For many years, a large revolving door adorned the rather impressive entrance to the Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly, a portal through which all guests, both great and good, would pass. Some years ago, it became the victim of progress, to be succeeded by a door more attuned to the modern requirements of health and safety. Yet the good old revolving door has proved to be alive and kicking, at least metaphorically, at the Ministry of Housing, now incorporated within the auspices of the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Community. With 11 housing ministers in almost as many years, the revolving door analogy is often quoted in the media’s assessment of this often briefest of ministerial briefs.
What lies behind this almost embarrassingly high turnover of staff? Is Housing just a fast-track programme for talented up-and-coming politicians looking to cut their teeth and quickly move on? Or perhaps it’s simply that housing is the hottest of potatoes that no politician can handle, in which case we’re probably still waiting for the right candidate to rock up with their asbestos gloves. Given that we’ve had the likes of Yvette Cooper, Margaret Beckett, Grant Shapps, Alok Sharma, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey, and now Michael Gove all trying their hand, I’m not sure it’s an absence of perceived talent that’s the issue. This would suggest that it may indeed be something of a super-heated spud.
Let me ask you a couple of questions that should bring the political housing dilemma facing the government into sharp focus. Firstly, raise your hand if you think that any government of the day should proactively address the housing crisis by taking steps to ensure more new homes are built? There will doubtless be many hands in the air; it’s difficult to argue that we don’t need new homes, particularly if they’re of the affordable variety. Now, keep your hand raised if you’re happy to have a shedload of these affordable homes built just around the corner from where you live? Ah. And therein lies the problem. Everyone loves the idea of new homes being built unless they’re going up on their own doorstep, in which case, they’ll violently object and will even use the power of the ballot box to make their feelings known.
This is something of a no-win position if you happen to be a body with responsibility for housing and for whom votes are quite important. The worst of it is that the public can’t share the burden of new housing; it’s not like a tax hike where everyone pays their share. There will be winners and losers, and the losers will likely be very upset. And with 300,000 new homes needed each year, that’s going to mean quite a lot of losers out there.