Labour suggests Theresa May may have to go "back to the drawing board" on Fiona Woolf. Photo: Getty
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What is the Labour party's view of Fiona Woolf's position?

"Theresa May has totally failed".

The pressure is mounting on Fiona Woolf, chair of the inquiry into historic child sex abuse allegations, to step down. Victims' groups are expected to tell officials running the inquiry that they would like Woolf to resign. The groups, including the NSPCC, which has so far declined to outright oppose or back Woolf, are meeting representatives of the inquiry today.

Woolf is under such fire both because of her lack of experience in child abuse cases and close links to Lord Brittan, having attended dinner parties with him. Brittan was the Home Secretary when ministers at his department were handed the infamous dossier on alleged high-profile child abusers. The letter Woolf sent to the Home Secretary Theresa May about her links to the Brittans was rewritten seven times, according to the chair of the Home Affairs select committee Keith Vaz, who claims later versions of the letter express "a sense of greater detachment" between Woolf and Brittan.

But what is Labour's reaction to the idea that the second chair of this inquiry should stand down? So far, the party – aside from individual MPs involved in the story, such as Simon Danczuk – has not gone so far as to call for Woolf's resignation. However, it is clear that there are some differing opinions on the matter among the shadow cabinet, as the shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint said a couple of weeks ago, "I just don't think at this stage it's viable that she's the person that leads this and takes it forward."

The shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper criticises her opposite number's approach to the situation, and suggests that if she doesn't fix the problem "immediately" then she may have to "go back to the drawing board". Her statement suggests Labour is inching closer to calling for Woolf's resignation:

Months after she first announced her inquiry into child abuse, Theresa May has totally failed to get it off the ground. Why has it taken her over a week to meet with victims groups who raise concerns about the suitability of Fiona Woolf? She should have done this immediately.

This child abuse inquiry is really important but it will completely fail if no one has confidence in it - and particularly if victims do not trust it. It won't work if there is a perception that information has been covered up. Nor will it work if there are continual unanswered questions.

Theresa May urgently needs to show her appointed chair and expert panel have the independence, impartiality and credibility with victims to take forward this incredibly important work.

If this isn't finally sorted out immediately as a result of the meetings with victims this week, Theresa May will need to go back to the drawing board. We are badly risking the whole inquiry failing before it has even started.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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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.

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