On the day that a south London block of flats with inadequate fire safety measures was destroyed by a blaze, it has been confirmed that former housing minister Gavin Barwell is to be made a peer for his services to arslikhan. Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports
It is entirely fitting for the wretched resignation honours of Theresa Mayhem, one of Britain’s greatest failures as Prime Minister, that they should include a knighthood for a cricketer twice convicted for assaulting a woman, alongside a peerage for the man who after writing How To Win A Marginal Seat promptly managed to lose his marginal seat.
As long predicted, Tory politician Gavin Barwell, having lost his Croydon Central seat in 2017 and having been made redundant as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff in 2019, is now to be sent to the House of Lords.
There, the £305 per day, plus travel expenses and subsidised restaurant facilities, should soften the blow of his losing his £150,000 Downing Street salary in the Brexit-induced collapse of the May government.
The honours system has long been discredited, but the list produced by May as she crawls from the wreckage of her failed administration can only make reasonable people regard such trinkets with even greater disdain. It is the longest resignation honours list since Harold Wilson’s notorious “Lavender List” nearly 50 years ago.
As much as anything, the former Prime Minister’s resignation honours can be characterised as rewards for failure, with the knighthood for cricketer Geoffrey Boycott likely to raise the greatest number of eyebrows and earn the most headlines.
“Sir Geoffrey”, as the arrogant Yorkshireman has enjoyed being called only half-jokingly since his playing days, finally gets an official knighthood some 21 years after the former England cricketer’s second conviction for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, a factor which deterred previous cricket-loving PMs, and the Queen, from ever being seen to condone his behaviour with such an honour.
But then, with a few notable exceptions, the rest of May’s list is largely made up of lickspittles and time-servers, loyal Conservative bag-carriers and journeymen, including many who have spent most of their lives passing off their own self-interest as public service.
In total, there are 60 baubles and gongs to be doled out, with 11 of them going to Tory MPs, MEPs, MSPs, or (like Barwell) former MPs.
And there’s even a peerage for John Mann, the former Labour MP and Corbyn-baiter who last week announced he was to become the Conservative Government’s adviser on anti-semitism.
These are the honours which offer little cause to celebrate or congratulate.
Barwell’s name appears among a host of his former, and failed, colleagues from No10 Downing Street.
They include Ollie Robbins, who is made Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (nothing to do with Marks and Spencer, sadly) “for public service” for his grand job of being the chief negotiator for exiting the European Union. And he’s just landed a lucrative job with Goldman Sachs. Cushty!
There’s a knighthood for Robbie Gibb, the comms director alongside Barwell in No10, a job Gibb was given after spending a decade allowing the BBC’s political programmes to give a platform to Farage and make a case for Brexit. There’s CBEs for Fiona Hill and Nicholas Timothy, Barwell’s predecesors as May’s chiefs of staff, who were responsible for advising May to call that snap General Election in 2017.
And there’s a flurry of lesser gongs for various SPADS, though notably nothing for any of Barwell’s Croydon clique, such as Mario Creatura and former Woolworths store manager Jason Cummings, who have got nothing lately apart from their P45s.
Barwell’s peerage – Lord Barwell of Sanderstead? – is unlikely to take him out of the spotlight of scrutiny over his inaction when housing minister to implement recommendations for fire safety measures which might have prevented or at least reduced the death toll from the Grenfell fire two years ago.
Yesterday’s devastating blaze at the Hamptons in Worcester Park – again, where the use of flammable building materials increased the fire risk and the damage caused, but thankfully where no one was killed – is sure to see many of the same questions raised.
Given the government’s refusal to issue a clear denial, it seems very likely that Barwell has indeed been interviewed under caution by the police over his failure to act ahead of the Grenfell fire.
His relationship with other developers since then was equally as questionable.
The sentencing last week of coke-head multi-millionaire Martin Skinner for reckless driving ought to have caused Barwell some discomfort as he awaited the announcement of his peerage.
Skinner was an enthusiastic supporter of Barwell as the local MP, and the politician reciprocated with glowing praise for a builder whose developments in Croydon received massive public subsidies through the Tories’ Help To Buy scheme.
Using Permitted Development – another Tory housing wheeze to help their developer chums – Skinner was allowed to build hundreds of the “slums of the future”, including one block in which Skinner’s Inspired Developments actively removed one fire escape in order to increase his profit margins.
The peerage does, at least, end any continuing speculation that Barwell might seek a safe Conservative seat to make a return to the House of Commons.
In that respect, at least, his political career is consigned to what Trotsky called “the dustbin of history”. There is, though, a strong suggestion that going to the Lords was an option forced on Barwell when no local Conservative Association was willing to take him on as their parliamentary candidate. After two years alongside May, who will be remembered as one of this country’s worst-ever Prime Ministers, Barwell was too much like damaged goods, even for Home Counties Tories.
Armed with ermine, and the false dignity it can convey, together with his parliamentary contacts book, it will be a useful exercise in the coming months to note how Barwell supplements his income with lucrative directorships from companies seeking influence in Westminster’s corridors of power.
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