The drama and what can only be described as chaos surrounding Westminster in recent weeks finally reached a crescendo with the resignation of Boris Johnson, following the mass resignation of Cabinet ministers and junior ministers who said they had lost confidence in him.
Initially, it looked like Johnson might try to cling on and ride out the storm – pointing to the personal mandate he said he received in December 2019 – but eventually the pressure told, and he announced his resignation.
This has triggered a leadership battle to replace him as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, which remains ongoing, with former Chancellor Rishi Sunak the bookies favourite to win. He is expected to face competition from former Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt and current Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. The result of the leadership election, decided by Conservative Party members, is expected on September 5.
The collapse of Boris Johnson’s government also had consequences for the housing and levelling up department, which was at one stage left with only one minister in place.
We'll do our best to make sense of all the drama and look at the latest state of affairs with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).
As the pressure grew on Boris Johnson, following partygate, sleaze scandals and two heavy by-election defeats in June, ministers began resigning following the botched response to the Chris Pincher affair (the former housing minister resigned as deputy chief whip and eventually lost the Tory whip following well-documented allegations of sexual assault).
Stuart Andrew, Pincher’s replacement as housing minister (the two had effectively swapped jobs in the last government reshuffle in February) resigned his post on Wednesday 13 July, one of a record number of ministers to resign during one day following the high-profile resignations the day before of Sunak and former Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
As well as that, Kemi Badenoch – minister for both equalities and levelling up communities, and now standing to be the next Conservative Party leader – handed in her resignation.
Later that evening, then Housing Secretary Michael Gove – who had apparently told Johnson to go in the morning – was fired. Lord Greenhalgh, who had taken a lead on leasehold reform and fire safety, also resigned once Boris Johnson himself had offered his resignation.
All of this left Eddie Hughes, the minister for rough sleeping and housing, a known Johnson ally and a key architect of the Fairer Private Rented Sector White Paper, a lonely figure at DLUHC. For a while, the department had no Secretary of State and no Housing Minister.
Who is in charge now?
Once Boris Johnson had officially resigned, he set about appointing a temporary Cabinet, which included the appointment of Greg Clark as the new Housing Secretary.
A key figure in the Theresa May years, where he served as Business Secretary for three years, he also served as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (what is now DLUHC) in the latter stages of David Cameron’s premiership.
The MP for Tunbridge Wells since 2005, Clark was Director of Policy for the Conservative Party for three successive Tory leaders in the early 2000s and has also held a number of junior minister roles since being elected to Parliament.
He had the whip removed by Johnson in September 2019 after voting against the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill. He had campaigned and voted for Remain during the Brexit referendum.
It’s unclear whether he is just a stop-gap appointment until the new PM arrives, but he has already insisted there will be no turning back on the plans to protect leaseholders, which had been driven forward by Gove before he was sacked.
He hasn’t revealed who he is backing to be the new PM, perhaps in an attempt to not alienate anyone and keep his role in any subsequent government reshuffle.
Meanwhile, the little-known Marcus Jones – MP for Nuneaton - replaced Stuart Andrew as Housing Minister. It represents his biggest job in politics. He has previously held several junior ministerial positions in previous governments, but this is his first senior ministerial job.
Elected in 2010, he was previously Vice Chamberlain of HM Household (Government Whip) from February 2020, Assistant Government Whip from July 2019 to February 2020 and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Local Government) from May 2015 to January 2018.
Like Clark, he has not publicly declared his support for any of the leadership candidates.
Other appointments made in the wake of the resignations included Paul Scully, formerly Minister for London, who is now Minister of State at DLUHC, Lord Richard Harrington (Minister of State for Refugees) and Lia Nici (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State).
This means the department has an almost brand-new team, other than Hughes, who continues his role as Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing.
What does all this mean for housing?
The set-up of the department could get a whole new look again if the new Conservative Party leader and PM decides they want to stamp their authority or go in a whole new direction. There is a sense from some that the current team in the department is merely holding the fort ahead of another government reshuffle in September.
However, if they perform well over the next few months, the new leader may decide against rocking the boat and uprooting the whole department again.
History dictates that the position of housing minister has been something of a merry-go-round, with Stuart Andrew lasting less than six months, and this will need to be resolved if the department is to gain some sense of stability and consistency.
Gove and Hughes were the main proponents of the Fairer Private Rented Sector White Paper report, which was seen as swinging power back from landlords to tenants in a number of sweeping reforms. It will be interesting to see if the momentum behind the reforms will now be stalled again as we wait to see who the new PM is.
There is the possibility that they won’t be so keen on the rental reform plans and could seek to water them down to placate frustrated landlords. Equally, given the broad cross-party and public support that the reforms enjoy, the new PM may want to prioritise this from a housing perspective as one of their first major tasks in office.
It will also be interesting to see what happens with regards to planning, with Gove and his predecessor Robert Jenrick taking very different viewpoints on planning reform. Other major issues include ongoing leasehold reform, the changes to upfront information on property listings, reforms of the home buying and selling process and building more affordable homes.
During Gove’s stint as Housing Secretary, the long-held commitment from government to build 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of this decade was seemingly dropped.
Recently, there has been speculation surrounding Right to Buy to housing association tenants and talk of 50-year intergenerational mortgages, but both of these ideas were mooted by Boris Johnson and may be rejected by whoever takes over.
Lastly, what happens to other Johnsonian policies such as First Homes remains to be seen.
The future direction of DLUHC – and housing policy more generally – will only become clearer once the new Tory leader and PM has been decided upon. Even then, the chances of an early election being called – to give the new leader their own mandate – can’t be written off entirely.