The man with the name reminiscent of a cold-war spy novel is the UK’s newest housing minister. The new appointment, replacing the very short term of Esther McVey, is the tenth posting of a housing minister in as many years. Who is Christopher Pincher, and what can we expect?
The 50 year old Member of Parliament’s experience has little to do with housing at all. After studying history at the London School of Economics, Mr Pincher spent the first 18 years of his career working for an IT consultancy firm. Born in Walsall, he became MP for the West Midlands constituency of Tamworth in 2010, after having first joined the Conservative Party in 1987.
He has subsequently worked as Comptroller of HM Household (i.e. as a Government Whip) from June 2017 to November 2017, and was an Assistant Government Whip from July 2016 until June 2017. Perhaps his most significant, and still not particularly relevant, government experience was working for the foreign office as Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from July 2019 to February 2020.
Three years ago Pincher found himself in a pickle at work as he voluntarily resigned the Tory whip following national newspaper allegations about his behaviour – he allegedly made inappropriate comments to a former Olympic rower. He was however cleared of breaking Conservative party rules after he apologised.
Not much from the above gives an insight into how he might behave in his new post, so what does his voting record say?
Pincher has voted to reduce housing benefit for social tenants and voted against raising housing welfare benefits so they are in line with prices; he has also backed the phasing out of secure tenancies for life and charging market rents to high earners renting a council home. It’s certainly not clear from this that he is in line with prioritising the eradication of the housing crisis, a black mark on the UK’s social record.
Housing unaffordability (precisely the outpacing of prices compared to wages) and the gap between supply and demand are fundamental issues that must be addressed. The Conservatives have announced a target to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. This is in no way possible without speeding up the process of planning and approval to increase the rate of housing completion. This on its own requires a level of political focus and determination we haven’t yet seen.
Unfortunately it’s just not clear if Pincher is, or isn’t, the person for the job. On the other hand, some, including John Newcomb, Chief Executive, the Builders Merchants’ have said that the diplomatic skills he brings from his time in the Foreign Office and government will be put to good use in persuading local authorities to increase the rate of building new housing. So perhaps there is hope after all.
When all is said and done, the truly alarming factor is the frequency at which the Minister for Housing changes rather than any individual’s record. How can any minister, no matter their intentions and no matter their skill, enact change when they’re in post for such a short time? Let’s hope Christopher Pincher has a long enough stay to meaningfully combat the problems of the housing crisis.
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