Labour MP Tristram Hunt has announced his decision to resign from his constituency in Stoke-on-Trent in order to take on the position of Director of London’s V&A museum, triggering a by-election at an already vulnerable time for Labour.
Hunt, who has a BA and a PhD in History from Cambridge where he attended Trinity College, insists that this move is not intended to “rock the boat”, despite his fierce criticism of Jeremy Corbyn and the direction in which he has been taking the party. Corbyn commented on the news in a statement: “I would like to thank Tristram Hunt for his service to the people of Stoke on Trent Central and to the Labour party. I wish him well in his future role at the V&A.”
MPs close to Hunt have confirmed that he had been unhappy for some time and was hoping to pursue a career outside of politics. In a recent press release, Hunt voiced his pleasure at the appointment, saying, "I have loved the V&A since I was a boy, and today it is a global leader in its unrivaled collections, special exhibitions, academic research and visitor experience.”
Hunt was a member of the Footlights while at Cambridge alongside David Mitchell and Robert Webb and has long been a Patron of the Arts. In 2014, he gifted the Wedgwood Collection to the V&A. It features over 80,000 words of art, ceramics, manuscripts, letters, pattern books and photographs from 250 years of British ceramic production and is considered one of the most important industrial collections in the world. Hunt is also a lecturer on British history at London's Queen Mary University, a Patron of the British Ceramics Biennale, and a Curator of the Mayor of London’s History Festival.
Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, expressed his disappointment at Hunt’s resolution: “His departure will be keenly felt by Parliament and by the Labour party but I know he will continue to champion Stoke-on-Trent’s proud industrial heritage in his new role at the Victoria and Albert Museum.”
The by-election in his soon-to-be former constituency is likely to be held not long after the electoral test in Copeland, Cumbria, for the seat vacated by another Corbyn critic who resigned recently, Jamie Reed. UKIP’s new leader, Paul Nuttall, has stressed his desire to defeat Labour in its “former heartlands”, and it has been suggested that he could target the newly-vacated seat in Stoke-on-Trent. The central Stoke constituency was one where UKIP performed strongly in the 2015 general election; they finished second with 22.7% of the vote.
The political uncertainty is accompanied by concerns in the arts community regarding the replacement of Martin Roth, a well-established and highly regarded museum director, with a politician. In 2011, Hunt wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian, where he outlined why he thinks museums should “start charging again”.
He stated that while London organisations often benefited from no-fee entrances, regional spaces were being compromised. "This metropolitan, club-class government has made sure that our global cultural icons are immune from the pressures hitting their regional colleagues and, even more perversely, in the case of Tate Modern, continue to enjoy secure funds for major capital projects.”
The V&A chairman, Nicholas Coleridge, said Hunt had “a highly compelling mixture of experience across public life, the arts, history, education and academia, and knows our collections well from his writing and broadcasting.”
He added: “He is an informed and articulate leader and communicator on numerous facets of culture, both historic and contemporary, and I greatly look forward to working with him at the V&A.”