Michael Gove replaced Robert Jenrick as Housing Secretary on Wednesday as Prime Minister Boris Johnson reshuffled his cabinet.
Mr Jenrick, 39, considered a rising star in the Conservative Party, paid the price for a series of missteps, most notably his approval of a major housing development scheme led by billionaire media mogul and Tory donor Richard Desmond – a move which was subsequently proved unlawful.
Mr Jenrick was also accused of breaking lockdown rules in April 2020.
Perhaps most importantly, controversial planning reforms spearheaded by Mr Jenrick had caused upset within the Conservative Party ranks.
The recent Amersham and Chesham by-election, where the Conservatives lost to a resurgent Lib Dems – as well as lacklustre performances in traditionally Tory heartlands in May’s local elections – was blamed largely on these planning reforms.
Who is Michael Gove?
Michael Gove was announced as the new Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. As the minister responsible for local communities, Mr Gove has effectively been charged with fulfilling Mr Johnson’s pledge to “level up” the country.
Mr Gove has already got to work in his new role, with speculation that he will pause his predecessors controversial planning reforms, calming Conservative MP’s nerves about potentially losing their seats at the next election.
There have been four different Housing Secretaries since housing was added to the Communities & Local Government brief and given a seat at the Cabinet table in January 2018, when then-PM Theresa May carried out her own reshuffle.
Mr Gove follows in the footsteps of Mr Jenrick, James Brokenshire and Sajid Javid. None lasted for longer than two years in the role.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Considered an effective operator, Mr Gove is known for his reformer instincts, most notably during his time as Education Secretary. However, his clashes with teachers and unions earned him a divisive reputation as he sought to reform the curriculum and introduce more “free schools”.
Mr Gove has unsuccessfully bid for the Tory leadership twice (in 2016 and 2019). He has held high office, almost unbroken, since 2010 – a longer stint than any other Cabinet minister. He has previously served as Education Secretary, Justice Secretary and Environment Secretary.
He also has a close, albeit troubled relationship with Mr Johnson. Both men were the main faces of Vote Leave in the EU referendum, and Mr Gove ran Mr Johnson’s campaign to be Conservative Party leader in 2016 until running himself at the last minute.
What was the property industry reaction?
The main property trade bodies largely welcomed Mr Gove’s appointment as Housing Secretary.
Those seeking more clarity over certain major property issues – from the cladding and leasehold crises to rental reform and planning – welcomed Mr Gove's arrival with his reputation for getting things done.
However, others have expressed fears that his brief is too wide – incorporating not only housing, communities and local government, but also defending the union and in charge of the Government’s flagship levelling up policy – which could lead to him juggling too many different things at once.
Propertymark CEO Nathan Emerson said: “Over the past 18 months housing has been high on the political agenda, with the long term Covid-19 inflicted stamp duty holiday and evictions ban due to close at the end of the month. We look forward to meeting the new Secretary of State and his team over the coming months and hope the Department’s position and policy focus stays on track.”
Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, said: “We welcome Michael Gove to his new position and look forward to working with him to ensure the rental market works for responsible landlords and tenants alike.
“Key to this will be addressing the supply crisis in the sector by developing pro-growth policies that recognise the vital contribution it makes to housing millions of people across the country.”
Pocket Living CEO Marc Vlessing said: “Now is the time for the Secretary of State to be true to his instincts and demonstrate once again his radical zeal in not only proposing genuine innovation and reform, but crucially securing both industry and political support to deliver them.
“The stakes are high for the government, but so are the rewards through rising to the challenge by being radical, bold and truly innovative in unlocking growth and housing opportunity.”
However, James Forrester, Manging Director of Barrows and Forrester had a more mixed reaction to the news:
“The government housing carousel continues to turn as yet another one bites the dust” he said. “Michael Gove is known as a Whitehall “big hitter” with a reputation for rocking the boat so we may well see some changes. However, the reality is probably more of the same tired, recycled rhetoric around housing policy.”
Mr Forrester added that we should expect to see more initiatives focussed on fuelling buyer demand to keep house prices buoyant, rather than addressing the need for more housing.
“In recent times, those charged with addressing the current housing crisis have lasted less time in their post than it takes to sell a house - no wonder the sector has been riddled with scandal and an inability to reach housing targets.”