Michael Gove: “Removing the prime minister now would be crazy”

Gove says he is “particularly upset” to see the Conservatives lose control of Westminster Council to Labour, “because Rachael Robathan, the leader of Westminster Council, is a friend of mine and I think she’s brilliant and I don’t think deserved”. “He insists that the losses” are not entirely monochromatic “, with the Conservatives gaining ground in other areas of the capital.

The Leveling and Regeneration Bill represents a drastic curtailment of the Government’s initial plan to overhaul the planning regime, which faced a backbench revolt over its “mutating algorithm” for local housing targets.

For perhaps similar reasons, Gove is wary of putting too much emphasis on the Conservatives’ stated commitment to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.

“If you’re driven by just trying to hit an abstract goal in an area that throws things off track, and again one of the things that’s been a problem is people have been driven just to create housing units, instead of than homes and communities,” he says.

Do you consider the goal useless?

“No. I don’t think it’s useless. But if you use it as the only measure of success, then that’s a mistake. You shouldn’t go by one criteria.”

In February, the White Paper by Leveling Up, the government’s flagship, overseen by Mr Gove, promised improvements in infrastructure, research and development funding, educational outcomes and the quality of life in Britain. But what evidence will the Conservatives be able to point to, in the next election, to show that they have already been delivering on their 2019 promise to “level” the country?

“More jobs, better schools, brighter main streets,” says Mr. Gove. “Those are three things where I think we should have shown a difference in the next couple of years.

In particular, better paying jobs, main streets where there is a mix of activity where the empty store fronts have gone, where there is a mix of people moving into properties that have been abandoned and neglected and commercial activity is coming back and a sense of pride and place are being restored.”

School improvement now falls under the purview of Gove’s cabinet colleague, Nadhim Zahawi. But as part of his plan to rejuvenate high streets, the grading and regeneration bill will allow local councils to force landlords to rent shops that have been vacant for long periods of time.

“We have a super, stupid new intervention,” Gove says, pausing briefly to joke that his language seems to be “channeling the prime minister” without realizing it.

“We will tell any vacant property [owner] after a period of time on the high street, if you can’t find a tenant, we will find one for you. And we’ll say we’ll take back control of the property, auction it off, find a tenant. That tenant could be a community group, it could be a young entrepreneur, it could be a local business that would not otherwise find a home and they would get the use of that property.

“You get the rent, we’re not expropriating the property. But what you can’t do is leave a vacant property to a sucker on the high street because vacant properties on the high street are like missing teeth in an old friend’s smile. Just you need one or two for everything to be ruined”.


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