Rising star Jenrick shows he is anything but generic at MHCLG

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What do the Rubik’s cube, shell suits, the hoverboard and the new Secretary of State for Communities, Local Government and Housing have in common? The answer, as I’m sure you are aware, is that they all date from the 1980s. This is especially significant as when Robert Jenrick succeeded James Brokenshire at MHCLG one month ago he became the first Cabinet Minister in the UK Government to be born in the decade when Margaret Thatcher dominated British politics.

In a Boris Johnson Cabinet which has a laser-like focus on delivering Brexit by 31 October and which may see its future placed into question by a possibly imminent General Election, the question to be asked is what can we expect of our new Secretary of State. Given his previously limited involvement in housing and planning policy, we should look to his actions over his first month in office and his departmental appointments to give us a sense of his policy priorities.

Although inevitably a substantial part of Jenrick’s focus has been consumed by Brexit-planning (he has already announced an additional £9million to enable local government to deal with the aftermath of leaving the EU), there have been some announcements on housing. Most notably, Jenrick has announced £600million of Homes Infrastructure Fund money to support the building of 50,000 new homes on sites in East London, Essex and Central Bedfordshire. A crucial aspect of this announcement centred on the need to provide the necessary transport infrastructure upfront in order to accompany such large-scale strategic housing development. This was demonstrated by the final sign off of funding for the much-anticipated Beaulieu Park station on the outskirts of Chelmsford, a city which saw a huge swing away from the Conservatives at this year’s local elections and which could be a closely-contested marginal at an upcoming General Election. The early announcement of this funding also highlights Jenrick’s good links into HM Treasury which were established during his recent spell as a Treasury Minister.

Although he is the youngest member of the Cabinet, Jenrick has the ear of many of his Cabinet colleagues having already served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Michael Gove, Amber Rudd and Liz Truss. The fourth MP he served under in this role is his new colleague at MHCLG, Housing Minister Esther McVey. McVey shares Jenrick’s enthusiasm for taking the Conservative message on home ownership to geographical areas which have not traditionally been happy hunting grounds for the Party particularly in the North and industrial areas of the Midlands. This can be evidenced by Jenrick’s turning up for walkabouts with housebuilders in locations such as Doncaster and Walsall in his first month of office. In terms of early messaging, there has been a strong focus on reheating the Midlands Engine and firing the Northern Powerhouse while prioritising the mantra of home ownership to aspirational voters.
What we are yet to really see is how the Cambridge-educated former corporate solicitor will address Planning matters and the need to encourage more diversity of tenure in the British housing market. This latter issue will be a consideration for the new Chair of Homes England following Sir Edward Lister leaving the post after being appointed as the Prime Minister’s new Strategic Adviser. The identity of Sir Edward’s long-term successor may serve as a useful indication of MHCLG’s approach to house-building under Jenrick. Another important indicator will be Jenrick’s choices of Special Advisers – his only named SpAd to date is his former Parliamentary researcher Olivia Oates.
Although Robert Jenrick’s rise into the Cabinet has been somewhat meteoric, it is already clear that this is a Secretary of State who enjoys the confidence of his Cabinet colleagues and is determined to make an impact. Whatever the outcome of Brexit, the future looks bright for the first of Thatcher’s children to reach the top of Government.

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