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Opinion: The ability to create the illusion of power, to use mirrors and blue smoke…*

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Opinion: The ability to create the illusion of power, to use mirrors and blue smoke…*

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

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Image: Housing via Shutterstock

By Steve Hilditch, housing blogger

On the first occasion I appeared in the 24 Housing ‘Power List’ my son commented that he couldn’t imagine that I would want to be in any list where Grant Shapps was number one. Last year the stars of both Grant and myself waned, and we dropped out (I’m not suggesting any connection). This year we are both back as minor players, but now I’m ahead of him. I wish our relative power in the real world was that way round; unfortunately not.

The Power Player List is a bit of fun and has a highly selective constituency but most people would be quite pleased to be on it rather than off it. Deservedly at the top of both last year’s and this year’s lists is David Orr of the National Housing Federation. Despite having a difficult membership to please, David consistently gets good coverage on the need for more affordable housing and is the most effective of the housing professionals/lobbyists.

CIH’s Grainia Long remains near the top but Julia Unwin of the Rowntree Foundation is coming up fast on the rails. JRF have had a good year especially on making the links between housing and poverty – and the Resolution Foundation’s Gavin Kelly might deserve to be there as well given their recent hugely influential work. Campbell Robb of Shelter has disappeared off the list, which may mean that the organisation continues to punch below its weight, or it may just reflect the disgracefully low place that homelessness now occupies on the housing agenda.

It’s hard to know how and whether to nominate politicians for the list, especially people like George Osborne who has a considerably wider brief. But he makes it up from 4th to 2nd and displaces Lord Freud as the top politician. I guess Lord Fraud, as he was announced in the House of Lords this week, has had a quieter year and his boss, the biggest fraud of them all, Iain Duncan Smith, has leapfrogged him.

You would expect the Housing Minister of the day to feature. Shapps certainly did, and Mark Prisk made it to 5th last year, despite being a fairly anonymous figure. So what does that tell us about the current incumbent, Kris Hopkins, who only makes it to 13th, behind the noisier Nick Boles and a new entrant, the man behind the scenes at No 10, housing and planning adviser Alex Morton (he of the notorious ‘sell off the expensive social homes’ policy).

It’s interesting that the top Labour politician, shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds, makes it to 15th, exactly the same as last year’s spokesperson, Jack Dromey. In fact she is the only national Labour figure to feature; this is a little surprising given that Ed Balls has made several important housing speeches in the recent past and is the key person in deciding what will happen to housing investment if Labour wins in 2015. Karen Buck drops out this year, largely due to having a more backroom (but probably more influential) role as Ed Miliband’s PPS. The most prominent non-party politician remains Lord Richard Best, who continues to have significant influence on events from his seat in the House of Lords. He is the nearest thing in housing to a national treasure.

Reynolds is one of 12 women in the list, the same as last year.

Of the London politicians, Boris Johnson has slipped down the list from 5th to 35th, heading towards well deserved obscurity, and is now only one place ahead of his new nemesis on the GLA, the very energetic rising star Tom Copley. I can only spot one other local politician in this year’s list, Islington Labour’s James Murray, who has done more than most to launch a new generation of affordable council houses.

It may tell us more about the voting constituency than anything else, but a rather large number of housing association chief executives feature. Several deserve the accolade but it’s overcooked: there are 20 in the list. I do hope there’s no conspiracy involved. This year, South Yorkshire’s Tony Stacey is a nose ahead of Riverside’s Carol Matthews, who was the top CE last year, followed by Steve Stride of Poplar, David Montague of L&Q, Paul Tennant of Orbit and Geeta Nanda of Thames Valley. That’s a good selection and mix. Three ALMO people feature, Eamon McGoldrick of NatFedALMOs, Sue Roberts the current NFA chair, and former chair Alison Inman, who is also heavily involved in CIH, TPAS and now SHOUT, the campaign for social rented housing.

In an industry that was once dominated by powerful Directors of Housing, this year I can only spot one council officer in the top 50, Carmarthenshire’s Robin Staines. 20 housing association CEs and one Director of Housing tells its own story.

Not surprisingly, civil servants and regulators feature. Julian Ashby of the HCA regulation committee is in at 12. Terrie Alafat, Director of Housing Growth at CLG, takes over from her boss, Sir Bob Kerslake, at the highest ranked civil servant.

And a final word about bloggers. Jules Birch is deservedly top blogger in the list. Next year, I expect to see Colin Wiles climbing high, not just for his excellent blogs but also because he has been the driving force behind SHOUT. I also think Hannah Fearn should feature for her consistently excellent writing, in the Guardian and elsewhere.

I’m not sure if my 29th place is a pat on the back for Red Brick or London Labour Housing Group (which contributes 3 of the 50). Whichever, belief must be suspended by the fact that I am immediately followed by the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney and Grant Shapps, and ahead of both Boris Johnson and his sidekick, Deputy Mayor for Housing Richard Blakeway. As I intimated above, the power list is not meant to be taken too seriously. It is meant to be fun and the methodology is plainly flawed. Because in the real world, those four have a lot more power than is good for us.

Housing’s top 50 Power Players are revealed in the April edition of 24housing magazine, out today.

This article first appeared on the Red Brick blog.

*Jimmy Breslin Notes from Impeachment Summer, 1975

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