15 Apr 2020
On Monday 6 April 2020, the new leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, announced his new shadow cabinet line-up which included the return of some familiar faces, such as former Labour leader Ed Milliband. With the remainder of junior positions filled this week, we now have the full picture.
Labour’s announcement has been made in the midst of unprecedented global conditions, with governments around the world reorganising and reprioritising to implement a variety of measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here in the UK, some have called for the formation of a “government of unity” representing parties across the political divide – a structural arrangement not seen since the Second World War. A recently commissioned YouGov poll asked 1,609 people whether they would support "a Government of national unity, in which representatives from all the main political parties form a Government together, for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis” - 63 percent supported the idea.
The relationship between Government and opposition parties appears to be productive and transparent in the face of this crisis, with some parliamentary committees continuing to operate and regular cross-party briefing sessions being held. Whilst it remains to be seen whether Labour may end up with a seat at the table of a “government of unity”, what does the shadow Cabinet line-up mean for real estate beyond the COVID-19 crisis?
Inevitably, it will take Labour some time to revisit the policy platforms taken to the 2019 election by Jeremy Corbyn. It is expected, given Labour’s internal political shift toward the centre, that their next round of policy proposals will look different. It’s worth noting that governments of a more conservative ilk across the world are implementing social and economic programmes that would be more typical of those at the opposite end of the political spectrum.
Perhaps the best indication of Labour’s policy direction that we have at the moment is the appointees to shadow cabinet themselves. So, let’s run through appointees relevant to real estate and their parliamentary activity (according to theyworkforyou.com).
The new Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer is Anneliese Dodds (MP for Oxford East). Following an extensive academic career with wide-ranging public policy interests, Dodds served in the European Parliament from 2014-2017 and was a member of their Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee focussing on reducing international tax avoidance. Dodds is a relative newcomer to the UK Parliament - elected in the 2017 snap election – and her appointment as the first woman to hold the Shadow Chancellor position caps off a rapid rise to seniority within the Labour Party.
The new Shadow Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government is Steve Reed (MP for Croydon North). Reed has previously held the shadow ministerial position for Local Government and as such as been more vocal and active in the housing space. Reed’s parliamentary voting record includes ‘almost always’ voting against the so-called bedroom tax and phasing out of secure tenancies for life, ‘consistently voting’ for an annual tax on the value of expensive homes and restrictions on fees charged to tenants by letting agents.
The new Shadow Housing Secretary is Thangam Debbonaire (MP for Bristol West). Debbonaire is generally new to the housing space, having held various shadow Cabinet positions since 2016 including Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport. Debbonaire is a highly active member of parliament, speaking in 121 debates and receiving written responses to 138 questions last year, well above the parliamentary average. In a statement on her appointment to the role, Debbonaire says: “Even before the current crisis, there were huge problems to solve. We have a chronic shortage of housing, including social housing and affordable homes. Homelessness has spiralled upwards in the last decade of Tory governments. And we urgently need to make homes more energy efficient and incorporate renewable energy technologies as we tackle climate change as well as Covid-19.”
As aforementioned, Ed Milliband (MP for Doncaster North) is making a return to Labour’s team as Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Needing no introduction, Milliband called for reformed economic environment post-pandemic, including for a UK version of the “Green New Deal,” an idea first touted by Democrats in the United States of America. Milliband has an extensive and well-known record of parliamentary activity. He has also been very busy outside of Parliament, including serving as Commissioner for Shelter’s Social Housing Commission, which published a report in 2019 calling for a historic renewal of social housing, with a 20-year programme to deliver 3.1 million more social homes, following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Taking junior ministerial roles are Mike Amesbury (MP for Weaver Vale) who is Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, and Kate Hollern (MP for Blackburn) who is Shadow Minister for Local Government. Amesbury is new to the shadow Cabinet, whilst Hollern returns to a similar shadow position she previously held.
We are seeking to work with the Government and opposition parties to ensure that no one is left behind in our response to the COVID-19 crisis. In such difficult global circumstances, how we work together as a society – wherever your voting intentions lie – will make the crisis more manageable for everyone. Whilst we are all working hard to ensure fair and fast measures are implemented to weather the storm, I am eager to see how the new appointees of the shadow Cabinet will contribute to an enriched policy debate about how real estate can contribute to the recovery.