIS JOB

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After Maria Miller’s “resignation” from the British Government over her expenses claim George Osborne ally Sajid Javid was promoted to take her place amid concerns that he is a supporter of a Conservative Parliamentary Group which called for the abolition of his new Department.

thePipeLine analyses Mr Javid’s first months in office and the place of the DCMS as we move towards a UK General Election in 2015.

In June 2013 Right Wing Conservative MP Dominic Raab published a paper called “Weight Watchers for Whitehall.” A core proposal set out in the paper was the abolition of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the redistribution of some of its functions to other Whitehall Departments. One of the MPs named in Raabs paper as a supporter of the , Conservative “The Free Enterprise Group” which published the paper, was the then recently elected MP for Bromsgrove in the West Midlands and Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Sajid Javid. On 9 April, after a week of increasingly ineffectual attempts by Number 10 to defend her in the face of media accusations that she first fiddled her expenses and then failed to show sufficient contrition to Parliament and angry tax payers, Culture Secretary Maria Miller resigned [or according to many Westminster sources, was “resigned” by people close to Downing Street] and Mr Javid, a former banker,Treasury Minister and protégée of the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, took her seat at the Cabinet table as Culture Minister.  Fortunately he did not have to move far to take up his new post.  The DCMS currently occupies a floor in the Treasury building.

The irony in a man who has supported a group which wants to abolish his own department, taking up the Culture portfolio is certainly rich. However, the first thing which must be said is that the new incumbent at the DCMS is seen by many on both sides of the House of Commons as one of the brightest and most politically savvy of the 2010 intake of MP’s. Indeed, it can be said Sajid Javid represents a new face of the Conservative Party, being a British born self-made man of Pakistani Muslim heritage and broadly secular outlook, brought up in Rochdale and Bristol. It is also fair to say that he has genuine political ambition and some idealism; an interpretation supported by the information reported by Bloomberg that Mr Javid  earned in the region of £3 million per year as a high-flying executive with Deutsche Bank and therefore took something like a 95% pay cut to become an MP.   Although as he said-  at least in turning from International banker to politician he was joining a more popular profession.  But that self deprecating and very modern facade fronts a style of political and fiscal conservatism which has its roots in the Thatcher Government of the 1980’s allied with the most up to date thinking among right wing free marketeers in the Conservative Party and its associated Think Tanks.

 

Mr Javid’s political outlook is pure Osbornism; that twenty first century incarnation of 1980’s Thatcherism, created by a group of younger Conservative Politicians

In short, Mr Javid’s political outlook is pure Osbornism; that twenty first century incarnation of 1980’s Thatcherism, created by a group of younger Conservative Politicians, such as the Chancellor, who came of political age during the Thatcher/Major years of Conservative hegemony and now that they are in power have sought to think and do the unthinkable under the smoke screen of the banking crisis and recession. Above all they have sought to accomplish the things their heroine the “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher failed to do such as attempting to remove elected local authorities from education provision, privatising the Royal Mail and hastening the dismemberment and privatisation of the National Health Service.
Mr Javid fits this mould perfectly. In a profile published on the influential website Conservative Home before he became an MP, Mr Javid said that he had first become interested in politics and joined the Conservative Party at Exeter University in the late 1980’s because of the influence Margaret Thatcher had on the Country. He then summed up his political and fiscal philosophy this way,

“We need to cut wasteful government spending and get the budget deficit under control, to re-discover that cutting taxes can lead to a rise in tax revenues, and to reduce regulations faced by businesses.  Crucially, we need to take powers back from the EU – because if we don’t, we may find that no matter how hard a Conservative government works to promote open markets and choice, we’ll find state intervention coming in through the back door…we would do well to recall the mission of the Conservative government elected just over 30-years ago: “to roll back the frontiers of the state”. It’s the only way to guarantee the British people prosperity and liberty.”

http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2010/01/sajid-javid-capitalism-is-essential-for-our-prosperity-and-liberty.html

 

