I was catching up on Grant Shapps’ interview on the Today programme, where he managed to distract John Humphrys from the key questions for a good few minutes arguing about his diary.
The interview centred on whether he was trying to hide the recent appalling house building statistics behind the Housing Strategy launch or get the strategy out before the stats.
The minister claimed he knew nothing about the figures until after the strategy was launched. Ministers don’t see them before anyone else he told Radio 4 listeners. At the risk of falling into the trap of being too distracted by the ‘process’ – that’s only kind of true.
As with all government statistics, there is a pre-release list of people who get the statistics in advance of their publication. That doesn’t include the minister directly, but it does include his departmental officials and his political advisors. Here’s the copied text from this announcement:
Homes and Communities Agency National Housing Statistics
22 November 2011: Pre-release access list
Homes and Communities Agency
Executive Office Manager
Executive Director – Finance & Corporate Services
Executive Director – Programmes & Deputy Chief Executive
Senior Manager – National Communications
Department for Communities and Local Government
Special Advisor to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Branch Head for Physical Regeneration, Coalfields, Brownfield and Land Stabilisation Programmes
Team Leader: Affordable Housing Delivery and Investment
Policy Officer, Affordable Housing Division
Team Leader: Finance and Governance
So did all these people who work with the minster on a daily basis, his political advisors who, after all, are supposed to help him manage difficult media issues, did none of them think to mention the imminent release of highly damaging figures? Did he not think to ask?
Perhaps he was all too aware of needing plausible denial, but it all still sounds pretty implausible to me.
Process aside, the most remarkable thing about the interview was his breezy reaction to the figures. Imagine if he was a health minister announcing a 97% fall in cancer survival rates, or an education minister admitting to a 97% drop in GCSE passes, or a Home Secretary announcing that 97% of all passports were not being checked at our borders? He’d at the very least get a harder time from John Humphrys.
The point of a housing minister is to build houses for people. What is the point of one whose ‘reforms’ cause a collapse in house building within a year of taking over?