Last Sunday, the groans across Fleet Street could be heard hanging in the stuffy London night air. No journalist wants to hear that a cabinet member has resigned at 11.30pm; especially in the era of Twitter, with the pressure for an incisive and informed opinion – immediately.
Some journalists had even contacted Downing Street earlier in the evening, just to double-check what David Davis was doing at Number 10. By the looks of some of the reactions, the answer from the press office was less than honest.
However, after the next day’s drama, we have new Secretaries of State in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office; the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU); Health; and Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. We also have a new Attorney General, and a range of new faces lower down the pecking order – including the eighth Housing Minister since 2010, Kit Malthouse MP.
The Prime Minister survived the crucial meeting of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives, and there does not appear to be the appetite to force a leadership contest that she would likely fight and win. Despite this, events raise a number of questions.
There were rumours following Davis’s resignation that DExEU might be disbanded entirely; certainly, Downing Street has concluded that the department is a bureaucratic bottleneck. It will be interesting to see if the new Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, is trusted to play a key role.
At DHCLG, Raab made the eye-catching claim that EU immigration has led to house prices going up by 20% over the past 25 years, arguing that the balance of supply and demand could be remedied by a new, post-Brexit immigration policy. (Overlooking, presumably, the fact that many shire Tories would see this as an indisputably good thing.)
For the property industry, it is hardly reassuring that the man who was the seventh housing minister since 2010 has already moved on, after six months, having barely completed his introductory meetings. His successor, Kit Malthouse MP, has received a lukewarm reception – not because of his personal attributes or experience, but out of an increasingly jaded sense that housing ministers are here today, and gone tomorrow. Malthouse, a chartered accountant by trade and former deputy leader of Westminster City Council, will not only have to hit the ground running, but also stay in the post long enough to prove his worth to an industry craving both stability and ingenuity from Marsham Street.
The Prime Minister tried to make a point in the January reshuffle by attaching Housing to the Communities and Local Government brand. The issue of housing would be handled by two the of the party’s well-regarded rising stars, in Raab and Sajid Javid. Now neither remains. Draw your own conclusions.