John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: July 6, 2017 Last modified: July 6, 2017

Do you think it’s alright?
The Grenfell Tower disaster has exposed the corrupt heart of private capital in “social” housing. It has also exposed, if more evidence is needed, the corruption at the heart of the honours system. Just one example is the award last year of the Medal to Fay Edwards for “services to the community”. She is chairman of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) which oversaw Grenfell Tower on behalf of the council. She was nominated a “local hero” in the New Year’s honours list by none other than Robert Black, the chief executive of KCTMO who praised her leadership which had won “the respect of both residents and the local council”. Never mind that KCTMO had already been accused of a string of safety failures which had turned the block into a catastrophe waiting to happen. Mrs Williams sat on the tender panel when at least one of the refurbishment contracts was awarded, possibly with disastrous results. It may be invidious to single her out here – there are many alleged villains in this tragic tale – but her case does highlight the hubristic, crooked and commercially incestuous nature of the honours system.

Happy Jack
Talking of chief executive Robert Black, KCTMO may be a “not-for-profit” organisation, but ex-Grenfell residents claim that in the last seven years he has raked in more than £1 million, not least from a gold-plated local government pension. You really couldn’t make it up.

Join together
Trevor Phillips, in the immediate aftermath of the “lone wolf” terrorist attack outside the Finchley Park mosque, warned of the fragmentation of urban societies, mainly along cultural lines. “Citizens of everywhere welcome immigration, support gay marriage, and speak of Donald Trump in tones dripping contempt. Those left behind by globalisation are infuriated by the implication that, by not bursting out into Kumbaya at each wave of immigration, they are bigots; they are baffled by the effort expended by the chattering classes on working out who can use a gender-neutral toilet.” He also harked back to, perhaps, happier times: “In my earlier days at the Commission for Racial Equality I met a group of elderly Asian women on an Edinburgh estate who had, after a period of suspicion and hostility, made friends with their white working class neighbours. I asked what had made the difference. ‘Easy,’ said one woman, adjusting her sari. ‘When we had the chance to talk about our families we discovered that we had the most important thing in common. All our sons had married the wrong woman’.”

Behind blue eyes
Theresa May’s panicky reshuffle prompted some classic political quotes. “My being in Theresa May’s Cabinet is about as likely as me being Bradford City’s star signing for next season,” said Michal Gove, hours before being appointed Environment Secretary. And sacked minister Robert Halfon said: “If we don’t change, it wouldn’t matter if we had Alexander the Great or the Archangel Gabriel as leader …we face the wilderness.”

Fiddle about
More evidence of the internal Tory election campaign omnishambles emerged with the revelation that the two cabinet ministers responsible for social care were only informed of plans for the dementia tax just hours before it was announced in the Conservatives’ election manifesto. Communities Secretary Sajid Javid and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt were told less than 24 hours before the launch. Costs of residential and domiciliary care were to be taken from the estates of pensioners bar a final £100,000. But it proved so controversial that the proposal was changed within four days. Theresa May embarked on a hasty retreat after Tory candidates complained that the policy was hugely unpopular. She said that an unspecified cap, which she described as an “absolute limit”, would be imposed on care costs. Now BBC Two’s Newsnight has been told that Hunt and Javid were informed of the proposal for the manifesto at a late hour because future social care policy was being examined in the Cabinet Office rather than in their departments. Ben Gummer, the then Cabinet Office minister who was co-author of the manifesto, was taking the lead in drawing up a Green Paper on social care due for publication later this year. It is understood that the proposal to preserve a maximum of £100,000 in estates of pensioners who need residential and domiciliary social care had been examined in great detail ahead of the Green Paper. The cap was due to be included but was still being examined. Cabinet ministers were consulted extensively in other areas of the manifesto. But ministers were only shown the whole document shortly before its launch in Halifax and 20 minutes before the media.

The acid queen
Former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Portillo described Theresa May’s visit to the Grenfell tower disaster site as one in which “she wanted an entirely controlled situation in which she didn’t use her humanity”. On BBC’s This Week he went on to say that she is not going to be prime minister for very much longer and he’d be surprised if she made it through to the autumn conference. He described her as “a proven loser”.

You better you bet
With the bookies putting Damien Green on 25-1 to succeed Theresa May, some pundits point to his 1992 track record in defeating May and a certain David Cameron as Tory candidate for Ashford. Clearly this was an early push for world domination. Anyone over 40 remembers the son of the AntiChrist, Damien, in the Omen films. And Del Boy’s son in Only Fools and Horses. Mind you, the Tories could do worse … and have.

Substitute
Former ministers Sir Vince Cable, Sir Ed Davey and Norman Lamb thought long and hard about contesting the Liberal Democrat leadership following the resignation of Tim Farron. Another former minister, Jo Swinson, originally the bookies’ favourite to take the poisoned chalice, has opted to take the Deputy Leader’s post.

Be lucky
Glad to hear that Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin, stripped of his knighthood after he presided over the Royal Bank of Scotland meltdown which left thousands of investors bereft and millions of taxpayers footing the £46 billion bill, has achieved membership of the Archerfield Links golf course outside Edinburgh. Cost of debenture was £30,000 and annual fees are £2,700. But don’t worry, he can afford it – his annual pension alone is £343,000. And, happily, the High Court has dropped a hearing into claims that he and others duped shareholders into investing £12 billion in a failing enterprise after the RSB offered an out-of-court settlement of £1.1 billion including fees. Not everyone is happy about that but, what the hell, at least his golf handicap it being reduced.

Let’s see action
Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) is to join Schroders, BlackRock, Pictet Asset Management and Newton Investment Management by signing up to the code of transparency created for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). Shadow work and pensions secretary Alex Cunningham said: “This is good news but the Government needs to deliver transparency across the whole industry – hidden costs and charges erode savers’ pensions and the Government must take action.”

About John Street

John Street is Tribune's diary columnist.