A Departing Department?

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Another rumour that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport may close? Or at least, lose responsibility for media policy, leaving it perhaps fatally weakened. When the Culture Secretary was appointed, despite having no evident suitability for the job, there were rumours (which reached the pages of Private Eye, if memory serves) that her secret mission from Number Ten was to prepare the Department for the axe. Now that she’s decided to feud with the Telegraph, the story doing the rounds has become one of decline and fall rather than cloak and dagger.

Will the stopped clock be right this time? It isn’t long since a Spectator blogger wondered: ‘if DCMS were to close, what would happen to its more controversial competences? As my source put it: “In Leveson and Equal Marriage, DCMS is responsible for two of the government’s most politically complex policies.”’ (Formerly the Jubilee and the Olympics played the same role.) Perhaps the present speculation about BIS’s regaining media policy answers the first part.

Incidentally, it was another Spectator staffer who recently attributed the DCMS Permanent Secretary’s moving on to ‘a cross-Whitehall effort to shift him’. The Telegraph’s coverage, on the other hand, refers to ‘speculation of a fall-out with the minister’.

Given that BIS already contains the entire higher education brief (with Vice-Chancellors reportedly finding elements of refuge in sharing a house with business instead of education, even if the rest of the sector is less resigned to commercial values), it wouldn’t exactly be a surprise to see that Department re-engulf media with, perhaps, a side order of arts and culture. Given the government’s long obsession with expecting the arts to justify themselves in economic terms, in which the Culture Secretary is regarded as wholly complicit, we might not even notice much of a change of tone if BIS or another department got the culture brief. Then again, today’s piece of possible good news from DCMS is that engagement with the arts is going to be recognised as an official measure of wellbeing.

Another article puts its emphasis on the importance of retaining Cabinet-level representation for the arts, with or without a Department. That would sound more significant if we didn’t keep hearing that the Cabinet is far too big these days. (That long-running story didn’t start with the present government, either.)

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