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Graham Awards


Housing: its part in Theresa May's downfall

It’s probably unwise to write too much about politics these days. The most fanciful predictions turn out to be less wild than reality, and things change so quickly it’s easy for something to be out of date.

Even so, I’m going to stick my neck out…

It seems as if vultures are again circling around Theresa May.


Brexit, of course, is what they want: a softer one according to some Tories, a harder one according to many others. The fact that both factions feel they can argue their case out loud, and each hint that the demise of May could help their cause, indicates the depth of division in our government.

However, Brexit isn’t the only game in town and please don’t think our business - housing - has no part to play in the Conservative party’s latest drama. A look at the latest issue of The Spectator magazine, for example, sheds some light on what I mean.

James Forsyth, its political editor, writes that ambitious MPs like Dominic Raab (the new housing minister, in case you hadn’t noticed) have not been promoted as some believe they should - that is, they have not been elevated to the Cabinet, which would give them experience to draw on should they try for the party leadership in a couple of years’ time.

The implication here, clearly, is that even in a government which has talked the talk about housing, being the minister for that particular issue isn’t seen as holding a post carrying much by way of gravitas or challenge.

I’m tempted to think that Raab himself may agree: I haven’t met him, although, based on his media appearances, he clearly is a capable politician with a future. Yet his apparent enthusiasm for the housing brief has been…well, muted might be the right word.

He’s a frequent tweeter but since becoming housing minister on January 9 his social media utterances on his specialist subject have been relatively few. He’s much more enthusiastic, it seems, at provoking Labour and bigging up the government’s achievements on a range of subjects - not often to do with housing.

Which brings me to another reference in this week’s copy of The Spectator, and to another Conservative MP: this time it’s Nick Boles, former planning minister.

The magazine says Boles met with Theresa May about two weeks ago, specifically to urge a radical change in housing policy: The Spectator doesn’t say it out loud but it is known within Westminster that Boles believes the wrong politicians are leading on housing, that the agenda is far too tame, and that as a result too few homes are being built.

The magazine says Boles ‘got nowhere’ in his meeting and so went on, very publicly, to tweet to the world that the Prime Minister needed to up her game and adapt a more radical and visionary agenda - or risk losing support for her position.

So to summarise so far, we have two senior politicians: one in charge of housing but perhaps not so keen, the other with no brief but wanting housing to be given more priority.

Add to all that, finally, another housing malaise: that is, the never ending issue of when the ban on letting agents’ fees on tenants in England will actually be implemented.

Leave to one side that I (and probably you) have many misgivings about a crude ban of the kind proposed by this government.

The point is that it was, for good or for bad, announced as a definite policy on November 23 2016 and yet the latest government guideline is that it will not become law until spring 2019 at least.

That’s around 28 months. For a policy that has support from all political parties. And that’s just one policy - and one, incidentally, already in effect in some parts of the UK.

Little wonder that a Westminster journalist with excellent contacts (you’ll have to trust me on this, but I can promise they talk to Cabinet ministers day in, day out) says the lettings fee ban is routinely mentioned by senior Tories.

It’s seen as a demonstration of how Theresa May cannot even push through a relatively simple measure with a following wind: many of those MPs are not hugely motivated for or against a lettings fee ban…they simply want a government pledge to become reality without the public forgetting all about it in the interim.

So what does all this mean?

For those of us with our different roles in the housing business it means that - at last - ‘our’ subject has reached the centre of political debate. It’s become a litmus test for the government of the day and, in fairness, it’s been decades since that has been the case.

The only problem is, the litmus test in question is one for measuring how the government is failing on housing, rather than achieving.

Oh well, don’t worry. There may be another Conservative leader along any day now: then, of course, we can start all over again with a new reshuffle.

Who’s in line to be the 17th housing minister in 17 years, then?

*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn


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