This is a simple question I have asked many a journalist, Labour activist, member, staffer and even leading Labour bloggers too. Guess what, out of the say maybe 20 or 30 people who I asked in total and all those on the Labour side of the Westminster Village, of all places where this should be known, not a single one of them knew.
Well before you go off to Google it, I will simply let you in on the secret, it's Alison Seabeck MP. Still none-the-wiser? Don't worry you were sadly not alone...
In contrast, I can name previous recent holders of this post quite easily off the top of my head, and by and large so did those I asked: John Healy and Yvette Cooper to name but two. Sadly, even her partner Nick Raynsford MP was mentioned to me when I asked.
Now this is not a personal attack on Ms. Seabeck, as I don't know her, never met her and I am sure she is a nice person. However, when I asked every single person the next question: Have you heard of a Tory MP called Grant Shapps? Nearly all replied with a resounding "Yes".
It concerns me greatly, and should all Labour party supporters for that matter, that possibly the biggest policy area for the next 10 years, and at a time when housing policy is under one of its biggest shake ups in a generation, Labour is found to be almost vacant.
To be fair to Ms. Seabeck, since discovering her identity I can see she has been quite busy despite all her hard work gaining little, if any, attention. And her anonymity is not out of step with the rest of our shadow DCLG team. Compare their media exposure to say that of the attention that our shadow Defra team has received lately for example, even though most people on the street couldn't even tell you what the acronym of either stood for.
Serious questions must be asked when Labour's defence of badgers and circus animals (and other similar non-Labour voters) is getting better press than that of the millions of people who just want a decent home to live in.
A sensible and helpful move would be a commitment that when we are returned to Government, if the portfolio remained the same, we would change it and create a Secretary of State for Housing in its own right, like that for Transport. This would allow the current Shadow Minister until then to have the right to attend Cabinet meetings bestowing an improved sense of importance/prestige on the post holder.
It almost seems absurd that we never did this when we were in Government, yet it may help explain the housing crisis that has developed. Nevertheless, we live in new times, England has five million people on housing waiting lists and according to a recent YouGov poll 71 per cent of people don't think the Tory-led Government is giving enough attention to housing.
Therefore, declaring now our intention this far off from an election, or even in the coming year, would send a signal that we as a Party are taking this issue seriously. In addition, it would at the very least help raise the profile of Ms. Seabeck, or any other future holder of the post for that matter.*
Speaking whilst Labour was in Opposition forty years ago, in July 1971, the then former Housing Minister Anthony Crosland MP said "housing is basic to certain socialist objectives" to eliminating poverty and social equality. If our Party does not recognise this crucial policy area and current chink in our amour, so this is not such a hard question to answer in future, then we won't be returned as fast from opposition as Mr. Crosland and his colleagues were.
*Not a reflection on Ms. Seabeck, just the fact that the turnover in Housing Ministers whilst Labour was in Government was quite prolific. There were three in 2008 alone, with the third (Margaret Beckett) only holding the post for a mere eight months.
James Mills writes in a personal capacity and these views are not reflective of any organisation that he works for.
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