The absurd comedy of our nation’s political life has suddenly been offset by truly shocking revelations from the Grenfell Tower inquiry, says Paul Finch
The silly season seems to have started early this year, at least as far as newspaper headlines are concerned. Nothing so far has come close to my favourite headline of all time, from the News of the World in its glory years, when it relied on divorce court reporting rather than bugged celebrity mobiles. The headline in question meant you didn’t really have to read the deathless prose beneath it, produced by a reporter called Ron Mount (honestly): ‘Nudist businessman’s model wife fell for Chinese hypnotist from Co-op bacon factory’. In its broadsheet form, the NoW had the space to stack this headline in seven or eight decks.
Mr Mount, known on Fleet Street as ‘The Vicar’, because of his tendency to sermonise in his news stories, was on good form. Having described the evidence given in court, he then proceeded to give advice to the various protagonists, along the lines of ‘I say this: to the businessman, pay more attention to what your wife is doing; to the hypnotist, keep your hands to yourself’, and so on. Those were the days.
Just recently I loved the headlines surrounding Victoria Atkins, the minister responsible for drug control, whose husband runs a huge (legal) cannabis farm. You couldn’t make it up, as the columnist Richard Littlejohn is fond of saying. Given the brilliant television adaptation of John Preston’s book on the Jeremy Thorpe story, A Very English Scandal, we seem to be in a world of surreal events which would be scarcely credible in a novel. But it is all true.
I never had a high opinion of the Liberal Party, at least in its post-Lloyd George manifestation, and the Thorpe trial seemed to confirm that it really was a lost cause, a view subsequent history has done nothing to alter, because too many of its MPs seem to have been either very odd (conspiring to commit murder), seriously unsavoury (Clement Freud, Cyril Smith), or blessed with an extraordinary ability to generate convenient amnesia. This latter condition applies in spades to the party’s current leader, Vince Cable, who declared recently that he had ‘never been a big fan of referendums’.
This will have come as a surprise to BBC Radio’s Today audience, which will have recalled that the Liberals, and more recently LibDems, have demanded referendums on (a) EU membership – for several decades; (b) proportional representation; and (c) regional government. Since all three went the ‘wrong way’, it would have been more accurate for Mr Cable to say he was no longer a big fan, but hey, hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.
Any hilarity generated by watching the LibDems at work, particularly in the unelected House of Lords, where they have an absurd number of peers (98) for a party which last ruled the country in 1915, has suddenly been offset by the truly shocking revelations from the Grenfell Tower inquiry.
Now that we are beginning to get facts instead of grandstanding politicians, ‘community’ polemics, plus moronic input from ‘celebrities’ like Lily Allen, we can begin to understand the complexity facing Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his advisers. This is going to be a long and grim affair, and the headlines are only surreal in the sense that they scarcely seem possible: fire insulation that burns, fire doors that fail, windows not properly installed, disastrous advice to residents from the fire service and so on. The management performance of Kensington & Chelsea in respect of management and procurement will almost be an inquiry in itself.
As for fire brigade advice to resident in similar blocks to stay put in the event of a fire, one can only hope that this follows extensive inspections of said blocks. No doubt we will see headlines telling us one way or the other.