Labour’s Tristram Hunt to quit as MP and take over museum
Test for Corbyn as Hunt to become director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum
Tristram Hunt: “I have no desire to rock the boat now and anyone who interprets my decision to leave in that way is just plain wrong.” Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images
The former shadow education secretary, who hoped to mount a leadership bid when Gordon Brown stepped down in 2010, has been fiercely critical of Jeremy Corbyn and the direction in which he has taken the party.
MPs close to Mr Hunt confirmed he had decided to pursue a career outside politics, and had landed the plum post at one of London’s most prestigious cultural institutions, where his predecessor Martin Roth was paid about £140,000.
Mr Hunt insisted his departure was not intended to “rock the boat”. But he had been unhappy for some time, and his departure will add to the woes of Mr Corbyn, who had a spat with his shadow defence secretary, Nia Griffith, over Britain’s role in Nato earlier this week.
Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said: “I am disappointed to see a talented MP like Tristram step down. His departure will be keenly felt by parliament and by the Labour party but I know he will continue to champion Stoke-on-Trent’s proud industrial heritage in his new role at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
“The Labour party will move swiftly to ensure Stoke-on-Trent Central continues to be represented by a strong and capable Labour MP.”
Privately, Labour MPs expressed disappointment. One said: “This is a massive blow. Tristram was a friend and it’s depressing he wants to leave.”
The byelection in Stoke-on-Trent Central is likely to be held shortly after the tough electoral test in Copeland in Cumbria, which has been vacated by Jamie Reed, another Corbyn critic who resigned recently.
The seat, which Mr Hunt took with a majority of 5,179 in 2015, is one of those where Ukip polled strongly, taking 22.7 per cent of the vote to finish second . The party’s new leader, Paul Nuttall, has stressed his determination to take on Labour in its former heartlands, and could target the seat – though Theresa May’s “red, white and blue Brexit” is aimed at scooping up working-class, pro-Brexit voters.
The constituency would be split between the seats of Stoke-on-Trent North and South, among a series of proposed changes in the area. When the changes were announced, Hunt said they were based on outdated electoral data and were “effectively gerrymandering” by the Conservatives.
Mr Hunt’s appointment was confirmed by both the prime minister and the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Karen Bradley.
In his resignation letter to Mr Corbyn, Mr Hunt said life as an MP had been “both deeply rewarding and intensely frustrating” and referred to his dissatisfaction with the Labour party’s response to “the social, cultural and economic forces which have rocked mainstream social democratic and socialist parties” across the world.
“I am sorry to put the party and the people of Stoke-on-Trent through a byelection,” he added. “I have no desire to rock the boat now and anyone who interprets my decision to leave in that way is just plain wrong.” He said he would be impartial in his new position.
In a statement released by the V&A, Mr Hunt said he was “delighted and honoured” by the appointment. “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.”
The V&A chairman, Nicholas Coleridge, said Mr Hunt had “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.”
He added: “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.”