We’re currently drowning in comment on the Grenfell Tower fire, much of it ill-informed and downright malicious. Some of it’s down to social media – what was once a casual remark over a pint is now launched chaotically into cyberspace gaining energy and traction with every “like” and “retweet”. Some of it’s down to lazy and politically motivated journalism that has little real interest in the safety and wellbeing of the kind of people who live in tower blocks.
Something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. The scale of the tragedy dwarfs that of Ronan Point (1968), the last comparable event in this country. The death toll seems likely to match that of the Bradford Stadium fire (1985). The event, the allegations of incompetence and the inadequate response would seem more at place in systemically corrupt third world country than modern London.
Like most people, I’m not qualified to comment of the cause of the fire, why it spread so quickly or why people couldn’t or didn’t get out.
There are clearly questions to be asked about the adequacy, implementation and oversight of building standards; ditto fire safety. These must wait for the outcome of the investigation, although there’s clearly a need to start reviewing the safety of similar buildings – action that can’t wait for the outcome of any enquiry.
It may also be time to ask questions about the balance of power between large wealthy construction companies and small cash-strapped local authorities.
Then there are all the other questions.
There’s been a lot of criticism of way Kensington and Chelsea’s have responded – or failed to respond to the incident.
All local authorities have contingency plans for all kinds of emergencies. LBKC must have them – a city size of Greater London must have them. Something on this scale must, at the very least, involve a joint response from a range of statutory and voluntary bodies.
We’re not surprised to see church halls opening their doors or the RVS (WVS) spring into action, so why should criticize the authorities for involving the Red Cross, who, after all, have relevant experience and expertise. The only question is whether this should have been done sooner, with the option for them to be stood down if they weren’t needed. Perhaps the PR message of the plucky amateur plays better than the skilled professional.
What I don’t understand is why the Mayor of Greater London isn’t throwing his weight and resources into the support effort rather than standing on the sidelines criticising. If this had been a bomb or an aircraft flying into the side of the building, he’d be there like a shot.
There’s also been a lot of personal criticism of Theresa May. Some of this may be fair, although you have to ask why any shortcomings at government level are not being held to be the responsibility of the Government as a whole and, indeed, the civil servants and others whose job it is to advise on and implement any response.
She’s also been criticized for not talking to victims (although she has) and for not showing enough emotion – for not being an emotional enough person to be Prime Minister. This is despite the very many accounts of a clearly compassionate response in other situations over the years and, as reported in today’s papers (presumably due to an editorial oversight) her very real response to the victims she met – people who were there say that she welled-up with tears.
You know what? People are different. Some people just don’t do public demonstrations of emotion – it may be generational, it may be cultural – it may just be how they are. It seems to me that Theresa May is being criticized for not bursting into tears in front of the cameras. That may demonstrate a failure of PR skills, but it doesn’t demonstrate a lack of compassion.
Meanwhile, on the ground, ordinary people have rallied round to provide victims with food, clothing and offers of shelter. Below the line, people are not buying the political point scoring and the relentless attack on a single individual. Like I said, people are different.
Image: Microsoft Clip Art