14 Jul 2014

Theresa May on Butler-Sloss

If Baroness Butler-Sloss came to the conclusion that her relationship to her brother meant she couldn’t chair the investigation into child abuse why couldn’t the Home Office see that?

That was a question asked in various ways of the Home Secretary Theresa May today at the home affairs select committee.

Her answer was carefully phrased, somewhat opaque and, as is her wont, relentlessly repeated. She’ll have to find a more direct voice if she wants to steal the crown of party leadership one day.

Of course, she said repeatedly, “it was known” that Lord Havers, the former Attorney General, was Baroness Butler-Sloss’s brother (not clear in that wording if “it was known” to Theresa May herself). Her decision on appointing Baroness Butler-Sloss though was based on whether she was a figure of integrity and not (by implication though not explicitly stated) what she might consider extraneous material.

Every time Theresa May was asked to address why the Home Office hadn’t avoided this mess and a failed appointment, she ducked and hid behind Elizabeth Butler-Sloss’s awesome and widely acclaimed integrity.

One Whitehall hand suggested what we’d seen here with the Butler-Sloss appointment saga was a symptom of the Home Office juggling too many things at the same time and dropping one – delayed passports, data retention, the loss of a special adviser in addition to the child abuse allegations.

Many have talked about the haste involved in the appointment, maybe in part dictated by the desire to get a name of an investigation chief out there before the department’s permanent secretary appeared in front of the home affairs select committee last week.

One source speculated to me that the strained relationship between No. 10 and the home secretary may have contributed to the mess. The home secretary keeps things “very tight” in a small circle of trustees, the source said. “There is dialogue between no. 10 and the Home Office but it is as little as possible,” allowing for misunderstandings to arise.

Whoever was meant to do the due diligence may have rushed the job, not flagged stuff up or been over-ruled. It certainly wasn’t difficult to do. You only have to go six lines into Baroness Butler-Sloss’s Wikipedia entry to see who her brother was and that should’ve triggered a couple more searches and at least a giant question mark.


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