The revolving door of housing ministers could swing open once again if Boris Johnson survives the current crisis affecting his leadership and carries out a clear-out of No 10.
One of the Prime Minister’s most loyal allies is Christopher Pincher, the MP for Tamworth and Housing Minister since February 2020.
Despite keeping a largely low-profile, and only generally appearing to announce new housing initiatives or updates, Pincher has stayed in the position for longer than many of his predecessors and survived last year’s brutal reshuffle, in which his boss at the time – former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick – was sacked.
According to the Guardian, supporters of Boris Johnson are currently working out ways to avoid a no confidence vote completely, or reduce the numbers who will vote against the PM if one is called.
The magic number required for a no confidence vote is 54 letters, sent to Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful and highly influential 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs.
One way in which backers of Johnson hope to convince wavering backbenchers that genuine change will happen if he survives, is to have a big purge of No 10’s political advisers. The government whips office, in particular, has been tipped for an overhaul ahead of the February recess, which starts on February 10.
The Guardian reports that Mark Spencer, the chief whip who has recently been caught up in the Nusrat Guhani Islamophobia row, could be handed a new job as environment minister, while Pincher – known to be one of a group of five MPs who have been running a shadow whipping operation to try and save Johnson – could step in as his replacement.
If that were to happen, another new Housing Minister would be required in any reshuffle, and a lot of the important work surrounding housing – from leasehold and cladding to rental reform and the digitalisation of the home buying and selling process – could be kicked further down the road.
There has already been frustration from some at the apparent relegation of housing last year when the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was rebranded as the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, with Michael Gove taking over from Jenrick.
Despite it being a key part of the government’s vision and overall strategy, the White Paper on levelling up – much like the White Paper on rental reform – has been repeatedly delayed. It is likely that housing will play some part in the former White Paper as well, with more affordable housing set to be key in any levelling up approach, but for now it’s being kept on ice by the distractions caused by partygate.
We will only really know more about the future of Boris Johnson, and in turn Christopher Pincher, once the much-awaited Sue Gray report has finally been published, which is expected to trigger a no confidence vote in the Prime Minister.
If Pincher goes elsewhere, the industry will be faced with its 15th different Housing Minister (both Labour and Tory) in 17 years. Despite only being in the role for less than two years, Pincher has lasted longer than any of his five immediate predecessors, which includes well-known names like current Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, Esther McVey and Alok Sharma.
As well as Raab and Sharma, the current Cabinet also includes a number of other former Housing Ministers, including Grant Shapps, Kit Malthouse and Brandon Lewis (the last person before Pincher to last for two years or more in the role).
This backs up the criticism that Housing Minister is only ever seen as a stepping stone to bigger things and promotions. Pincher may be the latest to take that route if his staunch support for the PM is rewarded at a later stage, but given the current public anger over partygate and Johnson's disastrous polling, it may be that his loyalty proves misguided.