Sooooo… What did I tell you? Wasn’t I right?
The Housing White Paper may not be perfect, but it sure is a creditable effort in a difficult arena. And, as Gavin Barwell himself says, repeatedly and candidly, there are no silver bullets.
But that document (eventually launched yesterday) is more coherent, more comprehensive, more practical, and certainly more implementable than anything we have seen in recent years. It puts people needing homes front and centre. There may not be much in it that is new in itself, but it has given a much-needed reboot to some policies that have never been properly landed (modular construction being a case in point). It has enough interesting ideas within it for us all to coalesce around. And there are sufficient hooks in there for the disruptors to find a platform, which is most refreshing.
And you get a sense of renewed vim and vigour around this very tired debate, partly because of the intellectual calibre of Mr Barwell himself of course (not to overlook the somewhat blunt instrument of the political mission of the Prime Minister) but also manifest in some key recent appointments in CLG, notably some very serious career civil servants having been poached from HM Treasury to head the new mission. There are a lot of reputations at stake here. This time they mean business.
Sadly this sense of vim and vigour did not extend much to the press coverage yesterday (EG being an honourable exception, of course), although thankfully the Daily Telegraph has been remarkably well behaved (and long may that last). BBC2 Newsnight last night was completely woeful. Did you see it? Shameful. The housing debate is nothing if not complicated and nuanced. And it is inextricably linked to the economic fortunes of this country. But you certainly wouldn’t know any of that from watching poor Emily Maitlis trying to land a wholly lamentable script.
Perfectly fair to pitch Gavin Barwell against three under-40s locked out of the housing market (and he handled that with grace and humility) but why cut John Healey’s contribution to the one sentence (when he said the policy was “feeble”), wasn’t he going to unpack that at all? Surely he said more? John Healey is highly regarded among housing cognoscenti, we (and he) deserved more than the one sound bite. And where was the industry comment? The economic analysis? And (sorry I’m ranting now) where on earth did they get those three random think-tank types at the end? They didn’t seem to know anything at all! This sorry show was all topped off by some 1962 footage of Pete Seeger singing Little Boxes (you just couldn’t make it up) over the credits. And there you had it. A textbook case of lazy journalism if ever you saw one.
Well, such is life! I don’t know why I am surprised, given the universally mad and ignorant coverage we all sat through during the Brexit campaign.
And Mr Barwell is a big boy. He will not be fazed. He will battle on. He knows he has a success on his hands. Word is that he will be out at MIPIM this year (although don’t hold me to this, these things have a habit of changing minute by minute) so the industry may have a chance to explore some of his ideas and thoughts with him in more detail, and more informally.
Gavin Barwell senses that he is about to crack a problem that is several decades in the making. It may take him several years to do it, and he may be rather dependent on local partners rising up and showing leadership, but he can see the end game now. He has the bit between his teeth. And we need to do everything we can, and more, to support him. This seriously is our best chance.