A couple of statistics tell us all that we need to know about the appointment of Lucy Frazer as the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
She is the 12th person to take ministerial responsibility for the cultural industries since the current ruling party took office in 2010 and the fourth in less than 18 months. From the other end of the picture, the MP for south-east Cambridgeshire has held seven different ministerial offices in under four years.
As a KC, Ms Frazer might have been an obvious choice for previous roles involving justice, prisons and probation and as solicitor general. Since then, her responsibilities have become more eclectic (random one might say) until finally landing in our sphere of interest.
She might feel slightly cheated on taking office, since from 2017, the role included power over digital matters. Her predecessor Michelle Donellan has taken that with her to a new role as Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology.
Even so, the portfolio remains wide. The latest data suggest that it includes everything on the following list, though one or two elements such as telecommunications and online will probably have followed Ms Donellan.
- Arts and Culture
- Creative industries
- Creative Industries Council
- Cultural property, heritage and the historic environment
- Cultural Renewal Taskforce
- Culture, sports and arts sector recovery from COVID-19
- Data Protection Regulator—the ICO (Information Commissioners Office)
- Gambling and racing
- Media ownership and mergers
- Museums and galleries
- The National Lottery
- Telecommunications and online
The statistics above make it all too clear that Prime Ministers do not have a very high regard for cultural matters, despite the undisputed financial benefits brought to the nation by the arts, sport and tourism.
It is hard to imagine that any Prime Minister would appoint a Chancellor of the Exchequer with no interest or experience in financial matters or Lord Chief Justice without a legal background but, judging from a quick scout around the Internet, beyond support in the local paper five years ago for a proposed new arts centre in her constituency, it is not apparent that Lucy Frazer has ever expressed any interest or enthusiasm for any of the arts, or for that matter sports and media issues.
Her last written question that had any significant bearing on the new brief, as long ago as 2015, will probably not please the Chancellor of the Exchequer if pursued. It read, “to ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, what plans his Department has to reform the allocation of funding to increase participation in sport.”
Ironically, of the campaigns on her web site, the only one that might have had any connection to the ministry, had digital not disappeared from the title, was an attempt to improve broadband and mobile connections in her area. It therefore becomes obvious that this is a pure political appointment, which she will presumably regard as a brief stepping stone to higher office.
To be fair, having watched Oliver Dowden calmly preside over painfully small support for theatres and other arts institutions during the early stages of the COVID pandemic and Nadine Dorries mistaking her position and assuming that she was actually Minister for Digital, Culture Wars, Media and Sport, perhaps someone who is likely to ignore the brief completely could be a blessing in disguise.
Michelle Donellan was in and out in no time but, to give her credit, she did at least reverse her predecessor’s controversial decision to defund Channel 4.
What can we expect from the remain-voting, Cambridge-educated Lucy Frazer? On the plus side, she was clearly a leader in her field of commercial law, having taken silk 10 years ago at age of 40, which will have made her one of the youngest QCs in the country.
As suggested above, the new minister may not have very much to offer to the arts but she is clearly highly regarded in the Conservative Party.
If nothing else, Lucy Frazer might fancy the odd night out in the theatre, which will give those in the industry the opportunity to make their case for additional funding and other support, if they can get in before she heads off for greater things.
Producers might need to make their pitch in a hurry since there could be need for a new Secretary of State for Justice and Lord (Lady?) Chancellor in the next few weeks and, since she would be a perfect candidate for that job, we could very soon be looking for a lucky number 13.