Promotion to housing minister could have Barwell bricking it

WALTER CRONXITE on a belated move up Westminster’s greasy pole for a Croydon career politician

In a busy few days for the new Prime Minister, Theresa May obviously found the time to read Inside Croydon.

Gavin Barwell: has he done the decent thing? Or been told to do so?

Gavin Barwell: now in charge of the nation’s housing policy

That’s the conclusion after Gavin Barwell, the Conservative MP for Croydon Central, was named as housing minister and minister for London under Sajid Javid at the local government department in the tranche of Government appointments released late last night.

On Thursday, we wrote: “A senior position for Barwell at DCLG (local government) would be a plus for the government… the new Prime Minister might see Barwell as a way of storing up some political advantage of her own: rather than promoting a Tory from the shires, giving a ministerial job to an MP from a gritty urban London seat, such as Barwell, might help to give some credibility to May’s expressed desire to reach out to all voters”.

Barwell reacted to his new job this morning by saying, “Hugely honoured to have been asked by the Prime Minister to serve as Minister of State for Housing and Planning and Minister for London.

“Look forward to working with councils, housing associations, developers and investors to ensure we build the homes people need and deserve and to working with the Mayor of London to ensure the continued success of our wonderful, diverse capital – and that all Londoners share in it.”

For Barwell, who has spent four years in the Tory whips’ office, this will be regarded as an overdue promotion. But it comes with some obvious consequences for him and his constituents.

No longer will he be able to hide behind his whip’s status for his failure to speak up in parliament on behalf of the people of Croydon.

Anational programme of building homes could help revive the flagging economy

A national programme of building homes could help revive an  economy flagging after Osborne’s austerity and the Brexit vote

And being housing minister will undoubtedly call him away from his constituency much more – not the kind of distraction which someone who needs to cover his own back in a marginal seat will enjoy between now and the next General Election.

The London part of his brief, too, will present “challenges” for the Tory MP, as he will be dealing with the new Labour Mayor of London who is making increasingly loud calls for greater devolution to the capital, and its anti-Brexit stance, in contrast to May’s Government, where “Brexit means Brexit”.

How, too, will Barwell reconcile his position as housing minister and the need to deliver tens of thousands of new homes with some of his local campaigning, after he spent the past year as a constituency MP stirring up the people of Shirley to oppose the building of… new homes?

His new job will present Barwell with other problems. His conflicts of interest, apparent during his time embedded on the board of the Whitgift Foundation, when the MP was enthusiastically lobbying for Westfield and their plans for the town centre, could soon recur.

If the latest Hammersfield plans for an enlarged, £1.4 billion scheme, now with 1,000 high-rise homes, does not come through the local council’s planning committee unscathed, there’s a chance of an appeal by the developers crossing the desk of the new housing and London minister.

The new job will also allow Barwell the opportunity to act in his own interests.

It is the communities and local government department which handles the rules about such matters as online polling for a directly elected mayor in Croydon – the job which, prior to this weekend’s appointment, career politician Barwell had started to target for his post-2020 political career. Within the DCLG, it is hard to imagine Barwell not exercising some influence over the powers devolved to a London borough which opts to have a directly elected mayor.

Barwell's new boss: Sajid Javid

Barwell’s new boss: Sajid Javid

If Barwell is to make a success of his housing portfolio, much will depend on the Treasury’s attitude post-Osborne, and that of his new boss, the previously uncompromising Javid.

As one professional working for a housing association in south London told Inside Croydon this morning, “I fear the ‘dream team’ of Javid and Barwell is not going to be a winner. Assume it will more of the same, inheriting the awful Housing and Planning Act.

“Unless he’s taken seriously by the Treasury, he’ll struggle.”

The 2016 Housing and Planning Act is the new legislation which sees the Tories force social housing providers – charities and housing associations – to make their rental property subject to Right to Buy – a policy which most working in the sector believe will make the shortage of truly affordable homes even more acute. Does Barwell have the balls to be the Tory minister who sets his face against one of the most popular Thatcherite policies?

Barwell might not have to if May’s premiership signals the end of Osborne’s policy of austerity. The Tory chatteratti have been in overdrive since Thursday, offering their interpretations of what the Prime Minister said in her speech on the steps of No10. “Parking her tanks on Labour’s lawn,” has been a common observation. “Exactly the sort of thing Ed Miliband might have said if he had won the 2015 election,” was another.

Tim Bale, who has charted the history of the Conservative Party, was pondering today whether the sort of Keynesian economics which many have been calling for since 2010 might now, in the post-Brexit downturn, have its place under May. There is, Bale suggests, “a growing consensus that fiscal contraction doesn’t, in fact, lead to more sustainable growth… and that it makes an awful lot of sense to borrow to invest in infrastructure and housing when credit is not just cheap but dirt cheap”.

To justify his view, Bale flags up an article published a few months ago on Conservative Home by Nick Timothy, an aide to May at the Home Office and now her chief of staff in Downing Street.

May, remember, is the woman who told Conservatives that theirs was what was known as “the Nasty Party”. And Timothy – a grammar school boy from Birmingham – echoed that when he wrote this year, “The most serious weakness the Conservatives have…  is the perception that we simply do not give a toss about ordinary people”.

It is a point of view which surely chimes with Barwell’s outlook in Croydon. Timothy’s “ordinary people” are those “… whose lives are most affected – for better and worse – by politics. They can’t choose to send their kids to a private school when the schools around them are terrible. They can’t opt out of the NHS if they find themselves in a dirty hospital or at the end of a long waiting list.

