Exeter, Devon UK • Jun 22, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Features ‘In politics, whenever something goes well, it always creates a new problem’ An interview with Gavin Barwell MP

‘In politics, whenever something goes well, it always creates a new problem’ An interview with Gavin Barwell MP

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Gavin Barwell won the seat of Crydon Central in 2010 and in the 2015 election retained the seat with a majority of just 165 votes, making it one of the closest results in the country. He currently holds the positions of Minister for London and Minister of State for Housing and Planning within the Department of Communities and Local Government.

The interview began cordially with the Minister insisting “by all means, please call me Gavin.” The first question I put to him was how he felt Theresa May’s premiership was going in her first few months as Prime Minister. “Well, I would say she is off to a very strong start,” he explained “I suppose the way I judge it is I spend a lot of time knocking on doors in my constituency and I think most people lead busy lives, they don’t pay too much attention to politics, but occasionally something big happens and people do tune in. I think the remarks that she made outside of Downing Street, when she had just come back from Buckingham Palace and been formally appointed, that’s one of those moments where people say ‘Oh, it’s a new Prime Minister, what has she got to say?’ and I’ve had lots of very warm feedback about the tone she struck there.” Barwell then went on to clarify, “there’s clearly still a lot of difficult work to do, particularly in the light of the referendum, building our new relationship with the world and how we are going to make that work, but it’s definitely a strong start.”

Moving onto discussion regarding the EU referendum, with a question that many people are currently asking; what exactly does Brexit mean? he responded “I think the detail of it is going to have to emerge over time from negotiations” He stated simply, before continuing, “What we need to do is try and bring the country together, accept that this is the decision that we’ve made and try and make the best success of it that we can.” Though Barwell was then quick to reiterate, “It doesn’t mean Britain turning in on itself, we still want to be a country that engages with the rest of the world and has positive relationships.” From there the Minister continued, elaborating on what he believed were the core issues of the Brexit vote, “From my perspective there were two obvious things that came up again and again. People thinking ‘I want the laws that affect me in this country to be made by the people that I elect’ and the second being the levels of migration into the country and therefore having control over our own borders.”

“we need To try and bring the country together, accept this is the decision  we’ve made and try and make the best success of it we can”

With Jeremy Corbyn having increased his mandate as leader of the Labour Party to 61.8% in September 2016, discussion drove towards the 2020 elections: “Well, I don’t think it’s my place or business to predict elections.” Barwell stated firmly, before continuing, “In the short term, it is very good for the Conservative Party that the Labour Party is in such a mess, but actually it’s not good for the country. At the moment the Labour Party is too divided and distracted to present an effective opposition and if you’re doing a job like mine, you see that first hand.” He then went on to reiterate, “It is not a healthy position for the country to be in, to have one of the two main political parties in such a mess and unable to present itself as a possible alternative government.”

A major part of Barwell’s role involved shepherding through the Housing and Planning Bill, which received Royal Assent on 12 May 2016. Despite this bill having the intention of assisting people getting onto the property ladder, there have been significant criticisms. Terrie Alafat, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute for Housing, claimed that the bill is abandoning those “who simply cannot afford to buy.” The Minister responded to this: “I think one of the things people have got very concerned about is a policy called ‘pay to stay’, just saying that people who are earning significantly above the national average should have to pay a bit more, they shouldn’t get the same levels of subsidised rents that most council tenants get. I think there is a strong justification for that.” Barwell then went on to address another popular issue raised, “The other thing that people have got quite concerned about is ending what are called ‘lifetime tenancies’. Historically, if you got a council house you were given what was called a secure tenancy and that basically meant you could stay in that house for the rest of your life. The Government’s argument is that for many people, that might not be the right thing because people’s circumstances change over time. So, if a family was later in a more prosperous position they could go and get their own home in the private market and that property can then be released to someone who needs it more. It’s not an attack on social housing.”

The next issue to be tackled was the low social housing stock which has led to many people on social assistance being forced into private rentals and into the hands of unscrupulous landlords. When this was put to the Minister, it appeared he misheard the question, or indeed wished to answer another one. “There’s always a risk of that it is how you try and deal with it essentially. So, I’d say the fundamental thing, in my job, is differentiating between the long term goal of what we are trying to do and trying to deal with the immediate issues.” He then went on to explain that his main role is to ensure that young people of today have the chance of owning their own home, but acknowledged that it is getting tougher with higher prices. With no explanation as to how the legislation would achieve this or indeed how it affected those on social assistance or the social housing stock. In my attempt to diverge, the Minister quickly interjected “I must stress that there is a sort of survey that is done every year of English housing and actually the level of people satisfied with their housing in the private rental sector has been going up overtime, so most landlords do a good job.”

it’s very good for the Conservatives that Labour is in such a mess, but actually it’s not good for the country

The final topic: a recent survey of house prices in capital cities across Europe suggested that the average piece of property in London is worth £4922 per square metre; a truly eye watering amount. I asked the Minister if his government had any plans to help tackle this. “The only way fundamentally that you tackle it is to build a lot more housing.” He began, “I have to be honest with you there is not a button I can press to make the problem go away, it’s going to take some time to get this right.” Barwell then went on to elaborate on some improvements the government is making, “We are looking at starter homes, and also looking at things like shared ownership, Help to Buy, ISAs to help people save and the Government gives a bit to the same pot. We are trying to look really creatively at all the things we could do to try and help people…. London’s prospects in the world have been transformed, it’s now one of the most successful cities in the world, so people from all over are looking to make their home there and that is what has led to this issue. We haven’t built houses to cope with that surge in demand, so it’s actually good news that has caused the problem.”

The Minister provided one more insight before terminating the interview, one which seems to be a common theme by all politicians, “In politics, whenever something goes well, it always creates a new problem and that’s one of the challenges of the job.”

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