What will we do without Grant Shapps to talk about? His promotion to Tory Party Chairman means the housing world is free of him at last. Regrettably, in his new role the great British public will be seeing more not less of him. His promotion is a prize for failure and a reward for spin.
Grant Shapps’ record as Housing Minister was astonishingly bad. New build housing has hit rock bottom. Homelessness – the issue he said brought him into politics – is rising rapidly. There have been a raft of changes to social housing which make it much more expensive with poorer rights. Funding for social rented housing has been ended. Building mixed communities has disappeared as a policy objective. Housing investment has been slashed by 60%. There has been no easing of the hurdles facing first time buyers. The list goes on and on.
Of course you could argue that the big decisions were not his but those of the Chancellor, especially over finance. True, but the thing about Shapps was his ability to defend a policy with an insult. He had an unpleasant turn of phrase geared towards a cheap headline. Right down to his comment last week that social housing should be rebranded ‘taxpayer supported housing’ – another dig at social tenants which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for a second. His distaste for social tenants and his desire to get rid of social housing was scarcely concealed – to him the proposal to sell of ‘valuable’ social homes was ‘blindingly obvious’.
It will be interesting to watch how he gets on as Party Chairman. He is suitably glib for the role and he is well practised at turning up in the Newsnight studio to stitch a few soundbites into sentences of defence of some Government disaster or other. He is all brass neck.
But with his new role comes increased scrutiny. He will be more of a media target. And here we may find that David Cameron has made an historic blunder. Not only is Shapps’ Ministerial record very poor, but he is in the middle of what Inside Housing calls a ‘media storm’ The tale of Shapps’ aliases, his alternate personalities of Michael Green and maybe Sebastian Fox (are there others?), and underhand internet practices that apparently breach Google’s rules, means he is lacking somewhat in internet etiquette as George Galloway might say. The accusations may or may not lead anywhere serious in terms of declarations of interest and the Ministerial Code (which requires integrity and openness and covers the activities of spouses, but doesn’t specifically deal with the use of aliases) but they will give the media acres of stories including endless quotes from his book, penned as Michael Green, on how to survive the recession. He is fully deserving of the ridicule that will follow.
Cameron evidently wanted to move our other old friend Iain Duncan Smith from welfare reform to Justice. He refused to go, so Cameron – who only at the weekend said he would stop the dithering – left him in post. That’s a pity. Duncan Smith is what I call a hand-wringer, he’s only doing it because he cares so much, tough love for the poor to stop them being welfare dependant. It would have been nice to be rid of him too.
So we will have a new Housing Minister to listen to and to comment on. Things can only get better. Surely?