Lord Barwell, Theresa May’s former chief of staff, has admitted that he was one of those who “got the call wrong” on the Grenfell Tower fire and gave Theresa May poor advice not to visit the site immediately afterwards.
“We let her down quite badly… she should have gone on that first day,” Barwell said last night, adding “the advice she got from the police was concerned about the security situation there and so the view was ‘we shouldn’t go’. That was clearly a mistake.” The former prime Minister was heavily criticised in 2017 for failing to meet residents in the aftermath of the fire that killed 72 people in North Kensington on June 14. May arrived on June 15 and spoke only to security and emergency services.
At an Institute for Government event off the Mall, Barwell, who made his maiden speech in the Lords yesterday, explained that May has since been working hard on her relationship with survivors to repair the damage caused by her initial mistakes.
“There is a lot of work Theresa May did behind the scenes with the various survivors groups that has slowly rebuilt her relationship,” he explained, “but it took her a lot of work to get back to that position.” Barwell conceded “we badly advised her”.
May herself admitted that she had made a mistake, writing in this paper in 2018: “I will always regret that by not meeting them that day it seemed as though I didn’t care.” Earlier in the evening, her former chief of staff had explained how part of his job involved telling the prime minister things she didn’t want to hear.
He was the official who could “go into the room and say, ‘Look, Prime Minister, no one wants to say this to you because you’re not going to like it but this is the unanimous view of your officials and political advisers.’” Perhaps the lesson here is that Ministers should sometimes ignore their advisers and trust their gut.
Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s powerful chief of staff, predicts Dominic Cummings’s exit from No 10 this year. “When you put yourself front and centre... you do end up like Rasputin in the River Neva in chains,” he says. Powell acknowledges “radical change” is needed in Whitehall but feels Cummings’s efforts at a shake-up were likely to be “counterproductive” — pointing to trouble during Cummings’s spell at the Department for Education.“Simply attacking... doesn’t achieve that much,” Powell says, although that strategy did just help the Tories win a landslide at the general election.
Blockbuster 1917 was stopped in its tracks by birds. Location manager Emma Pill told website Vulture the crew couldn’t dismantle a barn in Wiltshire because “swallows and wagtails had decided it was a perfect environment to nest”. They had to wait till the birds left. “They’re going to turn up next year and go, ‘Hang on a minute, where’s our barn?’” says Pill.
Provocateur Toby Young berates liberal snowflakes but now has one at home. “My daughter started university in September and returned for Christmas, to my annoyance, a vegan” he told a How To Academy talk. “She told me that university is absolutely full of them.” Guess they don’t like gammon.
Barber makes the Hollywood cut
Little Women was nominated for six Academy Awards yesterday, which will delight one happy dad — Financial Times editor Lionel Barber, whose son Dash stars in the costume drama. Dash plays Fred Vaughn, a hopeful suitor to Oscar-nominated Florence Pugh’s Amy. “Proud father gives two thumbs up to Little Women” wrote Lionel on Twitter. Lionel is departing the FT in the next few weeks after 15 years in the editor’s chair, to be replaced by his deputy, Roula Khalaf. Perhaps a twilight career as stage dad for Dash beckons.
BBC gender pay victor at writers award ceremony
Samira Ahmed, Helen Lederer and Paula Wilcox brought a touch of class to the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Awards last night. Ahmed, fresh from her BBC equal pay victory, rubbed shoulders with hosts Katy Brand and Sandi Toksvig at the Royal College of Physicians. Brand told the audience she “enjoyed the immense throb of talent in the room”.
Over in New York, Hugh Grant joined his co-stars Charlie Hunnam and Matthew McConaughey to promote their film The Gentleman. Grant admitted “it was lovely” to play a bad guy again. “I find myself increasingly drawn to and comfortable in revolting roles, the more revolting the better,” he told an Australian news website. There’s another role Grant’s adapting to as well — he’s a new father at the age of 59. “I am trying to be a young father in an old man’s body,” he said.
“It’s rough,” he joked. “I don’t get to go and play golf anymore, and it’s completely knackering.”
Dawn Butler, who yesterday made it onto the ballot paper for Labour’s deputy leadership, tweeted about the racist abuse online she endures daily. “I will not be cowed from putting my head above the parapet. I will encourage females to get involved in politics.” She later told ITV that experiences of people of colour were “often undervalued” and that “you have to work twice as hard to be recognised”.
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran thinks they should “truly bury the hatchet with the Labour Party”, advising both parties need to stop campaigning against each other in certain seats. Good luck with that.
BORIS Johnson tried to echo Tony Blair at the reopening of Stormont yesterday. “Never mind the hand of history on my shoulder, I see the hand of the — the hand of history — No! — I see the hand of the future! I see the hand of the future beckoning us all. Forward,” he said. How Churchillian.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
'I've already offered to go up Big Ben myself, ably assisted by Bill Cash'
Enthusiastic MP Mark Francois after it was deemed too expensive to mark Brexit on January 31 by ringing Big Ben