May 12, 2015

Things you need to know about John Whittingdale, Britain’s new Secretary of State for Culture


Definitely no punks here.

Definitely no punks here. Image via Flickr

Friday was a dark day for Britain. Yesterday, David Cameron revealed the extent of his bad new government by naming his new cabinet. John Whittingdale replaced Sajid Javid (who never seemed that keen on the role anyway) as the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Since you’ll probably be hearing a lot about him in the coming months, especially here on MobyLives, here are some things you should know about John Whittingdale.

-He’s been in politics since forever, or more precisely since 1982. In 1988 he became Political Secretary to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

-In 2012 he was branded ‘an unlikely people’s champion’ by the Guardian. As Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, he oversaw the select committee’s enquiry into phone hacking, and forced Rupert Murdoch to appear before it. “Oh, I was very upset and angry about the pie,” he said about the infamous pie that was thrown in Murdoch’s face.

-The Guardian again, “Politicians who have worked alongside him confirm that he is strikingly even-handed and generous-spirited, respectful of parliamentary protocol without getting too grand or pedantic.”

-His music taste is striking too. Whittingdale is a self-confessed fan of heavy metal and punk, and counts Sham 69, the Stranglers and Buzzcocks among his favourite bands. “I do still have one of those waistcoats with patches all over it, and a Motörhead skull on the back,” he admits, but don’t expect him to wear it to cabinet meetings.

-In fact, some of his performances in Westminster have been decidedly against the spirit of punk. He voted against same-sex marriage in 2013.

-And some decisions have just been plain wrong. Last year he voted against the Equal Pay (Transparency) Bill, which would require all medium sized companies to declare their average pay for male and female employees, thus highlighting gender pay gaps.

-The other six MPs who voted against the bill were all men, and were all Conservatives.

-Whittingdale has been a candidate for the role of Culture Secretary for so long that it seemed it had completely passed him by.

-But his appointment now is telling: in October Whittingdale described the BBC licence fee as “worse than a poll tax” and said it was unsustainable.

-Cameron has a way of appointing others to do his dirty work for him, and escaping with his own reputation unscathed – see Michael Gove and Education, and Chris Grayling and Prisons. Whittingdale seems next in line.

-It’s widely known that the Conservatives want to cut the licence fee, which would badly damage investment in the BBC and its output. They’ve found their champion in Whittingdale.

-A BBC spokesperson said, “We’re looking forward to working with the new secretary of state,” as they hastily scheduled a punk season for the Autumn.




Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.