More than one Tory politician to blame for austerity

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Inside Croydon’s editor, STEVEN DOWNES, puts forward a view that may surprise many

The look of a hunted man: Gavin Barwell in Downing Street this week

It’s time to lay off Gavin Barwell.

Not because of the sly and underhand way he often conducted himself when a Tory MP for Croydon Central, ducking and diving around his election expenses, his misleading leaflets and emails to constituents, and breaking various pledges to the community, while for seven years he used taxpayer-funded resources to hire a team of gofers and arse-lickers who spent far too much time and effort burnishing their boss’s reputation and trying to build an electoral advantage. No, not for that.

Nor for sidling into another political job within hours of promising his own children that he would spend more time with them once he lost his parliamentary seat at last week’s General Election.

Not for that, either.

But when a men’s magazine such as GQ manages to post a piece on its website, apparently by its political correspondent, under a headline of “How much do we fucking hate Gavin Barwell”, then a moment’s calm contemplation may be called for (small note to the GQ subs’ desk: grow a pair, guys – sticking a couple of asterisks in the “F” word doesn’t disguise its meaning nor make you appear any cleverer. If you have something to say, then say it).

For sure, Barwell did neither himself nor his boss, Theresa Mayhem, no favours when he scuttled along Whitehall yesterday morning, mumbling something inaudible under his breath when the Sky News crew stuck a microphone in his face.

But then lacking backbone and fortitude in challenging circumstances is not anything that Barwell, nor the Tory governments he has served like the obedient party lapdog that he is, have been known for.

The picture accompanying Rupert Myers’ piece – which is more about the wretched tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire than it is about political careerist Barwell – does show the Prime Minister’s new chief of staff in the light of a beaten man. Having been hammered to the floor with his election defeat last week, Barwell has been receiving a sound kicking since Wednesday. Including from this website.

The last time I saw that sort of look in someone’s eyes captured in a photograph, it was a black and white shot of boxer Barry McGuigan, about to lose his world title after receiving a fearful beating. Dazed and glazed, hurt and in fear, McGuigan was on the stool in his corner, and the look on his face was of a proven warrior who did not want to face that final round.

The look of a man defeated: Barry McGuigan, about to lose his boxing world title

Barwell might not have got to quite as bad a state as that, just yet, and his cumulative “suffering” of the politically bruising past week – the loss of his MP’s status, the utter exhaustion following a campaign and the sleepless nights of the last seven days, and perhaps even some sense of guilt – is nothing compared to the utter, gut-wrenching tragedies of all those who lived, and the many who died, in Grenfell Tower.

Barwell does carry a burden, probably for the rest of his life, for many of those deaths. Even before Grenfell Tower has been cleared of its dead and a forensic examination conducted, there have been calls for charges of corporate manslaughter.

And yes, as a housing minister in Mayhem’s Government until the election, Barwell does carry a share of that responsibility.

But the attention he has been receiving in the last few days – undoubtedly because his new job makes him a more high-profile “target” – is beginning to look like a form of bullying.

For Barwell does not carry all of the blame.

The key issue here is the report from the coroner following the previous fatal tower block fire, at Southwark’s Lakanal House in 2009. Then, six people died. That report made a number of recommendations to avert or at least minimise the risk of fatalities in other, ageing residential tower blocks.

A key recommendation was that old towers should have sprinkler systems fitted. The London Fire Brigade maintains that there has never been a single fatality in a residential tower fitted with sprinklers.

Last October, Barwell, all puffed up with self-importance with his first ministerial brief, announced to the House of Commons that his department would review those recommendations. Since when, who knows whether anything has been done about retro-fitting sprinklers to tower blocks.

But the report that Barwell promised to review eight months ago had been issued in 2013. Barwell was only the third Tory housing minister to have those recommendations gathering dust on his Marsham Street desk.

And therein is another indicator of how unimportant to the Conservatives the issue of housing really is. Grant Shapps, Mark Prisk, Kris Hopkins and Brandon Lewis, all largely low-ranking, low-profile Tory wannabes, had passed through the revolving door to the housing minister’s office before Barwell. Hopkins and Lewis were both around when the Lakanal coroner’s recommendations came out. Like Barwell, they did nothing.

Grenfell Tower: a monument to Tory austerity

Which is why the lies told on national television last night by Barwell’s boss, Mayhem, the unelected Prime Minister, were so utterly shameless. After a week such as we have just witnessed, May told BBC Newsnight‘s Emily Maitless that her Government had implemented the recommendations from the Lakanal report.

It was a lie.

Let’s not play about with words here: May lied.

The Tory Government – including Barwell and his predecessors as housing ministers, and their department boss, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – has for four years done next-to-nothing about implementing any of those potentially life-saving proposals.

All the Tory Government has done is for Eric Pickles, when he presided over the DCLG, to issue a letter to councils throughout England and Wales to suggest it might be a good idea if they looked at the recommendations.

So, after three years of austerity measures and cut after cut to council budgets, Pickles passed the buck to local authorities. There was no legislation to ensure sprinkler systems were retro-fitted to tower blocks. There was no central government money to pay for such proposals. Just a letter.

