Baroness Nicky Morgan has stepped aside as head of the DCMS, making room for an MP whose credentials suggest an upcoming focus on televisual rather than gambling reform. But, given the DCMS’s widely ridiculed reputation for ministerial turnover, will Oliver Dowden be a name worth remembering?
The first significant cabinet reshuffle since the Conservative Party’s sweeping victory in December’s general election has seen Oliver Dowden replace Nicky Morgan as the government’s new secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The newly styled (to some controversy) Baroness Morgan of Cotes served only seven months at the head of the parent body to the Gambling Commission – and announced in January her intention to “step back from ministerial life” upon the next cabinet rejig.
As for Dowden, little is known of his positioning with respect to gambling: the Hertfordshire MP has a relatively short voting history, having only first been elected to the Commons as MP for Hertsmere in 2015.
A cursory look at his parliamentary record suggests him to be right-of-centre when it comes to matters of business: having voted consistently in favour of both reducing capital gains tax and increasing the regulation of trade union activity. However, his social compass is seemingly more centrist: having voted in favour of hiking up taxes paid on alcoholic drinks on three separate occasions.
Of course, it wasn’t through the lens of the gambling industry that the mainstream press analysed Dowden’s promotion to ministerial office. Instead, the papers focused mainly on how the new DCMS secretary’s appointment would influence the near future of the BBC: particularly as his constituency happens to encompass the BBC’s Elstree Studios – at which the both the broadcaster’s procedurals Eastenders and Holby City are filmed.
Dowden has made much of this connection in the past: joking that he serves as the de-facto “member of parliament for Albert Square.” Indeed, the state-educated Hertfordshire native recently celebrated an announcement from private broadcaster Sky that it too would be building a new studio of its own in Elstree.
According to the Guardian’s Mark Lawson, these TV credentials are the likely cause behind Dowden’s selection for the DCMS role. Writing in the broadsheet last Thursday, Lawson called the appointment a “neat fit” which was both “unusual, and unlikely to have been accidental.”
“For a Johnson administration often obsessed with optics, there is a symbolic neatness in appointing an MP with those public service and commercial TV behemoths on his patch to a job in which his biggest task will be to shape the future for UK viewers,” he added.
It’s not unusual, of course, for the Guardian to have overlooked by far the more immediate and pressing task facing Dowden’s ministry: namely the rewriting of a new gambling act. But let’s just hope that Dowden himself is less remiss when it comes to priorities.