Political editor WALTER CRONXITE on the continuing interrogation of senior Tory government figures over their inaction and incompetence
Is it possible that Gavin Barwell, one of a string of Tory housing ministers who before the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy failed to act on a series of warnings about fires in residential tower blocks, might have had to “help the police with their enquiries”?
It does not take much reading between the lines to consider that to be a real possibility if you take a look at a parliamentary written question submitted yesterday by Steve Reed OBE, the Labour MP for Croydon North.
Reed has been very busy on behalf of his tower block-dwelling constituents, trying to weedle out of the government some honest answers regarding the fire safety status of the cladding on their homes, and to get the government or their landlords to pay for the removal of potentially lethal flammable cladding.
Two years on from the Grenfell fire, in which 72 men, women and children died, the disaster was the focus of the House of Commons during this week’s Prime Minister’s Question Time, including a rather pointed intervention from shadow housing minister Sarah Jones, the Labour MP for Croydon Central.
Jones highlighted the fact that in the four years before the Grenfell fire Barwell and two other government housing ministers – Eric Pickles and the LibDem Stephen Williams – managed to ignore warnings about flammable cladding despite the recommendations of a judge following the inquest into the 2009 Lakanal House fire – in which six were killed – and 21 letters from their parliamentary colleagues.
Yesterday, Reed added to the interrogation with this somewhat leading question:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whether any (a) current and (b) former Ministers in his Department have been questioned under caution by the Metropolitan Police in connection with the Grenfell Tower fire.”
According to a Westminster insider, “That’s not the sort of question you put out there unless you’ve had a steer that there’s been something going on.
“Remember what Rumpole of the Bailey always used to say: ‘Only ask a question when you already know the answer’.”
The egregiously ambitious Barwell, as our loyal reader will know, lost his Croydon Central parliamentary seat, and therefore the job as housing minister, as a result of the 2017 General Election.
His reward for failure was to be handed a cushty £150,000 a year job as Theresa May’s chief of staff in Downing Street.
The notion that someone working at the heart of government in No10 might be under investigation by the police, requiring questioning under caution, for some part in the events which led to the horrific Grenfell Tower fire may just explain the bitterly dark look on Prime Minister May’s face when she responded on Wednesday to Jones’s question about the negligence of successive housing ministers.
The answer to Reed’s latest question will be eagerly awaited.
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