Here in Croydon today, we have had a Labour-run council since 2014. It inherited housing stock which includes several older residential towers. The council has done nothing in the past three years – despite the Lakanal coroner’s recommendations in 2013 – to retro-fit sprinkler systems in the borough.

They probably don’t have the money available. In the four years to 2016, Croydon Council had to manage a 40 per cent cut in its central Government grant – a budget cut which was voted through by Barwell and May, Shapps and Pickles, and some of their LibDem mates, too, in the early years of the Conservative-led coalition.

In the four years to 2020, Croydon Council has been told by the Tory Government to make another £45million-worth of cuts, measures which were also voted through Parliament by Barwell and all his Conservative chums.

In  The Guardian today, the burnt-out shell of Grenfell Tower was described as “a monument to Tory austerity”.

Gavin Barwell has spent the last seven years, like the vast majority of lapdog loyal Conservative MPs, acting like lobby fodder and voting through every austerity measure that has been proposed. Such measures have diminished this nation, reduced the services that our local authorities are able to provide, seen damaging cuts to our police and fire services and the NHS run down by dangerous degrees and, we now have proof, has cost the lives of dozens of hard-working people, families and children.

These have not been the acts of a single individual, but the considered policy of a politcal party, their millionaire donors and sponsors, and a brigade of other vested commercial interests.

And that is why We All Fucking Hate Conservative Austerity.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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8 Responses to More than one Tory politician to blame for austerity

  1. Tory policy is always to keep the rich rich and to help them become richer. To Margaret Thatcher that was almost the mantra of her life. Do that, she said,and the wealth will eventually trickle down to the undeserving poor and the slightly less undeserving but none the less detestable middle class. Happy countries, like Denmark, have always eschewed this sort of approach which can only be achieved by cutting away at the essential organs of state like local authorities, the health service and education and by imposing austerity on the lower orders. Danes are quite happy to accept a generally lower level of top end wealth and a shortening of the distance between the rich and the poor. Its a model we need to look at again.

  2. Given the amount of money spent at Grenfell perhaps austerity is not the key factor. £8million was spent which is over £60K per flat. However a major component was to improve the Architectural appearance and insulation/weather resistance. If, as it seems, the fire risk was then made worse then those that made the key decisions on type of cladding and indeed the components of the scheme as a whole bear a high level of responsibility. I’d be wanting to ask the Architects/Client some serious question about that decision process and May/Barwell are not involved in that.

  3. Yes, I certainly agree that in this particular circumstance we should lay off Gavin Barwell. He had hardly got a toe in the water as Housing Minister before being summarily evicted by the wise voters of Croydon. It’s a pity that he doesn’t stand up for himself and say so.

  4. croydonres says:

    No doubt the public enquiry will reveal why the cladding material was selected against other options. It does seem strange that new buildings have to have sprinklers, but old ones like this and many other tall residential blocks apparently do not. If that is a result of Austerity, it needs to be overturned.

    The stupid thing about Austerity is that public money spent on roads and building supports UK contractors, manufacturing companies and workers, plus of course foreign workers, without whom agriculture, catering, hotels and construction would collapse. But they spend much of their hard-earned wages in the UK, so most of that money is recycled here.

    Are you a hard-working person owning a small car, on a small income, who has just received a flat tyre and damaged wheel as a result of going down a pot hole? Is this going to bang a big hole in your available budget for this week, as well as your tyre? You should be pleased, as your experience is a product of year-on -year local authority spending cuts, a direct result of Austerity, which has done so much for this country.

    Or are you a hard-working owner of a giant 4 x 4 SUV, whose resulting weekly energy consumption exceeds that of an African village?

    It’s so much fun driving through those Surrey lanes on my shortcut home from the M 25– but really need those big tyres — they just sail over all those pot holes! £500 a set ? Austerity ? Oh yes, stops those b….y councils wasting our hard-earned money!
    Good on George Osbourne ! They ought to get him back, to replace this disastrous May woman!

  5. derekthrower says:

    This is seemingly saying that he “was only following ze orders.” Gavin Barwell had an opportunity with the warnings of the Lakanal House Fire to make a principled decision to be ahead of the curve and so advance his own future political career. He didn’t have the foresight or political skill to do this. The complacency of his Party prejudice against public housing and his own political ambition not matched with accompanying talent will lead public perception of him. Most criticism of him will be unfair, but then again most criticism of all politicians if looked at objectively is unfair. Barwell for the first time in his political career is finding out what happens when the tide turns.

  6. derekthrower says:

    Can you simply blame austerity when someone receives a warning of an extreme risk, but fails to act urgently. The state is now acting accordingly only after a major disaster, but we are still in austerity. You call it scapegoating, I call it the public perception of responsibility.

    • It is not a matter of *blaming* austerity. But the consequences of seven years of a conscious effort to dismantle the state, undermine local authorities, diminish the NHS, de-staff the police and fire services, see the nation arrive at a point which Dickens surely recognise.

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