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Exclusive: Tristram Hunt to be V&A director

Tristram Hunt has never run a big organisation or curated a museum. Credit: PA

The prominent Labour MP, Tristram Hunt, who has been a consistent critic of Jeremy Corbyn, is to be the Victoria and Albert Museum's new director, I have learned.

The unexpected appointment will trigger a by-election in Hunt's constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central, which will be seen as a further important test of whether Labour's current standing with voters is as poor as opinion polls indicate.

In 2015, Hunt won with 39% of the vote, ahead of UKIP and the Tories, which both polled just under 23%.

Labour is already facing a potentially embarrassing by-election in Copeland, following the resignation of Jamie Reed. The Tories are hopeful of winning that seat.

The historian-turned-MP's role at the V&A will see him manage the London museum and its vast collection. Credit: PA

Hunt's choice by the V&A is a bold one, because although he is a respected published historian - who lectures in modern history at Queen Mary University in London - he has never run a big organisation or curated a museum.

Hunt is a specialist in urban history (his latest book being "Ten Cities that made an Empire") which was obviously seen by the V&A's trustees as relevant to managing the museum and its vast collection.

Under Ed Miliband, Hunt was shadow education secretary.

He resigned from the shadow cabinet in September 2015, after the election of Corbyn as Labour leader, because of what he called "substantial policy differences" (one of the great understatements of modern politics).

The departure of Tristram Hunt will be seen as reinforcing the grip on Labour party of the Corbynite left. Credit: PA

Hunt came to prominence in the late 1990s as a Blair supporting adviser to the science minister and Labour donor David Sainsbury.

Life in the Labour party has in recent years become more challenging for politicians like Hunt, since "Blairite" became transformed by many on the Left into the ultimate term of abuse.

Hunt is regarded as one of the brightest and most creative thinkers on the right of Labour, so his departure will be seen as reinforcing the grip on the party of the Corbynite left.

Hunt will not sever his ties with Stoke completely because the V&A owns the important Wedgwood collection of ceramics, which is displayed at Barlaston in the city.

Here is Tristram Hunt's resignation letter to Jeremy Corbyn: