Maybe it beats being labelled "Maria Miller, Factory Killer"

05 Sep 2012  |  Raymond Snoddy 

Raymond Snoddy says you can see the sort of word association games that lead to individual reshuffle decisions in David Cameron's mind: Disabled, Paralympics, Olympics legacy, culture secretary and then shove in equality to make a natural bridge and bingo...

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was in such trouble over Leveson and the Murdochs that only one political outcome was possible.

The man had to be promoted into an excruciatingly difficult and unwelcome portfolio.

The move of Hunt to Health comes high in the annals of inflicting reshuffle cruelty. Surely a move to the Northern Ireland office would have been painful enough.

You would have thought that the success of the Olympics would have helped to insulate him from such a terrible fate as Health, where most people know the partial NHS privatisation policies are a mess but no-one is prepared to admit it.

To expect Hunt to try to deal with the chaos left behind at Health by Andrew Lansley, who naturally has himself been promoted to Leader of the House, is positively sadistic. At least Jeremy Hunt is a good patient who keeps a slight lopsided permanent grin on his face, however bitter the medicine.

As many have already observed we now have a Health secretary who believes in homeopathy - as in not a single atom remaining following repeated dilution of the medicine. It's a doctrine up there with the Moonies and local TV.

At the same time his successor at Culture, Maria Miller, who also takes on responsibility for "equalities", is opposed to full gay rights.

The highlights of her career so far include impersonating a member of the public angry at Tony Blair in a Conservative party political broadcast and as minister for disabled people closing the last of the Remploy factories for the disabled. The disabled are supposed to go out and get regular jobs in the depths of a recession.

85% of Remploy workers who lost their jobs in the previous round of factory closures remain unemployed four years later. Such achievements add up to obvious qualifications for choosing Miller as culture secretary.

You can, however, see the sort of word association games that lead to individual reshuffle decisions in David Cameron's mind. Disabled, Paralympics, Olympics legacy, culture secretary and shove in equality to make a natural bridge and bingo. And she's worked in PR just like the boss.

We can no longer be surprised after so many years that the ideal experience for a politician moving to a new ministerial post is no relevant experience or discernible knowledge at all.

For several months after every reshuffle there are people doing important jobs in Government who have absolutely no idea what they are doing.

Don't worry it's not that bad in reality. There is the continuity of the civil service and their briefing documents. A quick read in the back of the car and the likes of Tessa Jowell was making immediate pronouncements on the media at the Royal Television Society's Cambridge convention.

She would have got away with it too but for a tiggerish desire to take more and more questions, thereby revealing her tenuous grasp on the brief in front of some of her major "stakeholders".

Just as Hunt will be unable to ditch the Lansley heath policy entirely and start again, Miller will inevitably inherit Hunt's local television policies - now too far down the runway to recall.

Rather like Lansley though, the Hunt plans may be served up with rather less enthusiasm in future.

Miller was once, after all, a director of Grey Advertising and might instinctively know that you need new sources of advertising to fund dozens of new local television stations - and to somehow find new sources in tough economic times.

The good news for Miller is that after the Olympics there isn't really very much to do at Culture. The arts budgets have already been cut, the film quangos culled.

Hunt was able to repeatedly promise the creation of a green paper and not produce one. A white paper could, at a pinch, really go the same way without anyone noticing.

But because a new secretary needs something to do let's crack ahead with trying to protect minors on the internet and try to increase broadband speeds in rural areas - so long as it doesn't actually cost anything.

To inform her, Miller can draw on the series of recent seminars held as part of the Communications Review - set up to cover the embarrassment of the missing green paper. The seminars did not exactly set the media firmament ablaze but we can at least salute the aims.

The Review is designed to promote growth and evolution in the communications sector, meet consumer expectations of high-quality content and services, improve connectivity and speed and ensure sufficient protect from unfair practices and inappropriate content.

Not many people will disagree with that radical manifesto but actually delivering it - as they say in the business - should keep the new culture secretary out of mischief for a year or two.

Before too long one large issue will begin to appear on her horizon - the future of the BBC, a new Royal Charter and licence fee settlement.

Fresh from making the entire economy smaller chancellor George Osborne might make another attempt to make the BBC very much smaller. But then again he might not.

The feel-good factor that has washed over the country following the successful Olympics has also covered the BBC in a rosy hue.

Even the most disgruntled opponent of the corportion might admit there is some merit in providing 24 streams of live coverage without a single ad.

The contrast with a wholly commercial network such as NBC, which delayed the opening ceremony for six hours to hit prime-time and then disrupted it with repeated ads and which hasn't bothered covering the Paralympics live at all, is instructive.

So here again Maria Miller may not have to break sweat. At the very least being secretary of state for culture, media and sport beats the hell out of being labelled "Maria Miller, Factory Killer" as minister for disabled people.

Yet there is the Lord Leveson dilemma, which will probably roar down the track in her direction next month.

Even here an outline script has already been written. His Lordship will almost certainly recommended some form of statutory intervention or at least underpinning for press regulation.

The prime minister has been making it clear, not for the first time, that strengthened self-regulation is the answer. So even here Maria Miller won't have to get up too early in the morning.

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