The new Secretary of State at the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright QC MP.
[Government Open Licence]
Given the remarkable speed of political events in Britain today, with a political body count which has resembled the last act of a Jacobean revenge tragedy, albeit one scripted by “The Thick of It” creator Armando Ianucci, thePipeLine thought long and hard before profiling the new Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright QC MP. However, given that Mr Wright will be responsible for heritage issues such as the Stonehenge Tunnel, at least until the music stops on the reshuffle, or until the fall of Theresa May’s government, whichever comes sooner, we thought it was justifiable to commit the time and effort to the task [oh, all right, five minutes with Wikipedia and Google]. After all, we are a public service heritage news provider.
However, the next problem is in actually constructing our profile, because Mr Wright appears to be one of those politicians who can be said to have risen without trace.
Indeed, although he actually entered Parliament in 2005, served as a Conservative Whip, had a couple of embarrassing minor issues over his expenses claims, and had the voting record of a government loyalist with a hint of social conservatism, until tonight, if he was remembered for anything at all, it was for the very public humiliation of losing the Government’s case which attempted to prevent Parliament having the final say over the triggering the Article 50 process to take Britain out of the EU. He had been set to win the case in his new cabinet role as Attorney General by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Presumably that task came as a particularly cruel “thank you” for only switching his support to the then Home Secretary from the ill-fated campaign of Stephen Crabb after Mr Crabb came fourth out of five in the first ballot of the 2016 Conservative Leadership contest which Mrs May went on to win. Although he did at least see Mr Crabb beat disgraced former defense minister Liam Fox [to use his full title] into last place.
In fact, Mr Wright could be said to have also marked his card as a future culture secretary at that point as, in tribute to the infamous Macavity in Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats, when the president of the supreme court, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, handed down the court’s damning verdict on the Government’s case in the High Court, which the Government lost eight votes to three, Mr Wright was not there.
He was however “there” as a campaigner for “Remain” in the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union.
When it comes to his acquaintance with his new ministerial brief Mr Wright says this on his constituency website,
“In my very limited free time I try to play golf and enjoy watching cricket. In fact I like playing cricket too but I am so useless no-one will play with me. I enjoy listening to music and I used to play the trumpet, but I can barely get a note out of the instrument these days.”
This passing acquaintance with culture does not however explain the fact that when prisons minister he defended the removal of books from prisoners stating, “Prisoners aren’t sitting around wondering where their next Jane Austen novel is going to come from.”, although the fact that Chris Grayling was his then boss might [for more on Mr Grayling see thePipeLine’s coverage of the Stonehenge Tunnel controversy].
We were also able to find evidence of at least one other recent cultural activity. Shortly after Mr Wright’s appointment was announced fellow West Midlands MP, Labour’s Jess Phillips, tweeted that she had recently attended the same performance of the musical “Matilda” as Mr Wright.
However, perhaps the most perplexing thing about Mr Wrights appointment to the DCMS brief [apart from the fact that both DCMS veteran Ed Vaizy and the well regarded former minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage Tracy Crouch were overlooked for the post] is that, while the bulk of the departments work streams are devoted to sorting out the Gordian knots of digital regulation if the UK falls outside of EU data rules in March 2019, Mr Wrights own exposure on Social Media is apparently decidedly limited.
His Twitter account in particular has attracted attention, having been set up in April 2015 ahead of the General Election and consisting of just five tweets.
That said, Mr Wright was able to attract 202 followers, one of which was the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.
We presume that CIfA’s Social Media elf spotted the potential which Theresa May only realised today? Either that, or it is an early attempt to get onside and lobby the new Secretary of State.
It is also possible to argue that the appointment of a new Secretary of State with little or no discernible cultural baggage means that the heritage groups hoping to influence government policy on issues from the Stonehenge tunnel to museum funding can start from the point of view of educating Mr Wright in first principles i.e. archaeologists don’t dig up dinosaurs, charging VAT on restorations leads to developers trashing perfectly viable buildings, Odyssey Marine Exploration are a bunch of treasure hunters, and ignoring UNESCO advice about dodgy waterfront developments and iffy road schemes which damage World Heritage Sites will end in tears.
The downside is that in the current febrile state of UK politics Mr Wright will probably be Foreign Secretary , or even Prime Minister, by the end of the month and all the time and effort spent in reaching out to the new Secretary of State will be wasted.
However, on the plus side, Jeremy Wright is at least as qualified to undertake those jobs as he is to be Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport.