Ed Vaizey yesterday became the longest-serving Arts Minister since Jennie Lee, Aneurin Bevan’s wife, who served in the post under Harold Wilson between 1964 and 1970. It is a spiky brief for a Conservative, since those who work in the arts lean left-of-centre as a rule, but Vaizey is an enthusiast for it and, in an era in which politicians tend to be twitchy, shrill and media-harrassed, agreeably laidback.
Having seen Jeremy Hunt, Maria Miller and Sajid Javid come and go, he is now on his fourth Secretary of State: John Whittingdale who, as a former Chairman of the Culture Select Committee, is also formidably well-briefed. When you hold a Ministerial post for as long as Vaizey has, you know more about the subject than your civil servants, which can only be a thoroughly good thing. What’s more, he was appointed as Shadow Arts Minister in 2006, so when it comes to their role in public life he really is Mr Institutional Memory.
David Gauke hasn’t been in place at the Treasury for as long as Dawn Primarolo, who did a ten-year stint there under Gordon Brown, but like Vaizey he has been a Minister under David Cameron since 2010. He deputises for George Osborne at Ecofin, which must be fun, and has also had charge of HMRC at a time in which the Government’s drive to reduce the deficit has seen it get more aggressive. I would once have put the solidly right-wing Gauke down as a Brexiteer, but he is very much an Osborne man, having served under him in opposition too, and I now expect him to back Remain.
Talking of Europe brings us to the third Minister below Cabinet level who has been in place since Cameron first entered Downing Street. Brown and Tony Blair went through 12 Ministers for Europe in all (including Geoff Hoon twice), and Lidington has now served for longer in the post than his six immediate predecessors put together. He is now on his third German and sixth French opposite number – though, I gather, still junior in service terms to Jean Asselborn, Foreign Minister of Luxembourg.
It is Lidington who is sent to the Commons to handle difficult statements and answer awkward questions when his Secretaries of State suddenly become, for one reason or another, unavailable at short notice, and he will have watched Downing Street’s tergiversations on Europe since 2010 with a well-informed eye. A historian by training and inclination – he captained the University Challenge “Champion of champions” Sidney Sussex Cambridge Team – any memoir he writes of his time in post would be illuminating for future generations.
All three have the brains to head up the departments in which they serve, and are evidence of Cameron’s wisdom when it comes to reshuffles. (He has only made a mess of one, the dumbed-down shuffle of 2014). The Prime Minister rightly believes that they cause more pain than gain, and that Ministers who know their stuff should be left to get on with it.
8.30 am: Vaizey challenges me on Twitter to identify a fourth Commons Minister in the same boat. I thus hereby name James Brokenshire, who has been slogging away at the Home Office since 2010, and duly tweak the headline. And since I’m in the business of postscripts, Lord Freud (not a Commons Minister, obviously) has been working away on welfare at Work and Pensions since 2010.