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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 18:59 GMT 19:59 UK
Jowell's job at the top
Arts and media correspondent Nick Higham meets the new Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, and says it is a role to which she may be well-suited.

Half-past nine on Monday morning and the new secretary of state for culture is stepping out for her first public engagement - a photocall at the opening of the latest giant installation in the vast Turbine Hall at Tate Modern.

She will, one of her officials warns, almost certainly be late.

But he has spent too long working for her predecessor Chris Smith - a nice man but notoriously unreliable in the matter of appointments.

Tessa Jowell is there on time, all spick and span, brisk and businesslike, giving a politician's evasive answers to journalists' questions, but engagingly straightforward when it comes to her own cultural tastes.

Juan Munoz
Jowell and artist Juan Munoz after unveiling his installation
The last two films she saw? Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Bridget Jones's Diary, both damned with faint praise.

"During an election campaign any film is like water to a thirsty man in the desert," is all she will say about them - before adding, as a good feminist, "or thirsty woman".

The last play she saw? She clearly can't remember, but tells us there were no tickets left when she tried to book for the RSC's Twelfth Night at Stratford at Easter (not a problem she's likely to encounter in her new job, one suspects).

What about the visual arts? Is she a Tate Britain kind of person, or a Tate Modern?

She's a Friend of both the Tate and the Royal Academy, she says, and pops in to both to catch a few minutes at an exhibition when she can.

Tate Britain
Jowell is a Tate Britain fan
She's been to the Stanley Spencer show at Tate Britain and Botticelli's illustrations to Dante at the Academy - and she went six times to the Academy's Genius of Rome show, once for just 15 minutes to gaze at one of the Caravaggios; she calls it "one of the most erotic pictures I've ever seen".

From which we can deduce that, though she may not have Chris Smith's detailed and professional interest in the arts and culture, she has a genuine enthusiasm for the visual arts at least.

She's probably a Tate Britain traditionalist rather than a Tate Modern enthusiast for Britart and Tracey Emin.

Indeed, she carefully avoids saying what she thinks of the piece she's come to launch, by the Spanish artist Juan Munoz.

Wembley Stadium
She will have to deal with redeveloping Wembley Stadium
He has roofed over the far end of the Turbine Hall to create from above a vast flat roof, punctured by square shafts and two lifts slowly rising and falling (metaphors, perhaps, for the contrasting political fortunes of Chris Smith and Tessa Jowell).

From below the shafts prove to contain mannequins of workmen, and the roof is supported on fake cast-iron columns - it's almost as if the building has been returned to its industrial past as a power station.

The new minister's only comment: "I'm looking forward to finding out why it's called Double Bind."

It's all a pleasant enough way to spend one's first morning in a new job, but there is serious work awaiting Ms Jowell.


The culture part of her brief is likely to produce few headaches to begin with. The sports part is rather different - there is the fiasco at Wembley Stadium to sort out, after the collapse of the FA's ambitious redevelopment plan.

And broadcasting will require some serious study.

She has to find a new chairman for the BBC to replace Sir Christopher Bland.

The odds are shortening on Sir Christopher's deputy, Gavyn Davies, now that the election is over and his close personal friendship with Gordon Brown is less embarrassing.

She has to decide whether to approve the BBC's plans for new digital TV and radio channels, including the relaunch of BBC Choice and BBC Knowledge as BBC 3 and 4, the launch of two children's channels on 3 and 4 during the day, and the creation of five new radio services.

Quick decision

The Beeb's commercial rivals are furious at what they see as licence fee-subsidised competition for their own digital services.

They will be queuing up to bend the new minister's ear.

For his part the BBC's director-general, Greg Dyke, told his staff he'll be pressing Ms Jowell for a quick decision.

And when those two bits of business are out of the way there's always the new Communications Bill.

A joint effort with Department of Trade and Industry, the Bill aims to rationalise the regulation of broadcasting and telecommunications, establishing a combined super-watchdog dubbed Ofcom.

Public service

But still to be decided is the thorny question of new rules on cross-media ownership.

The issue was shelved before the election as far too sensitive, but Ms Jowell will have a hand in deciding whether, for instance, Rupert Murdoch's News International/BSkyB should be allowed a stake in ITV or Channel 5, and whether ITV's dominant players, Carlton and Granada, should be allowed to take control of their news provider, ITN.

Tessa Jowell and the DCMS may find themselves acting as defenders of the citizens' interest and of public service broadcasting, against the DTI's tendency to side with the media companies who want a reduction in regulation and red tape and greater commercial freedom.

It's a role to which she may be well-suited.

Superthin models

The former junior minister at health and employment, who started her career as a psychiatric social worker, has in the past been described as "nannyish".

It applies both to her preference for order and tidiness in real life and to her political instincts, which favour a modest degree of social engineering.

A year ago she made the headlines when, as minister for women, she claimed magazine editors had agreed to reduce the number of superthin models they feature; unfortunately, the editors promptly retorted that they'd agreed no such thing.

In the world of media policy her instincts to intervene will have to be reconciled with industry's demands for less regulation.

Ministry of Fun

The Department of Culture, once rumoured to be for the axe, has in fact been expanded.

It already had media, sport, the arts and heritage, tourism and the National Lottery.

It's taking over gambling and horse-racing, film and video censorship and licensing pubs and clubs from the Home Office.

At the DCMS they now say proudly they're responsible for everything from the Tote to the Tate.

Tessa Jowell calls it a Ministry for Free Time.

Others may resurrect the soubriquet devised by its first Secretary of State, David Mellor - the Ministry of Fun.

No doubt Tessa Jowell will find it fun at first to have a job which allows her to visit art galleries during the day and call it work.

But in the longer run she could be in for an interesting time.

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