CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from the Sunday papers.

1. Wake up and smell the burning rubber, Mr Cable and Mr Clegg (Observer)

However the Lib Dems present themselves in the future, it can't be as the party that will always keep its promises, writes Andrew Rawnsley.

2. The generals may be angry - but doctors and nurses aren't (Sunday Telegraph)

The coalition's speed and focus may yet be rewarded politically as well as financially, says Matthew d'Ancona.

3. History will see these cuts as one of the great acts of political folly (Observer)

George Osborne's plans will be in tatters when global economic war erupts, writes Will Hutton.

4. Relax -- these cuts are just a scratch (Sunday Times) (£)

But elsewhere, Dominic Lawson say that, at least in nominal terms, spending is not being cut at all.

5. Middle England is sacrificed for symbolism (Sunday Telegraph)

The Tories are alienating the hard-working, self-respecting people the economy needs most, argues Janet Daley.

6. Obama's right where he wants to be -- losing big (Sunday Times) (£)

Victory for the Republicans in the mid-term will allow Obama to call the right's bluff on debt, says Andrew Sullivan.

7. Greener living comes at a price (Independent on Sunday)

Energy bills need to rise but the coalition may struggle to protect the poor, warns an editorial in the Independent on Sunday.

8. Why are we letting business big shots alter our society? (Observer)

John Browne appears to have given no thought to higher education until he was asked to revolutionise it, says Catherine Bennett.

9. Crumbling America has a $2.2 trillion repair bill (Independent on Sunday)

Recession and a shift to the right have put big infrastructure projects in jeopardy, writes Rupert Cornwell.

10. We still won't face the consequences of immigration (Sunday Telegraph)

The coalition is still in denial over the social consequences of immigration, says Alasdair Palmer.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496