Let’s get it straight, the minute ministers and senior government staff were drawn into the frame, the Grenfell inquiry was set up to be the sop its critics claim it to be.
Without wider scrutiny of social housing policy, the Grenfell inquiry is little more than another turn in the spin cycle that gets government away clean.
On current terms, the inquiry will uncover little that could not be evidenced by a properly resourced police or health and safety investigation.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the inquiry is to tether scapegoats.
But what if witnesses from Kensington and Chelsea Council, Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation and the various contractors broke free to be candid – in evidence – about the policies and stipulations they were working to?
Admittedly that would take the guts they’ve yet to show, but with little to lose given the hammering they’ve had, such witnesses could nail the inquiry to examining social housing policy – as driven from the top.
Instead, government offers us Alok Sharma – the sixth housing minister since 2010 and a consistent voter for cutting housing related benefits – to “personally meet and hear from as many social housing tenants as possible both in the immediate area around Grenfell Tower, but also across the country, to help build up a comprehensive picture of some of the immediate issues facing tenants.”
There’s little point calling Sharma to the inquiry.
But his predecessors should feel its sharp end.
That’s Gavin Barwell, chief of staff to the prime minister, who refused even to acknowledge questions about ‘sitting on’ a review of building regulations at tower blocks that uncovered serious safety failings following Lakanal House.
A report that successive ministers have said they’ve been ‘looking at’ since 2013.
That’s Brandon Lewis, who was told improving the regulations would damage the rate of housebuilding and passed responsibility to the ‘fire industry’ rather than the government.
Then there’s former communities secretary, Eric Pickles, knighted in 2015, urged by the Lakanal coroner to take action – and did so to reject the retro fitting of sprinklers and calls for landlords to provide more information to aid firefighters.
Stephen Williams… James Wharton…
If the public inquiry element of Grenfell is to mean anything at all it has to examine the political application of social housing policy.
And, if they had anything about them, the politicians drawn into issues around the disaster would be volunteering to give evidence.
Policy put tenants into Grenfell Tower.
And policy means at least 88 never came out.