Ed Vaizey: 'I was once made Minister for Trade – for about half an hour'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Culture minister Ed Vaizey tells Ian Burrell about BSkyB, Angry Birds and why the reality of coalition is beyond anything in The Thick Of It

Ed Vaizey has one of the most broad-ranging and enviable portfolios in the Coalition Government. As the Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, his office oversees everything from the arts to computer gaming and has 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 and 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 the Coalition Government which Armando Iannucci would struggle to better in the political 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 got given an extremely hard time, I think he was extraordinarily resilient throughout the process and I'm very pleased to see that he has been made Health Secretary."

He claims he is "very pleased" for Ms Miller, that he likes "ploughing my own particular furrow" and that his current role "covers all the areas I'm passionate about". To emphasise 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 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 that 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."

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 Asteroids and Space Invaders, but he 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.

But Apple technology has given him a way back and, having been an "early adopter" of the iPhone app Angry Birds he progressed to Plants vs Zombies and now plays Monopoly on his iPad during trips on the Tube.

Readers who share with the "powers that be" a sense that such activity is frivolous should be aware that gaming has become an important sector of the British economy. Vaizey will be emphasising the point when he chairs a session on gaming at tomorrow's Royal Television Society 2012 Digital World Conference. "We have a great heritage in games and we want to exploit," he says.

Vaizey, a qualified barrister, was part of the Notting Hill set that relaunched the Tories under David Cameron. He edited the Blue Books series that helped shape modern Conservative policy. Yet he says he has adapted easily to Coalition politics. "I don't want to enrage my backbench colleagues but the two things I say to Conservative associations are, firstly, we didn't win the election so we didn't have a majority, and I thought the Prime Minister had a bold vision that a coalition was the wise thing to do, going through such difficult economic times. I think it has worked incredibly well."

His loyalty to the Prime Minister does not prevent him from acknowledging Labour's central role in the success of the Olympics. "Tessa Jowell deserves all credit – there are people working in this department who remember the day she got the brief that said bidding for the Olympics was insane and she went round Whitehall and turned people around."

And though he laughs at the mention of Boris Johnson's name, he accepts that he is an "asset" in promoting London to the world. "Boris is an exuberant character who is loved by the media," he says. If there's one thing that does annoy him it's that more people are not similarly exuberant. "I get annoyed by our lack of self-confidence," he says, "I think Britain is arguably the hi-tech centre of Europe".

Although Britain seriously lags in its supply of broadband, he is excited about the forthcoming 4G auction and the amount of inward investment generated by British television. "We get called the Ministry of Fun but in terms of economic growth our contribution would be very significant."

In a further gush of enthusiasm, he has another The Thick of It moment when describing a tech company that makes "whatever it's called, you know... when the guys put ping pongs up their arms. I don't know the technical term, computer animation". There's no doubt that Ed Vaizey is a bit of a one-off.



The Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games was an amazing event that showcased the very best of British cultural achievements to a global audience of more than a billion people.

El Sistema / Big Noise Concert

Learning how music transformed the lives of so many children from the slums in Venezuela, and to see them performing, as adults, in concert alongside the children of Raploch was an incredible experience.

Leonardo @ National Gallery

The breathtaking "Leonardo" exhibition was a triumph for the National Gallery, attracting record crowds and widespread critical acclaim.

Julius Caesar @ RSC

Everything about this production, the powerful acting, the intriguing set, the music and the costumes, was executed brilliantly. One of the best things I've seen on stage for a very long time.

Tracey Emin @ Margate

As part of the Cultural Olympiad, this exhibition, held in the artist's home town, was stunning. We are very lucky to have so many fantastic regional museums like the Turner Contemporary in Margate.

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

Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits