The politics of politics

Don’t find fault. Find a remedy;
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Paul Morrell, the UK construction ‘tsar’ says that the construction industry doesn’t have the same government respect as the car industry.

He was talking to Construction News at the launch of the new Interbuild show-within-a-show BEST and we all know he’s telling the truth. It doesn’t.

“Part of it is a misunderstanding of what construction is, but deeper than that the best answer I have been given is that we don’t look like an industry that has a plan for its own future,” he said.

Maybe that’s why we’ve had 18 construction and housing ministers in the 12 years since Labour has been in government. This fact came up during a Q&A session with David Cameron – Conservative Party leader (or Prime Minister-designate, depending on your political leanings) at a West Midlands Business lunch last week.

Now, obviously, it’ so much easier to be right about things when you’re in opposition but it’s true.

Ian Lucus is the ninth construction minister since Labour came to power in 1997 and look, here’s a list of them all:

  • Nick Raynsford,
  • Brian Wilson,
  • Nigel Griffiths,
  • Alun Michael,
  • Margaret Hodge,
  • Stephen Timms
  • Baroness Vadera
  • Ian Pearson
  • Ian Lucus.

    Housing Ministers have a pretty short tenure too, it seems. These are all the bods who have occupied that particular office since 1997.

  • Hilary Armstrong
  • Nick Raynsford
  • Lord Falconer
  • Lord Rooker
  • Keith Hill
  • Yvette Cooper
  • Caroline Flint
  • Margaret Beckett
  • John Healey .

    Energy ministers too, since Lord Hunt is the 12th energy minister in as many years.

  • John Battle
  • Helen Liddell
  • Peter Hain
  • Brian Wilson
  • Stephen Timms
  • Mike O’Brien
  • Malcolm Wicks
  • Alistair Darling with Lord Truscott
  • Malcolm Wicks
  • Mike O’Brien
  • Lord Hunt.

    In the case of the housing and construction ministers, it strikes me that those in the jobs towards the beginning of Labour’s tenure were bigger hitters than those who have occupied the seats in the latter stages. Nick Raynsford, for example, was a quite splendid shadow housing minister and construction minister Lord Falconer, too, was at least someone one had heard of.

    Maybe these posts are seen as the ones you have to do before you’re rewarded something a bit more juicy. Ian Pearson, our construction minister before last went on to do something to do with the Treasury. Do politicians these days feel that they have been lumbered with any portfolio that won’t have them jetting off to far flung corners of the world to talk about climate change or poverty or foreign affairs. Are the sectors of housing and construction just too domestic and humdrum for them to really want to get their teeth into them?

    And yet the construction industry generates a greater increase in GDP per £1 spent than almost any other sector, with every £1 of spending in the industry producing an increase of £2.84 in GDP.

    The problem with the construction industry is its diverse nature – the term covers everything from Joe the Plumber and the jobbing builder down my road right up to the largest contracting firms and developers, via, of course, the distributors, merchants and manufacturers.

    Grant Shapps, the shadow housing minister, has been making a great deal of noise about the housing sector and what he would do should the Tories be elected. If that happens, it will be interesting to see whether Cameron starts his own merry-go-round of ministerial positions, or does what he promises and takes the construction and housing sectors as seriously as they deserve to be taken.

  • About Fiona Russell-Horne

    Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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