So there we have it. As expected, Esther McVey was booted out as Housing Minister in last week’s reshuffle after only 7 months in the job. Unfortunately, we have become used to welcoming a new Housing Minister under the Conservatives, somewhat contradicting the mantra we hear so often that the country faces a housing crisis. But should the new appointment be viewed in a new context, and not necessarily the ushering in of the ‘here we go again’ routine we have become accustomed to in the sector?
No doubt we were not alone last week responding to the announcement that Christopher Pincher is our new Housing Minister with ‘who is that?’. That is not to diminish the work of Pincher, who is no doubt an excellent MP, it is just that his is not a name that we see in the political news – but that is the point.
The well-known and opinionated ministers who were not afraid to question the directions of Boris Johnson, and more to the point the grand plans of Dominic Cummings, were swiftly dispatched from Cabinet yesterday to usher in a team of yes-men. Most notably, the Chancellor Sajid Javid MP, which serves to demonstrate the move to a greater concentration of power at Number 10. Pincher’s appointment reinforces this.
With the planning White Paper looming, and talk of big changes in the offing, Johnson needs a Housing Minister (and Secretary of State) that will be able to see these changes through. It is not experience in the sector they are after, rather loyalty to carry out the sweeping changes that have been mooted and reinforced by the new advisers that Johnson is surrounding himself with. The fact they have removed the right of the Housing Minister to attend Cabinet reinforces this view – Pincher is there to get the job done, not help form the agenda.
So who is Christopher Pincher, our new Housing Minister? MP for Tamworh since 2010, Pincher is a party man and was once Deputy Whip. He also successfully campaigned with his residents to alter the proposed route of HS2 and denied his constituents were NIMBIES for being against the infrastructure project. Leaving the Foreign Office where he was Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, playing a key role in the Brexit process, Pincher enters MHCLG with limited housing experience, although a familiarity with localised concerns over planning matters.
For our sector then, with the context of a government with a much stronger majority, and therefore mandate, and in a post-Brexit world we might actually witness a Housing Minister who is able to drive forward a clear agenda for the housing and planning sector, delivering policy change and ambition. For Pincher, the one thing he, like all his new ministerial colleagues, needs to remember is that loyalty is key. Remain loyal, deliver the Johnson / Cummings agenda and we may well find that the revolving door we have become so frustrated with at MHCLG is finally closed.