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Opinion: Brandon Lewis' promotion has nothing to do with housing or planning

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Opinion: Brandon Lewis' promotion has nothing to do with housing or planning

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Published by Brian Church for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Communities, Local Government

Opinion: Brandon Lewis' promotion has nothing to do with housing or planning Opinion: Brandon Lewis' promotion has nothing to do with housing or planning

By Jon Land, 24housing Editor‏

While the housing sector is forced through gritted teeth to welcome yet another housing minister - our fourth since the coalition formed in 2010 - you have to ask yourself, why?

Why has David Cameron (or whoever pulls his strings) decided to sideline Kris Hopkins after 10 months in the job? And why replace him with Brandon Lewis, of all people?

Hopkins wasn't great, it has to be said. He floundered in Commons debates, was forced to "clarify" some rather controversial comments he made on Panorama about people on benefits, and blundered into the Orbit 'pro-Asian housing' row just to gain some popularity with the six remaining readers of the Daily Express.

You could tell something was afoot when Hopkins started having his picture taken on every construction site in the country (whether there were homes being built or not). This urgent need to appear to be doing something was also apparent in Mark Prisk's dying days in the job.

But whatever Hopkins' failings in this most difficult, complex and thankless of roles, to replace him with Brandon Lewis is rather like a landlord evicting a tenant so they can give the house to a spoilt nephew.

Lewis, a close chum of fellow Essex MP and DCLG boss man Eric Pickles, has little to recommend him on past form. Previously, he's been kept busy at Eland House by sticking the boot into the fire service, hailing the department's success in cutting stationery costs and visiting high streets.

On housing there's barely a whisper - apart from the usual blind support for the right to buy, help to buy, new homes bonus and various other Tory schemes that make not a jot of difference to addressing the housing crisis.

It would appear, therefore, that Lewis' spectacular promotion to Housing and Planning Minister has, sadly, nothing to do with housing or planning and eveything to do with the punch up he's been having with the Fire Brigades Union.

Like Michael Gove, Owen Paterson and even Nick Boles, Lewis has been taking a lot of flak from potential Tory voters for attempting to push through contentious government policies in politically sensitive areas. Quite simply, the 'fire minister' role was becoming too hot for him.

Lewis has been pilloried by the FBU in recent weeks for being obstructive in negotiations, for failing to respond to questions and being generally (but deliberately) useless. The East Anglian media was all over a recent march by local firemen on his constituency office in Great Yarmouth. None of this makes for particularly fantastic headlines.

Add to this the apparent inability of the Department for Communities and Local Government to explain who's doing what in the new set up suggests the reshuffle has been done by someone purely with the election in mind - and not involved the department at any point.

Lewis is a loyal servant to the Tories and Pickles, and is likely to do a safe if utterly undistinguished caretaker job in his new role. But don't think for a minute that housing has found a new saviour. The only man that really matters is George Osborne - until May 2015 at least.

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