The latest new housing minister takes his turn

So it’s farewell to Mr Buggins – many thanks for all you’ve achieved in your 181 days as housing minister.

And it’s hello to Mr Buggins – you appear not to know (or care) very much about housing as you take your turn in the job but then neither did most of your predecessors.

Housing felt the knock-on effects of the latest round of the Great British Brexit Farce as Theresa May decided that Dominic Buggins would be the replacement for David Davis as Brexit secretary.

That Mr Buggins was appointed to the housing job because he was a prominent Eurosceptic and he spent half of his interviews as minister talking about Brexit.

On the assumption that he has decided he believes in the Chequers compromise and can cheerlead for it, this looks like a good appointment for the government.

Which is more than can be said for his previous post. Thinking back over those 181 days, I can remember him using his position to generate publicity about immigration and offering lawyerly denials that the government’s approach to regulation was in any way to blame for the Grenfell Tower fire.

But his major achievement must surely be to have dodged publication of the social housing green paper.

When he was appointed in January, it was expected in early 2018. The timetable then slipped to the Spring and, most recently, to before the parliamentary recess on July 20.

Considering all that, work on it must already be complete, but will the arrival of Kit Buggins delay things until parliament returns in September?

That would be yet another kick in the teeth for all the tenants who went to those roadshows around the country where Dominic Buggins and his predecessor Alok Buggins both personally assured them that they were listening to their concerns.

Kit Buggins is a former Westminster councillor and deputy mayor for policing when Boris Johnson was London mayor. In 2009, the Telegraphnamed him one of the 50 most influential right wingers despite him not being an MP at the time.

And he does have some previous experience of issues that will form part of his new brief. He was appointed as a junior work and pensions minister in January, with responsibility for family support, housing and child maintenance.

That job included dealing with universal credit, supported housing, Support for Mortgage Interest and benefit cap implementation.

As deputy leader of Westminster council, he is credited with operating a ‘zero tolerance’ policy to rough sleepers and playing a leading role in the negotiation of a surcharge settlement with controversial former leader Dame Shirley Porter.

As an MP, he is strongly in favour of local control of planning and lobbied for rural exemptions from the Right to Buy in 2015.

His constituency of North West Hampshire has some happier housing connections: Sir George Young, who Mr Buggins succeeded as MP in 2015, was the best Conservative minister of the last 25 years.

And he has an even more significant housing connection by marriage: his wife, Juliana Farha, is the sister of Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Adequate Housing. As such she campaigns for the right to housing and for governments to ‘make the shift’ to seeing housing as a basic human right.

It’s also her job to hold governments around the world to account: in March she said that the UK may have breached international human rights law over the Grenfell Tower fire.

You may remember her predecessor in that job, Raquel Rolnik, who had the temerity to visit Britain, meet tenants and benefit claimants and criticise the UK government over the bedroom tax and other issues.

The latest housing minister seems unlikely to repeat the attacks made by two of his predecessors on the UN special rapporteur: Kris Buggins called Rolnik’s report ‘a misleading Marxist diatribe’ while Grant Buggins dismissed her as the ‘woman from Brazil’.

As we all know, they were just two of the 18 housing ministers since Sir George Young, 14 Mr and four Ms Bugginses.

Kit Buggins is the eighth Tory housing minister since 2010 (or tenth if you count the alter egos of Grant Buggins) and the fourth since Theresa May became prime minister in 2016.

That means the average minister responsible for what May is said to see as her number one domestic priority has lasted a year and a week in the job – less than a football manager.

Does any of this matter when we also have a secretary of state with housing in his title and when real power lies at Number 10, the Treasury and maybe even the Department for Work and Pensions?

Arguably not – but it would still be better to have a housing minister who lasted long enough to understand his brief and the changes that are desperately needed.

Mr Buggins is dead, long live Mr Buggins – until the next one comes along.


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