To say this is a turbulent time for UK politics would be something of an understatement. As I write, the Brexit negotiations, the publication of the White Paper on Brexit, the position of David Davis, and much, much more, are not just keeping the inhabitants of the Westminster Village entertained, but no doubt causing some consternation across the entire country.
Clarity appears to be in short supply and with around nine months to go until the UK is destined to leave the EU, it seems fair to say that this will be something of a difficult ‘pregnancy and birth’ before the Government attempts to give birth to a non-EU member ‘baby’.
No jokes please about the ‘midwife’ slapping Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg when this little wonder comes screaming into the world please.
Closer to our market, it seems that a year can’t go by without housing feeling some sort of political turbulence. This has mostly been in terms of who occupies the Housing Minister ‘hot seat’ which seems like an apt term given the number that have only kept it warm for a very limited time.
I sometimes think that, in the future, we’ll have a full Cabinet of former Housing Ministers or at the very least a first XI who’ve done the job and been moved on elsewhere.
The last reshuffle was a somewhat odd one in that the actual Housing Minister, Dominic Raab, was not moved, but his boss within the newly-formed MHCLG did change and given that this is the Secretary of State who sits at the Cabinet table, then this might be seen as rather a big deal.
Sajid Javid was moved of course to the Home Office, and James Brokenshire was brought in to replace him, and while it is early days it should perhaps be hoped that the incumbent brings with him some of the zeal and energy for reform in the housing market that his predecessor appeared to have.
Certainly, Javid has left his mark on our sector, and in years to come I wonder whether his tenure might be seen as a pivotal moment for housing across any number of areas such as increasing supply, the introduction of Help to Buy and other schemes to help first-time buyers, and (close to conveyancer’s hearts) the move to reform, update and improve the home-buying process.
I don’t think we can deny that Javid’s former department has been keen to work with stakeholders and to develop a much more cohesive and better functioning housing market.
There is of course nothing to suggest Brokenshire’s stay as Minister for the HCLG will be any different however I suspect the first inkling of any change in tack might come from how the leasehold reforms are taken forward.
We have taken a full part in the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Leasehold and Commonhold and there is definitely cross-party support for the reforms which were announced recently and, at the same time, there is also a little trepidation that they might be watered down.
Obviously, this is not something we would wish to see, and it would seem strange to have gotten this far only for that to take place. However, politics is a very fluid business and politicians do not always see eye-to-eye, even if they’re from the same party, and especially when they might wish to set out their own stall and differentiate themselves from their predecessors.
This is all conjecture and our contacts at the MHCLG say there is no wavering in commitment in terms of delivering the reforms we want to see in the house-buying process.
If anything, such measures appear to go beyond party political boundaries, as this tends to be an area within which you’ll find strong cross-party support. For a minority government that might feel it is fighting many battles, particularly in the EU space, getting legislation through in a market where the vast majority believe the changes to be welcome, seems like the equivalent of securing a home run.
That said, there is a lot of political water to flow under the bridge before we might get all the measures we want introduced, and with a new person pressing the metaphorical buttons, things could change.
As an industry it’s important that we keep lobbying and providing feedback and support to the MHCLG – we believe we are on the cusp of some momentous changes that will develop and improve the process for the better for all involved. It would be a shame to pull back now when we have moved so far forward.
*Eddie Goldsmith is Chairman of the Conveyancing Association (CA)