Yet another new Minister at MHCLG, but is this just continuity politics? Can we expect any palpable change?

26 Jul 19 | Charlotte Hunter

But what Jenrick lacks in experience in housing and planning, he does make up for in economic experience. Formerly Exchequer Secretary at the Treasury Jenrick may have the economic clout needed to make bold steps forward on the housing agenda.

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What a week. In one of the most bloody cabinet reshuffles, coined as the ‘Night of the Blonde Knives’, the new PM Boris Johnson was quick to take his revenge on those objectors within his party, making a decisive declaration of intent. Culling the majority of Remainers in the Cabinet (if they hadn’t already resigned) it was a move that now sees Leavers dominate, in marked contrast to his predecessor.

In his opening speech, Boris committed his government to delivering Brexit in 99 days, but even with a united Cabinet he faces a far from united party and a parliamentary majority of only 2 (which could be narrowed even further if they lose a forthcoming by election).

So does this mean the domestic agenda will yet again take a firm backseat? On Wednesday Boris spoke about closing ‘the opportunity gap’ and his plans for social care, the NHS and schools, but will we see any progress for the housing and planning sector?

Yet again the sector looks to a new Housing Minister – the 9th since 2010 – to show some direction and impetus in delivering the growth that is so often cited by politicians as essential, yet without any real demonstration of how this will be delivered. Esther McVey, MP for Tatton, is unlikely to be seen as the most obvious choice as Housing Minister and certainly will concern some given her position on the right of the party. But even if we know little about her views on housing and what it means for the sector, what we do know is that she is a not an MP scarred to voice her views, even if that has caused problems for her in the past.

If we know little about Esther McVey we know even less about her new boss Robert Jenrick. Replacing James Brokenshire as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Jenrick is an appointment that probably surprised people the most; especially as he was a Remainer, and at 37 years, he is the first millennial in the Cabinet.

It could be argued that Jenrick’s youth and inexperience in the sector will not exactly fill many with much trust in MHCLG – yet again seen as a stopgap for aspiring politicians. Not helped by the fact that housing did not feature in Jenrick’s statement of priorities released on Thursday.

But what Jenrick lacks in experience in housing and planning, he does make up for in economic experience. Formerly Exchequer Secretary at the Treasury, Jenrick may have the economic clout needed to make bold steps forward on the housing agenda. While at the treasury he was a key proponent of the Northern Powerhouse, and with the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, Jake Berry, now being promoted to attend Cabinet, perhaps we will see a new impetus behind the regions at MHCLG.

As the youngest in the Cabinet, Jenrick will have a lot to prove in his new role, but as a committed Boris supporter he is likely to toe the party line and not stray too far too soon.

Over the coming weeks he will be rapidly briefed on his new portfolio and he is sure to be tested on whether he can make the transition from macroeconomics to the complex and nuanced housing and communities brief, and understand the challenges developers, residents and local communities face on the ground. There may well be growing pains for this millennial.

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