The article below is taken from the July/August 2017 edition of Housebuilder magazine.
Perry Miller, partner at Newgate Communications, predicts that not much will change in housing policy despite election.
It’s been a busy time for the Newgate public affairs team. Our crystal ball, which colleagues used to such good effect at the turn of the year when they predicted an early General Election, has once again been dusted off. These days, forecasting future events (the political ones at least) seems as much about intuition as hard analysis. Who would have predicted a Hung Parliament back in April? None of us, apparently, save for one member of the Newgate accounts team who stormed the office election sweepstake with his accurate prediction.
Endless amusement (or perhaps bemusement) can be had in revisiting the voting statistics which show just how wrong our instincts can be and how volatile the electorate’s sentiment is. Post-vote analysis by YouGov reveals that, on 8th June, the Conservatives were ahead only with retired people; those at work (the so-called ‘hard working families’) voted for Labour, who took a 6 point lead with those in full-time employment. And figure this: at the time the election was called, the age tipping point – that moment when you become more likely to vote Conservative than Labour (age taking you from left to right) – was 34. In the immediate aftermath, it had risen to 47.
More predictable (although it attracted some sideways glances from clients when I mentioned it) was that Gavin Barwell, former Housing Minister, would lose his seat. In a metropolitan, remain-voting area and with a majority of just 165, I felt I was on to a winner while he, sadly, was not. Step forward Alok Sharma MP, the sixth Housing Minister since 2010 (Grant Shapps, Mark Prisk, Kris Hopkins, Brandon Lewis, Gavin Barwell, if you were wondering).
His appointment came late in the day but let’s not read too much into that. My prediction is that not much will change. With Sajid Javid back at DCLG and with Gavin Barwell now at No 10, the cheerleaders for the sector remain in key roles, albeit that Barwell will likely spend more time thinking about Brexit and how to save Theresa May’s skin. On the domestic agenda, housing could now take centre stage: no primary legislation is needed (the new Government’s Achilles’ heel) and positive action could be a winner with the younger demographic that leans overwhelmingly to Labour. Look out for measures to boost PRS, tackle some of the problems with private renting and to assist the first-time buyer, with an added emphasis on affordable home ownership.
That’s how it might look from the centre but, of course, a backbench Tory MP may see things quite differently. With no overall majority and the government needing every vote, their power as individuals increases hugely, as will likely their demands. Changing a mindset that tacks towards the older electorate won’t happen overnight, so look out for a government easing up on town halls in respect of housing delivery and ever more vocal guarantees for the Green Belt.
Don’t worry Theresa, those wheat fields will still be standing.