The coming general election on 12 December means that the UK will have its 12th culture secretary in as many years. Nicky Morgan, the secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) since last July, has announced that she is standing down as an MP—citing personal reasons and the “abuse” which is now thrown at parliamentarians.
On average, each culture secretary has only served a year, which means that once they have really mastered their brief, they have been moved on. A dozen or so years ago, there was much more stability, with the late Tessa Jowell leading the department under the Labour government for seven years, from 2001 to 2007.
Beneath the secretary of state are several ministers or parliamentary under secretaries (junior ministers), dealing with the various responsibilities of the department. In recent years those responsible for arts have also had short tenures, following Ed Vaizey’s lengthy stint.
Vaizey served as the Conservative shadow arts minister from 2006 to 2010, while Labour was in power, and then as the Tory minister from 2010 to 2016, earning respect for his deep commitment to the arts. Last month, he announced that he would be stepping down as an MP, saying: “I am passionate about the arts, our creative industries and technology and I want to specialise in these sectors”.
Both Jowell and Vaizey were well known and respected, partly because they were in post long enough to have a real impact. In the past decade or so, there has been so much change at the department that many in the UK art scene would find it difficult to even name the current secretary of state and arts minister.
After Vaizey there has been a succession of arts ministers under prime ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson: Matt Hancock (July 2016-June 2017), John Glen (June 2017-January 2018), Michael Ellis (January 2018-May 2019), Rebecca Pow (May 2019-September 2019) and Helen Whately (September 2019-December 2019). Whately may be kept on in her post by the new government, but the chances are that she will be moved.
In this period of great uncertainty in British politics, there will be more changes ahead.
DCMS secretaries of state: the fast-moving roll call
James Purnell, Labour
June 2007-January 2008
Promoted to Work and Pensions secretary and then resigned, criticising prime minister Gordon Brown. Now a director at the BBC.
Andy Burnham, Labour
January 2008-June 2009
Promoted to Health secretary. Stood as a candidate for Labour leader in 2015, defeated by Jeremy Corbyn and stood down as an MP two years later, to become mayor of Manchester.
Ben Bradshaw, Labour
June 2009-May 2010
He lost the post when David Cameron became prime minister. Bradshaw remains a backbench MP.
Jeremy Hunt, Conservative
May 2010-September 2012
Promoted to Health and Social Care secretary. Stood for Conservative leader in June 2019 and was runner up behind Boris Johnson.
Maria Miller, Conservative
September 2012-April 2014
Resigned from cabinet over her expenses claims. Now a backbencher.
Sajid Javid, Conservative
April 2014-May 2015
Promoted to Business, Innovation and Skills secretary. Stood for Conservative leader in June 2019, but came fourth. Now Chancellor of the Exchequer in Johnson’s government.
John Whittingdale, Conservative
May 2015-July 2016
Dismissed by Theresa May when she became prime minister, and now a backbencher.
Karen Bradley, Conservative
July 2016-January 2018
Promoted to Northern Ireland secretary. After Johnson became prime minister she became a backbencher.
Matt Hancock, Conservative
January 2018-July 2018
Promoted to Health and Social Care secretary. Stood for Conservative leader in June 2019, but withdrew after first ballot. He remains the Health and Social Care secretary in Johnson’s government.
Jeremy Wright, Conservative
July 2018-July 2019
Dismissed after Johnson became prime minister and now a backbencher.
Nicky Morgan, Conservative
Appointed by Johnson. She is now standing down as an MP.