Social housing tenants were viewed by some in the Conservative party as “second class citizens”, Theresa May has said, reflecting on the Grenfell Tower fire.
The former prime minister has said the disaster unfolded because action was not taken despite the tenants raising concerns for years about the safety of their building.
May explores the 2017 inferno at Grenfell Tower that took 72 lives, in her memoir, The Abuse Of Power, alongside other examples including the unlawful killing of the 97 football fans who died as a result of a crush in the stands at Sheffield’s Hillsborough football stadium, and bullying and sexual predation at Westminster.
Describing what she believes went wrong, she told Nick Robinson’s Political Thinking podcast: “I fear that over the years, we have allowed a situation to occur. And yes, you know, there’s some party politics here.
“I think some in the Conservative party would have particularly taken this view … that somehow those who were in social housing, were not as economically dynamic, not as willing to be out there working and improving themselves.
“I’ve used the phrase that in some senses, there were some people who sort of saw them as second class citizens. And these were people like any others who had families who were working hard to bring up their families who had formed a very tight community.”
A year after the disaster, May apologised for not visiting families in the immediate aftermath of the fire. At the time she cited security concerns for her inability to do so for two days.
In an interview with Grenfell Speaks, a social media news channel, on the eve of the first anniversary of the fire, May said: “I am sorry for not having met them then. I regret that because I think people perhaps felt they wanted those of us in power to know that we had understood and recognised what had happened, and perhaps felt that not meeting them immediately meant that I didn’t care, and that was never the case.”
Asked why she apologised again in her book, May told the podcast: “I think people at the time said I should have done it. And I think if a politician comes to the view later that actually they’ve not done the right thing.
“They haven’t done what they should have done, that we should be prepared to say that I’m prepared to own up to that.”
The former prime minister said her background as home secretary and the fact that she had dealt with terrorist incidents in that role, was a key issue in stopping her from meeting the families immediately.
In the same interview, May said her Brexit deal would have been better for the country, as it took into account the concerns of the close result in which 48% of the nation wanted to remain within the European Union.
“I always took the view that the Brexit referendum [was] tight – 48% had voted remain – and therefore I wanted to deliver a Brexit that recognised the concerns of the 48%.
“And that was the deal I believe I negotiated. But what I saw in the House of Commons as we went through … the hardline Brexiteers and the hardline remainers who wanted a second referendum and just wanted to stay in, were increasingly trying to find ways to thwart a deal that I think would have been better because it wouldn’t have given either side 100% of what they wanted, but it would have given the country a better overall deal.”
She added: “I’m sorry I didn’t get my deal through, but I’m afraid I do still think that the deal negotiated was a better deal than the one we ended up with.”