Who Will Take Over From Shapps?

A Cabinet reshuffle is on the cards for next month, to mark the near-midway point in the Coalition Government’s five year administration. Who will take over the housing portfolio if, as many believe likely, Grant Shapps is moved?

Before we look at runners and riders it is worth saying that amongst political journalists in the Westminster village, there is uncertainty as to whether Shapps - believed to have had an excellent first year in office but a faltering second year - will be promoted or demoted.

He is seen as knowledgeable about housing and a good street fighter, combative against a Labour Party that is still merely oppositional without putting forward a coherent housing policy alternative of its own. But there is growing scepticism amongst Conservative MPs that Shapps will ever deliver significantly more new homes - the acid test of his policies.

If Shapps is sacked because of the new homes issue, expect David Cameron to elevate the housing minister’s role to full Cabinet status (Shapps currently attends Cabinet meetings but is not a formal member). If Shapps is promoted (many believe he may take over at Health), the housing portfolio will remain with the low status of the past two years.

So why may take over? Westminster insiders point to three possibilities.

Richard Harrington - Conservative, Watford, former property developer and hotelier and successful businessman working with the John Lewis Partnership. Has backed Shapps’ policies but emphasises that more public land needs to made available for homes and has warned that localism should not require “endless rounds of argument”.

Stewart Jackson - Conservative, Peterborough, and a big expert on planning and local government. He resigned from a junior government post in 2011 after voting against a three line whip on Europe. Has warned councils (including Tory ones) from building low quality flats “to pocket the [New Homes Bonus] cash in a difficult financial climate”.

A Liberal Democrat - if the coalition is unable to deliver the expected number of new homes and may simultaneously be unable to strengthen the economy sufficiently to encourage a rise in housing transactions and prices by an early 2015 election, so David Cameron may give the portfolio to a Liberal Democrat to ‘fail’ and take the heat.

The Daily Mail - long time Conservative-backing, of course, but nonetheless fiercely critical of the Prime Minister and particularly the Chancellor of this particular administration - says David Cameron is working on his reshuffle while on a brief Spanish holiday.

Expect an announcement in early September before the party conference. Grant Shapps will know his future before we do - but probably by only a few hours.

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