Remember David Cameron’s PMQs singalongs? He’d be joined in chorus by hundreds of excitable Tory MPs celebrating any falls in crime, or unemployment, or the deficit. They seem a very long time ago. Let’s bring it back for old time’s sake. Raab: down! Stewart: down! Saj: down! Gove: down! This has been the decisive week in the leadership contest so far, one that started with six hopefuls and ends with just two. As Hunt and Johnson prepare for the final showdown, we at Cratus are left, as ever, wondering what the result will mean for local government.
Let’s start with social care. Hunt made the headlines with a ‘mea culpa’, admitting that cuts to social care had gone too far. How you feel about this admission probably depends on your political persuasion, but there’s no doubt that a boost in social care funding is seen as a top priority in local government and this would be welcomed. Boris hasn’t yet said a huge amount about social care, or about anything really, calculating that relative silence is golden.
Both candidates know that declining home ownership amongst young voters represents a major threat to the long-term electability of the Conservative Party. Enter Hunt with a promise of 1.5 million additional homes over the next 10 years. Whether or not this is in addition to the government’s existing target of 300,000 new homes isn’t yet clear. If additional, that would see the government’s target increase to an eye-watering 450,000 homes a year. Current completion rates suggest this would simply be unreachable without some pretty dramatic planning reforms – the kind that probably wouldn’t go down well in Hunt’s leafy South West Surrey constituency.
Boris, again, hasn’t been overly lavish with detail. But clues can be found in suggestions that he intends to ‘get the band’ of housing advisers back together from his days as Mayor of London – he may be happy to defer to them – and in his endorsement of Policy Exchange’s latest report. This would, amongst other things, see an intensification of the current focus on design. Meanwhile, previous statements paint Boris as an Osborne-esque social housing sceptic. But we will to wait and see which Boris could occupy No.10.
As we write, the Local Government Association Conservative Group is hosting the first leadership hustings of the contest. So far, Hunt has underlined his focus on adult social care and called for ‘much more radical devolution’, including ‘full tax raising powers’. Councils are already moving toward 100% retention of business rates, but is Hunt hinting at something further and at a Cameron-esque round of devolution? One to watch.
Meanwhile, Johnson has reportedly acknowledged budgetary pressures and re-iterated his commitment to superfast broadband. No doubt more detail will emerge over the weekend.
Johnson is of course the clear favourite. He is the one with the experience of dealing with local government, yet, enigmatic as ever, we know less about his plans for it. This potentially gives whoever his MHCLG team is a significant degree of freedom, giving the appointment of that team extra significance. We at Cratus will be watching closely.