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Kit Malthouse - We’ve obviously had enough of experts

It may not be a good idea for a journalist to be personal about a politician, so I write about our new housing minister with trepidation: it’s by no means unlikely that I might interview him in future, for a trade publication or a newspaper, so I know it’s a risk.

But seriously, what is the rationale behind appointing Kit Malthouse? 

I’m not just talking about churn in the job, which we’ve heard so much about - you know, the fact that Malthouse is the eighth housing minister since the Conservatives came into office in 2010, and the 17th in the past 20 years. 

That’s bad enough, but I’m worried much more about what makes up our new housing minister - his political DNA, the type of person Theresa May chooses to spearhead what she calls her number one priority.

Before I go any further (and if this doesn’t seem hypocritical) I have nothing against Malthouse as an individual. I haven’t met him, I know little of him and - let me be honest here - I hadn’t even heard of him until his appointment. MPs routinely work extremely hard, and I don’t doubt this description applies here, too. 

But what I cannot understand is the thinking that ends up with Kit Malthouse being the best choice for housing minister - the outstanding person for such a difficult job.  

In other words, why does Theresa May believe Kit Malthouse is a better choice than, say, other Conservative MPs like Kevin Hollinrake (estate agency founder and member of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee) or Mark Prisk (a former housing minister himself, of course, and a surveyor before being an MP)?

Look at Malthouse’s track record.

An MP for three years, his previous political experience was on the London Assembly where he allegedly instituted what he described at the time “a policy of making life - it sounds counterintuitive and cruel - more uncomfortable” for rough sleepers. 

Is there really no one more sympathetic that Theresa May could have found to hold a ministerial brief that includes a pledge to cut homelessness? Is there no Number 10 political adviser who could have Googled Malthouse’s past words and thought “well, you know what, we’ll suggest someone else as housing minister - someone who hasn’t had a pop at the homeless in such a brutal manner?”

Now look at Malthouse’s financial circumstances.

Since his appointment on Monday, The Mirror newspaper claims that Malthouse has chosen not to give up his directorship of County Finance Group Ltd., a loan company he helped to establish some 17 years ago.

Of course, there’s nothing illegal or underhand in that. Malthouse declares the position and past experience, and it’s perfectly possible that this role in the past might make him a better minister today. But does he have to do this extra-curricular job in the future, too, when he’s supposed to be charged with ending Britain’s housing crisis?

Couldn’t he drop the second job (and what The Mirror claims is a £40,000 salary that goes with it) given that he earns a reported £107,000 a year as MP and a minister? Is the ‘Two Jobs Malthouse’ nickname going to help him be taken more seriously tackling the shortage of new homes, reforming house buying or dealing with rough sleepers?

Even if he does drop it eventually, the damage is done: it looks like he regards his role as MP and minister as not being important enough to occupy him full time. In short, it’s a PR cock-up for a government that claims housing is one of its top priorities, and for a Prime Minister who has made a point of saying so.

Finally, look at what Malthouse has said since taking office. 

At the time of writing, four days in, he has made only a 93-word statement in his official capacity as minister. It contains buzzwords of course - “restore the dream of home ownership”, “build a housing market fit for the future” and “building the homes this country needs is a top priority”. 

No one can disagree with those ambitions, even if it’s hard to match them with a government that has chosen to have three housing ministers in the past 13 months, with little time for them to master their subject.

No - for more passion look at Malthouse’s weekly Facebook update. He has spoken, with genuine enthusiasm, of what he wants to do in the new job. That's great. But even he admits at the start of that video update that he (and no doubt others) would have been surprised at his promotion. No one can disagree with that, as the social media comments from property professionals made clear when his appointment was announced. 

Don’t get me wrong - this isn’t party political. Labour has had its share of ministers whose appointments raised eyebrows and hackles. 

And anyway, perhaps Kit Malthouse will surprise everyone by staying in office for years, perhaps he’ll bring passion and verve to new house building, dealing with builders, agents and consumers with respect, and working hard at giving everyone a roof over their head.

On the other hand, perhaps he’ll just be ‘another’ housing minister, in office just long enough to have introductory meetings with a handful of developers and a couple of landlord groups and...well, you know the rest - it’s been the history of the past few years. 

“People in the country have had enough of experts” said Michael Gove, infamously, just over two years ago. The government, in making appointments like this, appears to have the same view.

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

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    I know Kit so i read this with interest because I too was surprised at his appointment. However, there are two things I would say: The last few ministers have been shocking, so he only has ballet shes to fill and that I think he will probably be quite good at it this role.

  • Neil Cobbold

    In the past, Housing Ministers seem to have viewed the position as a necessary stepping stone to bigger roles. They have arrived as caretakers rather than MP's looking to tackle a huge assignment. We may end up being pleasantly surprised by an MP who has been given an out of the blue appointment actually using the role to prove the change they can enact. Alternatively we may be here in 6-9 months asking when we are going to get this role taken seriously, but not knowing Kit I hope it is the former.

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    At least he isn't a Buy to Let landlord.

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