10 Jan 2018
Policy area: Residential
External Affairs Officer Sam Lamont analyses the recent reshuffle and its impact on real estate.
As with any reshuffle, both the prologue and the aftermath have been rife with speculation. Who would get what? How would Theresa May shore up her position? What’s the result? Who was she unable to move?
Despite lacking the power to shift Jeremy Hunt from his fortress in the Department of Health, May is not actually in any weaker a position than before, although her reputation has once again taken a hammering. The delicate equilibrium between the fragmented Tory factions is maintained in cabinet, and more junior figures tipped for a leadership challenge at some point in the future have been rotated rather than promoted - spun off to a series of junior-ministerial posts or the ill-defined vice-chair positions the Conservative party is so fond of.
One of these junior figures is Dominic Raab, the new Minister for Housing. This was a surprise appointment – Raab was widely predicted to climb the ranks rather than simply shuffle between departments – and his interest in housing has previously been confined to a vocal and pugnacious defence of Green Belt land. This track record is worth noting, especially coupled with the protracted debate around a large housing development on the green belt in his constituency (Esher and Walton). Even if he were to have a change of heart, he is unlikely to be able to square a non-protectionist stance with his constituency concerns.
Raab’s wider political outlook is worth examining too. He hails from a more Thatcherite school of thought, and is a firm believer in home ownership. We may indeed be back to square one with a lively debate around starter homes and home ownership. Raab has taken a public anti-Help-To-Buy stance, and, rumour has it, is keen to ensure that the development sector is broadened beyond the ‘usual suspects,’ and that new entrants to the market are encouraged. He is, after all, a member of the Free Enterprise Group, and joined other members in opposing Help-To-Buy under Cameron and Osborne. While at the moment his aims and responsibilities are unclear – we do not know how much control he will have over planning - they will quickly become apparent, just as occurred with Alok Sharma.
Until that happens, the property industry can take solace in the new broadened portfolio of Sajid Javid, who retained his position but has had housing added to his brief, and to the title of his Ministry (previously the Department for Communities and Local Government). It is wise, and necessary, to give housing a distinct voice in Cabinet, and Javid is recognised as a capable pair of hands. This, coupled with Raab’s status as one of the rising stars of the Conservative Party, indicates housing is still high on May’s list of concerns. Still, there is a vast gulf between acknowledging a problem, and ensuring the right environment for solving it: we hope Javid and Raab continue to deliver the worthy ambitions in the Housing White Paper and to follow the positive direction of travel for which Sharma has laid the foundations. We look forward to working with Raab to secure this, and hope he is given enough time to flourish in his new position.