Wednesday, 24 July 2019

All change at MHCLG

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire, was one of the casualties in Bojo’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’ this evening (the most dramatic cabinet reshuffle since Harold Macmillan’s purge in 1962 – which was not an encouraging precedent). The new Housing Secretary is Robert Jenrick (aged 37), who is MP for Newark, having won this seat from Labour at a by-election in 2014. It is now considered a safe Tory seat (majority in 2017 : 18,149). Having served as PPS to various ministers, Jenrick became a junior minister in the Treasury in 2018.

He is a qualified solicitor (admitted 2008), and specialised in corporate law before going on to pursue a business career, becoming a director of Christies, the art dealers and auctioneers. Before his appointment to the Treasury, Jenrick’s principal interest as an MP had been in international trade and investment. He is not known to have had any experience of planning, housing or local government, but he is credited as being the effective saviour of Wentworth Woodhouse, one of England’s foremost historic houses, having persuaded the Chancellor of the Exchequer to cough up the cash to purchase the property for English Heritage.

Jenrick’s attitude towards Brexit seems to have been slightly ambivalent. He was opposed to Brexit before the 2016 Referendum, but seems now to be a ‘born again’ Brexiteer, even voting against the government motion in March to extend Article 50 to 31 October, preferring instead to leave the EU without a deal on the originally planned date of 29 March. This is no doubt what qualified him to be a member of Bojo’s cabinet.

Esther McVey has been named as Housing and Planning Minister, and will attend cabinet. Other junior appointments will be announced in the next few days.

Meanwhile, Theresa Villiers has gone to DEFRA, replacing Michael Gove, who is now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, heading up the Cabinet Office with a supervisory and co-ordinating role over all other government departments. However, unlike his predecessor, David Liddington, Gove is not the effective Deputy PM. That role (as First Secretary of State) has gone to the new Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab.

Bojo apparently intends to put housing at the forefront of his policy objectives but, until the issue of Brexit has been settled, very little progress is likely to be made on this or any of the other policy objectives that he rattled off on the steps of 10 Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon (leaving aside the probability that, without increased taxation, Bojo’s putative aspirations stand very little chance of being realised). As to what precise initiatives might be announced on housing and planning, we shall just have to wait and see. As explained below, these aspirations may be swept away by a political tsunami within weeks, before they can even be announced.

By Wednesday night, Bojo may already have sown the seeds of his own political destruction, with even more opponents to a ‘No Deal’ Brexit now on the Tory back-benches. (Just to remind you of his inaugural address, what he said was “Wiffle-waffle; wiffle-waffle, wiffle-waffle. Ra! Ra! Ra!”) He has set himself on a head-on collision course with the EU, which is likely to lead inevitably to a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. This, together with Bojo’s brutal purge of the cabinet, combined with its one-sided replacement, makes a fatal parliamentary showdown in September almost inevitable.

There is something about Bojo of a Roman emperor (some of whose reigns were brief and unsuccessful). He should perhaps beware the Ides of September, in fact the whole of the month starting on the 3rd.


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