Grant Shapps fails to bury bad news

Housing minister tries to distract attention from 99 per cent fall in affordable house building.

If you haven't heard it already, here's housing minister Grant Shapps's car crash interview on the Today programme this morning. Presented with new figures showing a 99 per cent fall in affordable house building (from 35,735 to just 454), Shapps attempted to divert attention by starting a row with John Humphrys over whether he had pulled out of an interview the previous morning.

He accused Today of misleading listeners by giving the impression that he had avoided the programme. "I was never booked," he said, offering the excuse that he had to get a train to Stoke (presumably unaware that Andrew Lansley had conducted an on-train interview earlier this week). But Humphrys insisted: "There was a booking with your staff which never happened." By the end of the exchange, which took up nearly a third of the interview, it almost seemed as if Shapps didn't want to talk about the figures.

Grant Shapps: Housing strategy announcement "absolutely correct" (mp3)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.