Tristram Hunt has resigned from being a Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central to take up the lucrative post of director of the Victoria and Albert museum. Although a surprising appointment, it would be unfair to say that Hunt lacks any qualification for his new job. The son of Baron Hunt of Chesterton holds a First Class degree in history from the University of Cambridge, is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and has written books on Victorian urbanism.
However, more than with his knowledge of the past, in recent years he has become associated with other “accomplishments” — such as crossing a UCU picket line to deliver a lecture on Marxism, telling Cambridge students that Labour should be led by “the top one per cent” or arguing that the party needs to embrace English nationalism. In 2011, Hunt also made a case for bringing back entrance fees to national museums and galleries, which had been scrapped under New Labour ten years earlier.
Unsurprisingly, Hunt has also been a prominent opponent of Jeremy Corbyn. For Labour, Hunt’s resignation means a difficult by-election. The constituency, once considered a safe seat, has recently registered declining turnout, a strong UKIP vote and one of the highest Leave votes in the country. It will be a test for Corbyn’s leadership as well as an opportunity to stand a socialist candidate who can reconnect with Stoke’s largely working-class population.
What Hunt’s appointment means for the arts, we are yet to see. While he will not be able to introduce charges, his Parliamentary record would suggest that we can expect more English art for the English one per cent. At least his brand of politics will finally find itself in a museum, where it belongs.