In an earlier article on Conservative Home written in 2009 Mr Javid had praised the then Shadow Chancellor George Osborne and added

“The two most powerful measures an incoming Conservative government can take are to slash corporate tax rates and burn regulations.”
http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2009/10/sajid-javid-we-must-slash-corporate-tax-rates-and-burn-regulations-to-improve-conditions-for-small-a.html

 

What is missing from Mr Javid’s CV is any experience of the Arts, Media, Heritage or Culture; apart that is from a professed love of “Star Trek”

The praise for Mr Osborne has been rewarded because, since entering the House of Commons in 2010, Mr Javid’s career has been one long upward trajectory most of it under the wing of the Chancellor.  In October 2011 Mr Javid became Mr Osborne’s Parliamentary Private Secretary [PPS] the lowest rung on the ministerial ladder, but one where patronage can be established and reputations made for hard work and loyalty.  Mr Javid was duly rewarded with a series of Treasury posts of increasing seniority, first Economic Secretary to the Treasury and then from October 2013 Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the post he held until his promotion to the Cabinet. He has also established a reputation as an accomplished and combative performer on television and radio.  What is missing from Mr Javid’s CV is any experience of the Arts, Media, Heritage or Culture; apart that is from a professed love of “Star Trek”.

But then, this appointment is not about the Art or Culture. Mr Javid was almost certainly been appointed to bolster the Chancellors position around the Cabinet table as the Conservative Party prepares for life after the 2015 General Election and potentially after the Cameron Premiership.  Various media sources in Westminster reported that it was Chancellor Osborne who took the initiative and “sorted out the Miller problem”.  The net result has been to replace a known Cameron supporter, Maria Miller, with someone who owes their political advancement entirely to Chancellor Osborne, Sajid Javid.

At a practical departmental level, given his ideological background, his close association with a Chancellor who has shown zero sensibility regarding culture and heritage issues and his association with the Free Enterprise Group and its views on the DCMS, it is highly unlikely that Javid would look favourably on any attempts to argue that the Culture sector has suffered disproportionately from the Treasury driven cuts imposed after the 2010 General Election.   All his pronouncements and his political record suggest that he would seek to further reduce direct Government support to areas which the Conservative Right does not see as core services supported for the public good, and to devolve and deregulate as much as possible.  An expression of this policy is seen in the Treasury driven dismemberment of English Heritage.

In that context it is perhaps Mr Javid’s involvement with the Free Enterprise Group which will most concern the UK heritage sector.  The group, then consisting of twenty one Conservative MP’s such as Ben Gummer, Kwasi Kwarteng and Margot James, was founded in 2011 and Javid was named as a founding supporter in an announcement on the Total Politics website by group founder Elizabeth Truss MP. [http://www.totalpolitics.com/blog/260817/the-free-enterprise-group-to-support-reform.thtml

 

“The DCMS should be abolished…”

The call for the Department for Culture Media and Sport to be scrapped came in a paper published by the group on 13 June 2013 and written by fellow group supporter and another member of the 2010 intake of Conservative MP’s, Dominic Raab. Raab wrote,

“The DCMS should be abolished . The department brings together a range of largely unrelated functions, and does not require a separate free-standing bureaucracy of its own. Certain areas of spending – including broadband, Ofcom, sport and certain aspects of heritage – should be retained and hived off to other departments (including the Treasury, the Department for Education, a new Department for Transport and Communications, and the new Department of Devolved Affairs, …).”
http://www.freeenterprise.org.uk/sites/g/files/g475037/f/201306/Weight%20Watchers%20for%20Whitehall.pdf

Mr Javed is named as a member of the Free Enterprise Group on page 22 of Raab’s document and it should be noted that as a further example of the rise of this generation of politicians in the Conservative Party, Elizabeth Truss herself was promoted in the most recent re-shuffle, becoming Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, succeeding the hapless Minister for flooding and culling Badgers, Owen Patterson.

