Labour's New Housing Shadow Will Be Bigger Test For Shapps

The arrival of Jack Dromey as Labour’s shadow housing minister marks an increase in the political profile of the issue of how many homes are being constructed, where and for whom. After being virtually ignored by Labour since the last election, the subject is now centre stage.

Dromey, 63, has the political credentials of many Labour politicians of his era; much of his working life has been as a trades union official, with involvement in high-profile events like the Grunwick dispute in the 1970s and operating at the highest levels of the Transport and General Workers’ Union in the 1980s and 1990s. He has had his fingerprints on the odd scandal too, especially involving controversial donations to the Labour Party.

But he is a bruiser and an articulate one, albeit with a much posher accent now than the one he used to have two decades or more ago. He is likely to be an effective opponent for Grant Shapps, who had an easy time dispensing with attacks from Dromey’s predecessor, Alison Seabeck.

Some believe he has been angling for the housing portfolio for some months, possibly with encouragement from Ed Miliband. He has made considerable noise in his Birmingham constituency about the impact of housing benefit changes on poorer residents, and on rights for private tenants. As long ago as last April he held meetings with groups - not just opponents - about the Coalition government’s proposed planning reforms.

In other words, Dromey is across the housing brief quickly and - with Hilary Benn as his boss, as Shadow Communities and Local Government secretary - the likelihood is that a new set of policies on planning and housing will soon emerge from Labour.

Most will believe Dromey can only improve on the performance of his predecessors when Labour was in power. One thing is for sure: after the all-embracing concern of the health of the national economy, housing is firmly at the forefront of the two main parties’ political agenda.

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