Theresa May should be cut some slack

Theresa May should be cut some slack

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Tuesday 20, June, 2017

ONE OF the most powerful defining moments in the our relations with the poor and vulnerable is taking shape in London.  The fire at Grenfell Tower has claimed many lives and the events leading up to it are being moulded by left wing extremists and Pollyanna journalists alike, as a symbol of the Tory government's austerity economics.

The government in turn is making a hash of the so-called optics of the situation and has done perishingly little beyond organising emergency funds and ordering the inevitable perpetual public inquiry that will of course blame no one but the system because that is what they do.

"Arrest some men and seize some houses" is the cry of Corbyn, drooling at the prospect of civil unrest and the violence it would bring to London. I despair of just how poor politics in London has now become. It is the tale of two cities, two very different Londons, jostling for air let alone voice in the most crowded borough of London.

There are many angry folk, the whole body politic is a jury of angry men and women. A jury of angry men can easily hang a boy in the grip of the moment. Like the 1957 film, 12 Angry Men, what we desperately need now is a credible opposition, a credible media and an eighth juror.

Someone who assumes no guilt until it is proven. The Bow Group is working on an objective view of the evidence so far and how we can act quickly so we can find the answers as a nation. We do, as Jo Cox said, have more in common.

I'm going to risk making a few points in advance that will hopefully reset the narrative that is now acting against those living in such housing and not for them.

The first is to challenge that austerity is to blame, that cuts to services caused the fire. It is obvious that no cause can be determined until an accident investigation is carried out and that requires the building made safe and the deceased removed with dignity.

Grenfell had recently had flammable plastic cladding attached to improve energy efficiency and aesthetics. Neither reason should be vilified. We all benefit from aesthetic cities in a myriad ways and reducing heating bills for residents was not ignoble in intent.

Nontheless, millions were spent on plastic panels instead of sprinklers to meet 2020 climate targets. They were signed off by many authorities responsible for safety. Spending over £8m pounds on aesthetic insulation is not austere. If anything it is largesse, though clearly badly spent.

Secondly there was apparently no law requiring sprinklers in the tower, or thousands like it UK wide. This has always been the case and both governing parties ever since the tower was built share this blame. It is worth pointing out there was nothing stopping the council installing them anyway. Nothing stopped housing ministers continually delaying reviewing safety regulation either.

In a democracy do we really rest upon the minimum the law requires of our service providers or do we push for more? Did anyone ever campaign for sprinklers? Did the new MP for the area in her previous role overseeing the management of borough property – including Grenfell Tower – ever call for them?

I don't know. I do know that almost every state actor involved has been silent. That's disgraceful and I hope the lot, from each party, are slung out next time. No councillor has done their borough a service this week.

Thirdly, how did we get here? How did local government become so hollowed-out that only a select few in a cabinet make decisions that are then outsourced to some semi-detached almost private body that wrap buildings reported as fire hazards in plastic? How are public contracts procured and how is planning permission granted to local authority bodies by themselves? Can I suggest this all smacks of dodgy self-certification and that it has been a broken system for years?

Finally where are all these empty apartments Corbyn wants to seize? Would it not be better to simply ask everyone in London to open their doors if they have a spare room, even for a week or two? Assuming 500 people need rehoused, is this really a big ask for a city of this size given it has grown by one million people in 1 year? Is it really so far rom the weekly turnover of council house tenants in a city this size? We didn't seize homes for 2,000 Syrian refugees or 300,000 net migrants to the UK last year, many of whom are already in social housing of some kind.

As an eighth juror I am going to conclude in the first instance a Prime Minister less than a year in office did not cause this or contribute to it. Let's face it, she has the persona of Alan Partridge, the grace of Norman Wisdom and the touch of Frank Spencer. She's awful on camera, a charicature alongside General Cheeseburger and Sid Snot. Cameron was the heir to Blair but May is Kenny Everett playing Mrs Hardbroom. Appearances and optics matter as the Queen learned 20 years ago following the death of Diana.

This makes her a focus for all the wrong reasons. The truth is we have awful politicians and a terrible view of social housing, there to house other people away from us. Our government is bad on camera but away from the optics it has provided emergency funding, dealing with forming a minority government, holding the union together while Celtic nationalists try to wreak havoc with it, negotiate the largest political change in Europe since the war, deal with terrorists home and abroad.

Give the girl SOME slack! I am not a fan. Her attitude to her party members, candidates and general approach to policy making is as awful as it is consistent. Most of us on the liberal right knew exactly what we were getting. I don't think she will last long because she has not made herself likeable by those not already slavishly loyal.

That does not mean in the circumstances she is doing so bad a job. If we see it another way she is the only party leader really trying to restore rule to Stormont. I haven't heard the DUP, Sinn Fein or any Westminster leader make any effort of note in this field.

We actually for a season broke the momentum of the SNP, and increased funding to Scotland, and shut down a second referendum, and of course won seats in the general election and stopped the SNP controlling the four largest cities in Scotland on their own.

Immigration is down following the referendum. Housing Grenfell residents under Corbyn's migration policy would be much harder.

The economy is for now quite steady.

ISIS is slowly being hacked back and the UK has held its nerve against both the EU on refugee policy and the US on the Paris Agreement which has to be recognised as sincere and effective.

We are seeing how the PM is really not a leader. As a manager, however, she is far more competent. Corbyn is quite the reverse. We in the Bow Group will produce some hard hitting suggestions very soon but if I were in such a terrible situation I would prefer the cool handshake of a starchy professional to the warm embrace of a madman.

Damage control interventions are what is needed, not rhetoric and riots that stretch public services even further.


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