 

With just seven months to go before the May 2015 General Election, and short of putting the Free Enterprise Group’s policy paper into effect and abolishing his own job, it is unlikely that Mr Javid will have time to make a substantial impact in his new brief.  Although there are substantial policy decisions to follow through where he will test his reputation as an effective operator and communicator. Not least the media reforms post Leveson and “conciously uncoupling” the two halves of English Heritage which the DCMS is now committed to.  Certainly his first major speech, delivered to an audience at Sr George’s Church in Bristol on 6 June, while full of praise for the cultural sector and themed on the necessity of making opportunities to access culture available to all regardless of social or ethnic background, contained no major new ideas.

Indeed the other major theme of the speech  was the importance of donations and philanthropy in cultural provision although he probably did not have in mind the donation of £6 million pounds to the Marquis of Northampton by Northampton Council from the £15.76 million sale of the statue of Sekhemka.  An action by a Conservative Council which was probably less than popular at the DCMS, especially after the graphic novelist Alan Moore told the BBC that the sale was a gross betrayal of trust

”…undercutting one of the fundamental principles by which museums acquire artefacts in their collections. I’ve donated things to the museum – but I would not be able to do that again in the knowledge that at some point in the future that gifts… made in good faith could be sold off by a council. If we look like the kind of place that’s prepared to sell off all of its culture, all of its heritage, at the drop of a hat, this would be a resounding shame upon this town and the people who are governing it.”

That said, no-one could complain about the core credo Mr Javid expounded at the Bristol speech

“Remember that picture of Baroness Thatcher on my wall?

One of the reasons it’s there is because she showed that it’s possible to rise from humble beginnings and reach the top.  Even in a profession where your face, or voice, or name doesn’t fit.

The same should be true of the industry you all work in. I believe that culture is for everyone.

I believe that the colour of your skin, the size of your bank balance and the town where you live should not be a barrier to participation and progress.

And I believe that, as a sector, we can and we must do more to make that vision a reality.”

Of course, anyone could have said it too.

However, in the world of commercialised heritage and culture Mr Javid’s appointment may also please those who seek to commodify the past.  Mr Javid was at the Treasury when Odyssey Marine Exploration delivered the Government’s percentage of the SS Gairsoppa’s cargo of silver bullion, and it may be that for companies like Odyssey, the appointment of Mr Javid is the silver lining in what, to the rest of the world, appeared to be a cloud of Ministerial greed and Prime Ministerial incompetence.  Indeed, reports from Westminster suggest that Ed Vaizey, the Minister with day to day responsibility for Odyssey’s attempt to salvage HMS Victory 1744 as contractor to Conservative Peer, Lord Lingfield’s, Maritime Heritage Foundation, may have slightly softened his stance over the repeatedly rejected Odyssey/MHF Project Design for the controversial salvage.

 

Mr Javid will continue to be a high profile face of the Government

What is almost certain is that Mr Javid will continue to be a high profile face of the Government, in contrast to Mrs Miller who some regarded as the invisible women, so limited was her impact on [and some would say knowledge of] the culture sector.  What must concern the heritage sector is what could happen after May 2015 if the Conservatives remain in Government and Right Wing, anti European, pro- deregulation representatives of corporate capital like Mr Javid and Mr Osborne are in control.

It is not that the Department of Culture Media and Sport is universally loved and admired, for its effectiveness in fighting the corner for heritage.  It is not.  However, it does represent a single voice around the cabinet table advocating a case for heritage and in certain cases, including HMS Victory 1744, DCMS Civil Servants have doen their best to mitigate the damage done by the decisions of other Government Departments, particularly in that case the Ministry of Defence.  With the DCMS gone the fear would be that, with individual roles such as education, museums and heritage protection spread across Whitehall, each role would be lost within wider departmental priorities and vulnerable to being picked off one by one in any future round of “efficiency savings” aka cuts.  Regardless of what happens to the DCMS, after the 2015 General Election, the fear is also that  it will be back to the 1980’s and in terms of cuts to local and national Government support for culture and heritage.  It could be that, as Bachman Turner Overdrive famously said…

“You ain’t seen nuthin yet!”