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