Fact or Fiction: Housing ministers

Grant Shapps is no more. Well, he still exists but not as housing minister. He of a thousand internet aliases was shuffled out of the role last month and replaced by the rather less promotion hungry Mark Prisk. To mark Mark’s appointment, we profile six former housing ministers, but which one is less believable than a Shapps stat?

1 John Healey
Labour’s John Healey was a popular housing minister from 2009-2010. Halfway through his tenure, he was asked by prime minister Gordon Brown to become ‘minister for pubs’ –
apparently because of the Vladimir Putin look-a-like’s penchant for beer. And it’s quite possible he’d had a tipple or two before making his one major faux pas – telling journalists that sometimes it was the “best thing” for struggling families to have their homes repossessed. Homelessness charities and MPs rounded bitterly on the ale fan over his “gross insensitivity”.

2 Duncan Sandys
The Tory toff – and son-in-law of Winston Churchill – served in Conservative governments through the 1950s and 60s. Made minister for housing in 1954, he was responsible for introducing the Clean Air Act and, much to the delight of “countryside lovers” and NIMBYs, the green belt. It was in the bedrooms of aristocratic beauties, however, that he really made
his mark. He was long rumoured to be the ‘headless man’ in the Duchess of Argyll divorce case of the 1960s, when a series of sexually explicit Polaroid snaps showing a headless man receiving fellatio were used as evidence of the Duchess’ infidelity. His identity was “conclusively proved” in 2000, 12 years after his death, by Channel 4 documentary makers who revealed that the only Polaroid camera in the country at the time belonged to the Ministry of Defence, where Sandys was a minister.

3 Caroline Flint
Under New Labour, nobody held down a ministerial role for more than five minutes. Flint was no exception. Appointed housing minister in January 2008, she was gone within eight months. Flint brought an interesting approach to the dissemination of government secrets to her new position. No mislaid laptops or phoney lobbying firm stitch-ups for her. No, Flint’s angle was to saunter along Downing Street with a see-through file revealing a report on the housing crisis, replete with details concerning a predicted crash in house prices.
Delighted paparazzi snapped up the juicy details, including the embarrassing line: “we don’t know how bad it will get”.

4 Pat Corbett
If Flint’s short tenure was a dog’s breakfast, Pat Corbett’s was a five-course canine slap-up at the Ritz. The MP for Basingstoke was plucked from obscurity to head up housing by Ted Heath in May 1972. The calamitous Corbett managed to mix-up ‘social housing’ with ‘social cleansing’, mistook a housing chief for Mussolini and suggested that cardboard boxes were an efficient way to house the poor. He was gone by June.

5 Chris Mullin (pictured)
Mullin was the second of the 253 housing ministers to serve in Tony Blair’s “barmy” government – and hated every minute of it. In a 2009 interview with this magazine, he began by enquiring “you won’t be asking me about housing, will you? It’s not one of my specialist areas”. The ever-shuffled Mullin bemoaned the then trend for frequent ministerial movements:
“The trouble is, civil servants don’t take you seriously as they know you’re not going to be there long.” Mullin, best known for his novel ‘A Very British Coup’, demonstrated his talent for fiction during the interview when he said of Blair: “I thought in many ways that he was an outstanding leader”.

6 Sir George Young
Sir George has served as a Tory MP since 1974, so must be completely knackered by now. Made housing minister by John Major in 1990, Young found himself besieged in 1992 over
the Armley Asbestos Disaster – a still ongoing social catastrophe in which 1,000 homes were contaminated with asbestos dust. Young put the kibosh on any hopes of state help for the victims, saying it “would not be a justifiable use of public funds”. In 1987 Young was convicted of drink-driving. It was reported that despite smashing into a motorway barrier he continued his journey until stopped by police. He was later appointed Transport Secretary. ?