Written by Duncan Flynn, Director – Planning
In recent times it has been something of a rarity for Ministers covering Housing issues at MHCLG to have a professional background in the Housing and Property sectors and a track record in local government. Therefore, the recent appointment of Eddie Hughes as the new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Housing & Rough Sleeping represents something of a departure from this.
Hughes replaced the outgoing Kelly Tolhurst who resigned from Government citing personal reasons. Hughes represents Walsall North, a seat he won from Labour in 2017 with a majority of 2,601. He demonstrated his aptitude for campaigning and his strong personal brand in his constituency by transforming this into a 11,965 majority at the 2019 General Election. This was all the more impressive as the Walsall South seat remained Labour at the 2019 General Election despite being a key Conservative target. The likely explanation for Hughes thriving in what is traditionally a strongly Labour area can be partly explained by his background. He was born in Birmingham in 1968, the son of a bus driver and a cleaner and he is one of the strongest exponents of the “Blue Collar Conservatism” movement in the Party which seeks to appeal to a more working class audience.
Crucially Hughes is able to point to his work in the local community as evidence of his commitment to fighting social deprivation. Prior to becoming an MP, Hughes served as the Chief Executive of a charity providing accommodation to young people in and around Walsall. Furthermore, he worked as Chairman of the Housing Association, WHG, and only stepped down from this post in 2018 following his election to Parliament. Much has been made of Hughes (who has also worked in the Construction industry) being the only MP who has ever chaired a Housing Association and it is therefore logical that the Government is seeking to draw on this experience.
In addition to this, Hughes has a long track record in local government, having served as a councillor in Walsall from 1999 until his election to Parliament in 2017. During his time as a councillor he served in the Cabinet and chaired the Council’s Children’s Services and Audit Committees.
Hughes is no stranger to MHCLG either having served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department from 2018 until January 2019 when he resigned his position to vote against the first Withdrawal Agreement from the EU. This no doubt reflected both the fact that Hughes is a committed supporter of Brexit and that his constituency had one of the highest Leave votes in the country. Hughes returns to a Department which has an increasing West Midlands flavour. Serving alongside Hughes is the Minister of State for Housing, Chris Pincher, who is one of Hughes’ Parliamentary neighbours as the MP for Tamworth. Indeed, although the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick represents a constituency in Nottinghamshire, he grew up and was educated in Wolverhampton. It will be interesting to see how this experience of the West Midlands region impacts on policy in the coming months.
Hughes is rumoured to have described Housing Minister as his dream job in politics. While Chris Pincher still has responsibility for Housing strategy and delivery, Hughes has taken responsibility for the Social Housing White Paper, supported Housing and work that the Government is undertaking on the Private Rented Sector in what appears to be a somewhat enhanced role compared to that of his predecessor. We can therefore expect him to take an increasing role in the development of Housing policy in the coming months and to seek to utilise his previous experience both in the Housing Association sector and in local government to shape policy to ensure a greater focus on affordable housing provision.