Interview: Ed Vaizey

Shadow Minister of Culture since November 2006, Ed Vaizey is one of the new generation of Tory MPs. Academic and boyishly affable, he’s unusually well qualified as an arts spokesman his mother is art historian and Sunday Times art critic Marina Vaizey. ‘I was exposed tovisual arts from an early age, which is easy to take for granted.’ His father, Lord Vaizey, was a distinguished academic and economist: ‘Harold Wilson gave him a peerage in his Lavender List one of the few who really deserved it in my opinion.’ His father ran Cumberland Lodge, where students and tutors could mix informally, and had high expectations for his children. ‘He did insist on taking us to the opera when we were about eight, which I think was too young. I have enjoyed rediscovering theatre and opera recently, and had a great evening at Covent Garden with an old friend, who is so infectiously enthusiastic about it all.’ Did he always want to be an MP?

‘Well, I was always interested, and I can remember, when I was 11, my father crossing the house floor from the Labour to the Conservative benches. He saw Margaret Thatcher was the only person who was going to tackle the country’s problems. I remember the 1979 election coincided with Star Wars mania, and one Thatcher slogan was “May the 4th Be With You”.’ Mr Vaizey studied at Oxford and practised as a barrister. He ran a successful PR company before becoming Michael Howard’s chief speechwriter in 2004. In 2005, he was elected MP for Wantage and Didcot, and he and his wife and son now have a home in Oxfordshire. ‘I’m surprised by how much satisfaction I get from constituency work there are many ways you can make a difference, often small things that can add up to big things in the lives of individuals. Also, as an MP, I’m continually grateful for how much time people are prepared to give me to explain their fields and their worlds, which is a great privilege.

I appreciated spending time with people in the Armed Forces, as you can’t debate such subjects just based on briefings.’ As shadow culture minister, Mr Vaizey is Margaret Hodge’s counterpart, so is responsible for built heritage, visual arts, film, libraries, performing arts, museums, and video gaming. He is enjoying the debate stimulated by the publication of the discussion document prepared at Mr Cameron’s invitation by the independent Arts Task-force, chaired by Sir John Tusa: ‘We wanted ideas that might be the basis of sensible policies, but they aren’t headline grabbing. The recommendations have

stimulated considerable debate in the arts world.’ Alarmed by Labour’s handling of cuts to the Arts Council, he’s predictably cautious on funding issues, but says: ‘We are categorically committed to restoring the Lottery Funds to their proper good causes, to be at the disposal of the arts and heritage, and opposed to Labour’s raids on these funds’.

Mr Vaizey is keen to champion the contribution of private owners of historic houses to the field of the preservation of our national heritage, and wants to discover ways to help them, and is ‘outraged by the freezing of English Heritage’s budget over the past decade’. He is also interested in ways of regulating the quality of new development, as well as possibly extending the role of CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Mr Vaizey has nailed his colours to the mast on the subject of high-rise buildings in London: ‘We have to take this seriously. I accept that part of the nature of London is commercial freedom (think how Wren’s grand plan was dropped), but unrestrained development of skyscrapers needs to be regulated. There are reasonable compromises to be made, clusters of towers around the Gherkin, for instance, but historic central London needs to be protected, as part of our national identity it’s part of who we are as a nation.’ For the Arts Taskforce report, visit