The “Malthouse Compromise” burst this morning upon an astonished world. At a time of increasing and perhaps even fatal acrimony within the Conservative Party, it has achieved the improbable feat of uniting Leavers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker with Remainers such as Nicky Morgan, Stephen Hammond and Robert Buckland.
But who is Kit Malthouse, and how did he command the trust needed to act as the “convenor” of these opposed factions, and get them to agree on a way forward?
He was elected to the Commons in 2015 as Sir George Young’s successor in North West Hampshire, is now Minister of State for Housing, but learned his politics first as a member of Westminster City Council and then from 2008 in City Hall, where Boris Johnson, the newly elected Mayor, was in desperate need of people who understood how the government of London actually worked.
Malthouse was at both Westminster Council and City Hall a “deputy”: a position in some ways much trickier than being leader, for you have to interpret the leader’s wishes, while often possessing not much more than your powers of persuasion and grasp of the issues to help you do so.
You have to win the trust of those involved if you are going to make much progress.
One who saw a lot of Malthouse at both Westminster Council and City Hall, and has since watched him taking questions in the Commons, says:
“He’s a great man. He has a good understanding of the issues. He is a Conservative, but he also has a presence. When he answers questions in the House he commands a certain sort of respect.”
Malthouse was born in Liverpool in 1966, educated at Liverpool College, read politics and economics at Newcastle University, qualified as a chartered accountant and has run his own business. A former colleague at City Hall says of him:
“He was quite arrogant, but not stupid. A Leaver, but because he’s a business person, he’s pragmatic and wants a solution, rather than standing on one side waving a Union flag.”
Another colleague described him as “moody but great”. Journalists recall that he would always “ring for a chat” if he thought anything to do with City Hall, and in particular to do with policing, for which as Deputy Mayor he was responsible, had been misreported: “It was exhausting.”
A certain tenacity is evident, and a curious blend of tact and realism. In his description of himself on Twitter, he says: “Given the volume I don’t/can’t reply on twitter sorry.” A polite but unyielding formula.
As Housing Minister, he has recognised the crucial importance of beauty:
“The only way we stand a chance of winning support for this output is if people like what we build – beautiful buildings gather support; blank ubiquity garners protest and resentment. If you get the design right – the scale, the context, the fitness – communities will feel enhanced and respected, and will lay down their petitions and placards.”
Here too, one can see a Malthouse compromise being advanced. There will be many more houses than the protesters like the sound of, but these will be so good that a new consensus in favour of development will emerge.
We shall soon know whether a consensus has emerged which favours the Brexit proposals he has helped to devise. Malthouse starts with the great advantage over Number Ten of being regarded, by both wings of the Conservative Party, as an honest broker.