“I don’t want the Government to solve their problems with Jeremy Hunt by abolishing his Department altogether, as the rumours have it. The creative industries need a stronger voice in Government and a strong Secretary of State at the Cabinet table – not no voice at all.”
Someone give Harriet Harman’s speechwriter a free download. Hopefully they’ll appreciate its value.
The Shadow Culture Secretary’s address to the BPI AGM in July scored disconcerting body blows on two counts: (i) adding dirty grist to the rumour mill which suggests the DCMS may not be long for this world and (ii) heightening expectations over Hunt’s inevitable Tory successor.
Step forward Maria Miller MP. Who? What do you mean you’ve never heard of her? For a statesman destined to represent media darlings and creative luvvies alike, Miller isn’t exactly doused in razzmatazz or public stature.
That’s no bad thing, of course; the music industry will certainly welcome a Cabinet representative who is a listener, rather than a boorish showboat. Even Miller’s complete lack of past dealings with any of the creative industries needn't be an impediment to her becoming their bessie mate now. As EMI UK CEO Andria Vidler has shown, an ‘outsider’ with fresh ideas can actually help revitalise a downtrodden music entity.
(It’s also worth noting that Chris Smith, widely looked upon in music circles as one of the standout Culture Secretaries of past decades, jumped straight into politics from University. And like Miller, Jeremy Hunt’s pre-Parliamentary background was in PR - although let’s wait post-Leveson before marking that down as anything other than a light caution. On the flip side, Miller's experience in the advertising world has been hailed as a victory by UK marketing groups keen on bending her ear.)
However, there are worrying signs that David Cameron’s ‘shift to the right’ reshuffle has exposed a deep-rooted Government dismissal of the creative industries’ worth.
Clearly, Cameron wanted to ensure Jeremy Hunt was safely parachuted out of the media crosshairs. With Leveson soon to receive a headline-stimulating revival, it makes sense for the PM to whisk his friend away from a post that directly affects media owners who would delight in shooting him down.
There is a complimentary upside for music types in his exit: by gifting Hunt the worthy Health hotseat, Cameron has handed a vote of confidence to the political breeding ground of the DCMS; where candidates must mediate between myriad squabbling hordes and drive forward technological policy to which the UK’s economic prosperity is intrinsically chained.
In other words, the music industry contains sharp minds, compelling arguments and keen tongues. Bravo.
But Miller is a junior Minister who very much appears to have been fast-tracked into the Culture Secretary role. Even if the DCMS still commands a position at Cameron’s top table, its incumbent is now sitting in a high chair.
There is nothing in Miller’s political or personal CV to suggest the faintest interest in culture or sport, let alone a informed history with the sectors. Okay, so she can hardly be expected to rock up The Commons in a pair of Beats, but embarrassingly, her official MP page design is outdated and doesn’t even contain a Facebook or Twitter affiliation. This from the UK politician who will be shaping social media’s vital relationship with industry in the coming decade.
Imagine how gutting it must be to work for the BPI or UK Music this morning. After two years of feeding Jeremy Hunt snatched moments of education on wildly complex policy - via stolen breakfast meetings and whispers in Parliamentary corridors - all your hard work has been scrubbed back to zero.
Today, you have to begin anew with a politician who shows few signs of knowing what Spotify is. Music industry lobbyists will surely be cursing behind-the-scenes that natural Hunt replacement Ed Vaizey MP - a widely regarded friend and confidant of the creative industries - has once again been overlooked by No.10.
Vaizey may like a giggle and proffer the odd Boris-esque bumble, but his comprehension of the knife-edge interrelation between rich UK-made cultural content and its digital gatekeepers has been refined by years at the coalface.
More concerning than Miller’s culture-lite history, however, is Cameron’s decision to spread the DCMS department even thinner than before. The creative industries have long demanded their own representative in Parliament, sharing little other than IP concerns and star culture with sports teams and often clarion and direct bugbears with media and tech companies.
Yet not content with asking Miller to handle the burning issues of the music, movies, video games, theatre, sports, newspaper, television and digital content industries day-to-day, Cameron's also given her responsibilities as Minister for Women and Equalities in a new dual role. She might not be the most qualified Minister in the PM's Cabinet, but Miller could soon be the busiest.
None of this is promising news for a music industry thumping on the DCMS door for the Digital Economy Act’s implementation and a clear plan for faster broadband roll-out via the Communications Bill.
Lest we forget that Jeremy Hunt, beset by Olympics planning and a sudden pants-down Leveson distraction, dumped plans for a Communications Green Paper altogether in the melee. When appended with ad-hoc policy issues, the day-to-day essentials of the DCMS role became too much, even for a politician well-versed in the issues facing its disparate business parish.
David Cameron has now promoted Hunt, whilst expecting his inexperienced, under-educated replacement to take an extra bundle of tasks and tribulations in her stride.
By logic, the music industry can surely now expect less Governmental attention and fewer state-level victories.
David Cameron’s reshuffle hasn’t lived up to Harriet Harman’s scare-mongering DCMS ‘abolishment’ talk; but it hasn’t exactly made a positive statement about the perceived value of the creative industries, either.