Dave ‘n’ Nick may be the future but their attitude to housing seems rooted very much in the recent past – that is, it’s not a priority.
More than 24 hours after the ‘big’ cabinet positions were announced, Grant Shapps got the call to become housing minister, the government version of the role he held in opposition. This may be a disappointment to Shapps who was tipped before the election to get a cabinet position in a Tory government. But then, we didn’t get a Tory government - and housing is not deemed important enough to be cabinet status.
So what will Shapps do? The 11-point Conservative-LibDem document confirms that Home Information Packs will be scrapped and Energy Performance Certificates kept, but beyond that nothing is for certain.
To some extent, Shapps' success will be determined by how good he is at persuading Liberal Democrats of the wisdom of Tory policies on ‘localism’ in planning, scrapping national housing targets and supporting self-build on a much wider scale. There is very little there to scare even old-school Liberal Democrats, surely?
More difficult may be Shapps’ attitude (so far unknown) toward the LibDems’ housing policies such as adding VAT to new build homes, using zoning to control numbers of holiday homes in tourist areas, and – Nick Clegg said this in one of the TV debates – support for “good old fashioned council housing” as one way of solving the housing shortage.
In an era when coalition ministers almost exchange bodily fluids in a bid to assure us of their unity, it may be inappropriate to rank people in old politico-speak. But housing is a favourite subject for anyone who is left of centre like the LibDems, and as Shapps is a traditional right-wing Tory he may have a rougher ride than we imagine.
The very useful They Work For You website analyses MPs' voting habits and says this about Shapps. He has:
• “Never voted on a transparent parliament” [a collection of votes in the Commons interpreted by the website as making MPs more accountable”;
• “Voted moderately against equal gay rights”;
• “Voted for a stricter asylum system”;
• “Voted strongly against more EU integration”;
• “Voted against removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords” and, perhaps a little contradictorily “Voted very strongly for a wholly elected House of Lords.”
So a man of the right he is, which will please many in the property business, but probably not the LibDems.
The old journalistic cliché “Time Will Tell” is wheeled out now, because it really is true that we will have to see whether the Tories’ housing policies, or the Lib Dems’, or neither, will be implemented.
But one thing seems certain. Grant Shapps’ long wait for Dave ‘n’ Nick to give him the news of his portfolio means that housing remains a low priority.
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