Labour reels as ‘frustrated’ Tristram Hunt quits politics to run a museum

Tristram Hunt is to stand down as an MP to become director of the V&A museum in London
Tristram Hunt is to stand down as an MP to become director of the V&A museum in London
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One of Labour’s most prominent moderates, Tristram Hunt, has announced he is standing down from Parliament to become director of the Victoria & Albert museum in London.

The former shadow education secretary’s departure will trigger a potentially awkward by-election for Labour in Stoke-on-Trent Central, with immediate speculation that Ukip leader Paul Nuttall may stand in a seat which voted overwhelmingly for Brexit in last year’s referendum.

In a resignation letter to party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Hunt said he had become frustrated over how Labour should respond to the shockwaves hitting mainstream politics.

But he inisisted he had “no desire to rock the boat” and said anyone who interpreted his decision to quit that way is “just plain wrong”.

Historian Mr Hunt said serving in Parliament had been “both deeply rewarding and intensely frustrating” and told of the “harrowing effects of poverty and inequality” he had seen during his work as an MP.

He added: “The frustration, of course, came with the inability to address those factors and implement our policy programme following our defeat in 2015 - and, more broadly, about how the Labour Party should respond to the social, cultural and economic forces which have rocked mainstream social democratic and socialist parties from India to Greece to America.

“There were very few jobs that would have convinced me to stand down as MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, but the post of director of the V&A - the world’s greatest museum of art, design and performance - is just that.”

Mr Corbyn said: “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.”

Mr Hunt is the second centrist Labour MP in a matter of weeks to quit Parliament for a job outside politics, following Jamie Reed, who announced last month that he was standing down as MP for Copeland to take up a post at the Sellafield nuclear plant.

Their decisions to quit politics are being seen by Westminster-watchers as a sign of Labour’s moderates losing hope of reversing the party’s shift to the left.

Tony Blair’s former communications chief, Alastair Campbell, said he was “really sad Tristram Hunt sees his future outside politics now”, adding: “Big loss. So many MPs fear Labour going nowhere under Jeremy Corbyn.”

Mr Hunt refused to serve in the shadow cabinet following Mr Corbyn’s shock leadership win in September 2015.

He was among leading Labour moderates whose seats are facing significant boundary changes, leaving him vulnerable to de-selection attempts by hardline supporters of Mr Corbyn.

Labour has held Stoke-on-Trent Central since the constituency’s creation in 1950, with a vote-share of 66% and majority of 49.5%, making it one of the party’s safest strongholds in 1997.

But its majority has since fallen to 17%, with Ukip surging by 18 points to take second place in 2015, and Stoke voted 65.7% for Leave in last year’s EU referendum, making it a tempting venue for Mr Nuttall to attempt to make good on his promise to replace Labour as the party of choice for working-class communities in the Midlands and North of England.

Ukip chairman Paul Oakden said the party will be “fighting hard” to win the seat, but gave no indication of whether its leader would stand, saying only that a candidate will be announced on January 21.

He said: “The resignation of Tristram Hunt MP highlights the brighter future that many in the Labour Party feel they have away from Jeremy Corbyn and his brand of politics.

“We have no doubt that the example set by Mr Hunt will be one that many voters in Stoke-on-Trent will consider following in the upcoming by-election.”

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: “Tristram Hunt’s resignation from Stoke will be followed by many others. Labour is doomed.”

Liberal Democrat president Baroness Brinton said Mr Hunt’s resignation was “a sign of how Labour are ripping themselves apart”.

It was “worrying” to see “decent, civic-minded” MPs like Mr Reed and Mr Hunt decide that they can achieve more positive change outside Westminster, she added.

Mr Hunt’s V&A appointment was signed off by Prime Minister Theresa May and Culture Secretary Karen Bradley.

Ms Bradley said the new director had “a wealth of experience as a historian and a great passion for arts and culture that will serve him very well in this role”.

The museum said the MP had been at the forefront of political, cultural and public life for the last decade.

Chairman Nicholas Coleridge said: “He has 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.

“In addition, 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.”

Mr Hunt said: “I have loved the V&A since I was a boy, and today it is a global leader in its unrivalled collections, special exhibitions, academic research and visitor experience.”

Mr Hunt secured a majority of 5,179 in Stoke-on-Trent Central in 2015 with a 39.3% share of the vote, over Ukip’s 22.7% and Conservatives on 22.5%.

Mr Hunt is likely to enjoy a significant pay rise with his move from Westminster to the V&A in well-heeled Kensington.

His German predecessor, Martin Roth - who saw attendances triple during his five-year period in charge - earned a salary of £145,000-£150,000 as part of a total package worth £225,000-£230,000 in 2015/16. Mr Hunt’s salary as an MP is £74,962.

Prime Minister Theresa May “rubber-stamped” the appointment, her spokesman told a regular Westminster briefing.

“As far as the V&A process goes, my understanding is that it is a very carefully controlled tender process, the decision is rubber-stamped by the Prime Minister. It is a tender process, it is a matter for the V&A.”