Housing appears to have a disappointingly low priority in the new Theresa May-led Cabinet – at least judging from the time it has taken to nominate a new housing minister.
Brandon Lewis, the respected and well-liked Conservative MP who held the housing portfolio for two years from mid-July 2014, was on Friday told he would be moving to become a minister at the Home Office – seen by most onlookers as a promotion.
However, no successor as housing minister was named on Friday – nor indeed on Saturday, even though a raft of other ministerial positions were announced by May.
Eventually overnight into Sunday it was revealed that Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell had been made housing minister – and, at the same time, minister for London. Barwell is a former parliamentary private secretary to Greg Clark, former Communities Secretary.
“Hugely honoured to have been asked by the Prime Minister to serve as Minister of State for Housing & Planning and Minister for London” tweeted Barwell on Sunday morning, before adding: “Look forward to working with councils, housing associations, developers and investors to ensure we build the homes people need and deserve.”
Social media yesterday gave Barwell a critical welcome into his post.
On Twitter, an analyst from respected journal Estates Gazette recalled Barwell’s voting record on related issues. These include allegedly voting against reforms to the housebuilding industry to boost housing output, against measures to tackle land-banking, against councils retaining payments in respect of vacant high-value council homes, and against clearer information on letting agencies’ fees and the promotion of longer tenancies.
Barwell’s website reveals him to be a near life-long Croydon resident, aside from when he studied natural sciences at Cambridge. Before becoming an MP in 2010, Barwell worked for the Conservative Party and served as a Tory councillor for 12 years. He is married to an NHS language therapist based in Croydon, and has three young sons.
The housing minister’s position – which has never been given full Cabinet status by Labour or Conservative administrations in modern times – has had a chequered history.
Brandon Lewis’s predecessor as Tory housing minister in the then-Coalition government was the little-known Kris Hopkins. Before that came the much more popular Mark Prisk, a former surveyor employed by Knight Frank – but he was only in post for 13 months. His predecessor was the extremely high-profile Grant Shapps who held the post for the first two years of the Coalition after being Tory shadow housing minister before that.
Labour was no better at keeping housing ministers for long – an indication, according to many in the property industry, that politicians actually held the issue in low esteem despite often making speeches to the contrary.
The final housing minister of the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown premierships was the authoritative John Healey – shadow housing minister in recent months until playing a part in the orchestrated mass resignations in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Before Healey, when Labour was in government, came Margaret Beckett whose nine months as housing minister was seen as the swansong of her ministerial career. She was preceded by Caroline Flint, Yvette Cooper, Keith Hill and Jeff Rooker. None held the post for more than two years, and most for much shorter periods.