It almost seems a waste of energy to write about the new housing minister. Eight in eight years have passed through the post, often on their way to greater things – if becoming chairman of the Tory party, principle advisor to the PM or Brexit Secretary count as advancement. Labour’s Sarah Jones has summed up yesterday’s man Dominic Raab’s six months of failure very effectively here.
It sometimes looks like the choice is done by sticking a pin in a list of Tory MPs who don’t know anything much about housing. Since 2010 characters called Prisk, Hopkins, Barwell, Sharma and Raab have all held the job for less than a year. Scarcely enough time to wring your hands about homelessness on the streets, meet David Orr of the NHF to discuss solving the housing crisis, and make the same recycled ‘keynote’ speech at the CIH Conference. Move along, nothing to see here. Mind you, as Grant Shapps and Brandon Lewis both managed around 2 years, it might be that high turnover is to be encouraged.
It must be admitted that tenure of the post was not much longer under Labour. Charlie Falconer, Jeff Rooker, Caroline Flint, Margaret Beckett and John Healey all served less than a year in the Ministerial job. It wasn’t Healey’s fault of course, he did a lot in a short time before Labour lost in 2010 and has shown considerable stickability in the shadow role since. Yvette Cooper turns out to be the longest-serving housing minister since 1997, followed by destroyer Shapps and Labour’s first, Hilary Armstrong.
So will Kit Malthouse soon be on his bike or will he last longer? Personally, I hope he suffers the same fate as John Healey – losing the job because of an electoral defeat.
Various news outlets have reported on his little bit of housing history. Huffpost reports that he oversaw a hostile zero tolerance approach to rough sleeping when he was deputy leader of Westminster Council 15 years ago – the famous period when the council hosed down the streets to make them more uncomfortable for the homeless. His last job saw him in charge of the roll-out of Universal Credit, so competence is unlikely to be on his list of talents.
Kit Malthouse with some other chap at City Hall (from KM website).
I have no personal experience of the gentleman, but it is recorded that he was the councillor who negotiated the settlement with Dame Shirley Porter in 2004 after she was ‘fined’ £42million (including surcharges, interest and costs) by the district auditor for the gerrymandering ‘Homes for Votes’ scandal. Magically, it was decided that she would only pay £12million. Most Universal Credit recipients would be happy to get £30 of relief from Mr Malthouse let alone £30million.
Mr Malthouse has a blog, which is a must-read if you have trouble sleeping in this humid weather. Most notably, instead of skyscrapers he argues for building underground. He has little to say on housing but takes a strong ‘localist’ stance on planning, campaigning to make sure that no permissions would be granted outside the envelope of approved local and neighbourhood plans (he doen’t think much of planning inspectors and their decisions). To give him some credit, given his previous ‘zero tolerance’ approach to homelessness, in 2007 he became an early supporter of what is now known as ‘Housing First’.
I hold out little hope for a significant change in direction or even that Mr Malthouse will still be in post to attend next June’s CIH conference. The odds are still against, but I harbour a dream that the 2019 keynote speech will be made by the new Secretary of State for Housing John Healey.