'I was offered Trade minister job... for about half an hour'

Ed Vaizey is happy to limit himself to Culture, he tells Ian Burrell

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The Independent Online

Ed Vaizey has one of the most broad-ranging and enviable portfolios in the Government. As the Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, his office oversees everything from the arts to computer gaming and he recently added architecture and design to his brief. But in bizarre circumstances, Vaizey also found himself accepting a vast array of other responsibilities. "I was minister of Trade. For half an hour," he reveals.

Until last year, Vaizey's job spanned the Department of Culture, Media & Sport and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, where, much to his excitement, he found himself being briefed for a new government role by a senior figure from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). "I was thinking to myself... I'm an incredibly talented minister and they obviously think that despite my huge portfolio I can handle this with absolute aplomb. I sat there thinking of all the things I would do as Trade minister," he recalls. And then his Liberal Democrat colleague Ed Davey walked into the room and the civil servant told Vaizey: "I'm so sorry, I've been briefing the wrong minister."

It's a picture of government which Armando Iannucci would struggle to better in the BBC satire The Thick of It, which the minister for television says he hasn't been watching, although he is credited as a commentator in a previous series.

Vaizey, 44, the brother of the art critic Marina Vaizey, is brimming with enthusiasm for the creative sector but in an economic downturn he faces a difficult task in convincing an art establishment dominated by Labour luvvies. "It sort of gets me going," he says. "I do think there's a kind of knee-jerk [sense that] the Tories must be bad for the arts. I grew up in the arts and I care passionately about them, so I think it's very unfair."

He may not have applied to become Trade minister but Vaizey was tipped to succeed Jeremy Hunt as Culture Secretary, though the job went to Maria Miller in the recent reshuffle. He praises Hunt's recent performance under fire over his relationship with News Corp during the failed BSkyB takeover. "He is, I think, a man of great integrity. I think he was extraordinarily resilient throughout the process and I'm very pleased to see he has been made Health Secretary."

He claims he is "very pleased" for Miller, that he likes "ploughing my own particular furrow" and that his current role "covers all the areas I'm passionate about". To emphasize this point he has decorated his office with items that signify his areas of responsibility; a framed tribute from the Brit music awards, a painting by John Hubbard ("one of the greatest living painters") and, in pride of place, the Oscar won by Cecil Beaton for costume design for My Fair Lady in 1964.

He would like to make a further addition but, to his chagrin, his requests for a games console in his office have been rejected by unidentified "powers that be" as inappropriate. "I was encouraged not to, in case it looked frivolous," he says. "But I think I will renew my campaign. I have a television so why can't I have a games console?"

He knows a modern media minister must have a firm grasp of digital technology but admits to ignorance of the sector when he became Shadow Culture Minister six years ago. "I knew nothing about gaming in terms of either doing games or its policy place. The only time I heard about games in the policy sphere was about violence and banning games." A born-again gamer, Vaizey has latterly told one specialist website that "I would see video games as an art". His own 1980s gaming career began as a schoolboy with a dabbling at Asteroids and Space Invaders but floundered over the complexities of Defender. "It was the game that put me off gaming - because I wasn't any good at it," he laments.

Ed Vaizey chairs a discussion on what TV broadcasters can learn from the games industry at the Royal Television Society 2012 Digital World Conference, Friday, 28 September at The Barbican, London,www.rts.org.uk