Congratulations to Kris Hopkins, the Conservative MP for Keighley, who has been made the new Housing Minister. As Paul has noted it will be at Under Secretary of State level, rather than Minister of State. However this is one of the most important Ministerial posts outside the cabinet.
Mr Hopkins is a former leader of Bradford Council, as is his boss Eric Pickles. So there should be plenty for them to chat about regarding the good old days. Assuming they have the time. Mr Hopkins led a minority administration and so had some early experience of some of the constraints that involved. Before being council leader one of his portfolios was housing. (I find it disturbing that Mr Hopkins should include “building new Children’s Homes” among his achievements as council leader. Some children genuinely do need to be kept in these institutions. But far fewer than the number in them at present. The achievement should be closing as many of them as possible and instead more children being placed with foster carers, or better still adopted.)
So far as I can gather the objection to Mark Prisk, the outgoing Housing Minister was not to do with any objection to the substance of Mr Prisk’s work but his reluctance to undertake media interviews. I suppose in the run up to the next General Election getting the message across is rather important.
The Labour Party are keen to stress that the Conservatives are a party for posh, white male southerners. As a northerner Mr Hopkins will be able to help counter this image. He also, quite rightly, argues that whatever the failings of the public sector the system rather than the people should be blamed. There are millions of hard working, capable people in the public sector and the Conservatives should not give the impression of being hostile towards them – however radical the reforms that might be required.
Despite what Prisk and, before him, Grant Shapps achieved there is still much to be done. Housing Associations still lack accountability or transparency. The right to buy revolution has not yet really be reignited. There needs to be a right to part buy. Council tenants should be able to buy five per cent, or ten per cent, of their homes (with proportionate discounts) and gradually build up the amount they own. There is still far too much land being hoarded by the state, which could be sold for house building. There are still too many tower blocks and other ugly modernist developments.
It’s fine that the new Housing Minister has a Yorkshire accent. What would do even more to win votes would be for him to get millions more on to the housing ladder.