Lazy Vaizey the less generous-minded liked to call him, but the recently ex-Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy inspired an astonishing 162 signatures from everybody you can think of who is running the arts in this country for a letter to the Daily Telegraph praising his accomplishments.
Actually, the letter is a bit light on precisely what those accomplishments have been, other than always remaining “approachable, sincere and a knowledgeable advocate” during 2,255 days in office, but relaxing on the river not far from his Didcot and Wantage constituency with a new carefree beard framing his infectious grin, he is able to go into more detail about his achievements for the Oxford Mail. He claims credit for the music hubs set up by the Arts Council, for getting the cash that cleared English Heritage’s debts and allowed it to be hived off from government responsibility, and for the first arts white paper in 50 years which put on record that the arts are a good thing.
And he has been important for the arts, thoroughly deserving the Right Hon handle that goes with the Privy Council membership he got just before he was sacked. As he points out, he was not only the longest serving arts minister ever, he actually covered the brief for ten years, four of them in opposition, and gave a vital continuity in a department that has become a notorious transit station for politicians on their way up or down the greasy pole, and which nevertheless has in its brief the industries that are worth, as he will have been continuously telling the Treasury, £84 billion a year to the economy. The thing is, Ed got it, is genuinely cultured and was not only not afraid of being seen at concert halls, theatres and exhibitions as most of his colleagues seem to be - he loves being there and will love it even more now that it doesn’t matter.
Yet he never got Cabinet preferment though he was as capable as most culture secretaries and more than many.
He was not surprised to be fired, he says. He goes as one of the Camden Hill Square gang of Cameroons – Osborne, Gove, Boles etc - that created the Clear Blue Water polemics which brought Cameron to the Tory leadership in 2005 and have now been cleared out by May in her blood bath. It meant that for once there was a politician in government who didn’t need to be persuaded about the value of the arts, and had the ear of the Chancellor when his less well tuned bosses did not. He could have written the section of Osborne’s speech in the last Autumn Statement in which he dismissed arts funding cuts as folly. Against the pruning zeal of his first boss, Jeremy Hunt, he got lottery money released to ameliorate the worst depredations. So he was a Minster of State plus.
And he once asked me if I was ever going to write anything nice about him…