“They are the ones who find themselves out of work, on reduced hours, or with never-ending pay freezes when the economy goes wrong. They find themselves unable to afford the mortgage when interest rates go up. They have to go without when their taxes rise. They are the people for whom debates about tax credits are not about spreadsheets, headlines or dividing lines but about whether mum can go back to work or not.”

If that does truly reflect the shift in attitude under May’s Government, then Barwell could find himself spending the next three years touring the country to open housing schemes funded in some way by the Government. Such a role could transform a previously little-regarded career politician into a national hero, and that, surely, wouldn’t do Barwell any harm back in Croydon Central, whatever the commissioners do to shift the constituency boundaries before 2020.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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8 Responses to Promotion to housing minister could have Barwell bricking it

  1. farmersboy says:

    I’m so excited. I wrote to Gav last year asking him to support a cap on rent and regulation for private landlords and received a bizarre cut and paste reply from an assortment of Tory election flyers saying regulations would pull us back into the 1960s world of slum landlords.

    So there’ll be no slum landlords on his watch…

  2. I for one congratulate Mr Barwell on his appointment. He is a man who is passionate about Croydon and its prospects. He has been an excellent constituent MP and I am sure he will continue to be so.
    To have our own MP in such a prominent position can only be good for Croydon.

    • farmersboy says:

      He toes the party line regardless of the issue.

      No idea how that is helpful to his constituents…

      • sudassouda says:

        I totally agree with @farmersboy, in fact he tends to hold his constituents in contempt.

        I once asked him about why he voted against a certain Bill in Parliament that affected the food banks that I was donating to. He told me to read the Bill (which I already had when I asked him, but he hadn’t spoken in the debate, so I didn’t know why he personally voted the way he did). I asked him again, on Twitter, to explain his particular position and he blocked me and called me a “troll”.

        My friend – a (since this incident) former member of the Conservative Party – then wrote to him to explain that I wasn’t a troll. She clarified my question (fully acknowledging that tone and meaning can be easily misinterpreted on Twitter), and explained that I simply wanted to know why he personally voted on a Bill which would introduce a strategy to remove the luxury taxes placed on essential household goods. He refused to still clarify his position and responded to her insisting I was a troll and said he saw no point in engaging with people who disagreed with him.

        Since this experience, I have realised my appalling treatment was not a one-off. I have had many other people telling me that Barwell has a tendency to block people who question his actions, particularly women from ethnic minorities, and that he takes great offence to being held accountable for any of his actions (apparently “democracy” = “elected dictatorship” to Barwell).

        I am sadly leaving Croydon soon and I’m going to miss it greatly. But one thing I definitely won’t miss is the underhand and quite frankly offensive sense of entitlement of Croydon Central’s barely-elected MP.

  3. I give up. I cannot bear any more surprises.

    First there was the elevation to a High Office of State of a licensed and unprincipled buffoon and liar.

    Then the resurrection of the politically moribund, known as the Fox-Davis syndrome.

    Now the elevation a serial sycophant to a medium office of State to accompany a demoted previously ineffective Minister.

    That, in itself, tells you a lot.

    The bright side: I presume that Gav will now have no more active part in the negotiations for the doomed Westfield. We may also be spared his tedious and self-congratulatory regular newsletters.

  4. derekthrower says:

    It looks like Gav has lobbied and got himself a job that can now directly influence the development of the Whitgift Centre.

    You never know it may even start being redeveloped before the end of this decade.

    Wonder if anyone with any political clout will bring up the huge conflicts of interest this gentleman has over this development, if they can ever get it underway?

    • I think Gav’s lobbying tends to be of the bended knee, downcast eyes and supplicant pleas variety.

      I am sure that he will have to declare an interest in Westfield and anything that affects the Whitgift Oligarchy even if to make very public his historic involvement. If he doesn’t, there are plenty of people who will make sure it happens. Watch.

  5. veeanne2015 says:

    The new Minister for Housing apparently believes that handing out millions of £s to a few more people to buy their own homes is MORE IMPORTANT than using this money to provide GENUINELY affordable homes to many more people in desperate financial circumstances.

    Housing Association and Council tenants ALREADY live in affordable homes.
    Logic says that Housing Associations and Councils cannot replace, on a one-for-one basis, the homes that they are forced to sell, as replacements will cost considerably more.

    So the result will be: FEWER affordable homes built, so fewer available in total – and/or – the rents of existing tenants unfairly raised to cover increased costs to ensure H.A.s remain viable.

    Also has Gavin considered how those who have scrimped and saved to get the deposit on a home, paying the mortgage for the rest of their working lives, feel about those next door being given £70,000 to £100,000 +, interest free ?

    Where is all this money per home coming from ? More cuts to Councils ? More workers sacked ?
    More homes re-possessed ?
    Was this originally George Osborne’s obsession that Gavin is slavishly following ?

    If this had been implemented in the first place by giving these millions of £s to reputable H.A.s to acquire more property on a PART RENT/PART BUY basis (for which demand far outstrips supply), many more people would have been able to get on the housing ladder without the gross unfairness and financial detriment to so many others, and the resentment caused.

    What is the point of H.A.s going to the expense of acquiring more property anyway just to be forced to sell it in three years’ time ?

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