If we do not learn immediately that politicking with tragedy is beneath contempt then we are heading for a truly dark place where no limits apply and a free for all, at the expense of innocent,victims is the norm.
Like many people in Britain,and all over the world, I have found it almost impossible not to follow the news in the last 48hrs. The tragedy of Grenfell Tower is deeply shocking and of the type that we hoped was no longer possible. Perhaps naively, it seemed that the days of mass casualties from a building fire were long gone. Although fire, and its dreadful consequences, will always be with us, modern building techniques, fire prevention standards and procedures to deal with emergencies, had seemed to minimise both the number of such fires and the havoc they cause. Wrong.
However, one thing that has proven true is that the combination of demand driven media and the lowering of moral standards in how we conduct our politics, has led to a very disturbing habit, that of instant politicisation of even the gravest disaster. Within hours, of the blaze being reported, lazy assumption were being made, reported and exacerbated across all forms of media available to our modern, connected society. Council cuts and austerity were blame, gentrification was to blame, criminal profiteering was to blame, EU regulations were to blame, Theresa May was to blame, Sadiq Khan was to blame, Boris Johnson was to blame, the cladding company was to blame, building companies were to blame and governments since 1999 were to blame. All this within 48 hrs and all based on snippets of information taken on faith and outside any context whatsoever.
It is one thing for victims, relatives, residents and others affected to be grief striken and furious at such a catastrophic chain of events. This is natural, totally understandable and absolutely right. It is quite another thing for those in the media, politics, activism or groups of interested parties to be whipping up both a storm of protest and offering trite part solutions to problems that may not have had any part to play or may have been only loosly connected.
Jeremy Corbyn had linked the fire to local authority cuts and inequality in the UK within a few hours. This lead to a general outcry that no-one cared about the tower or its residents because they were poor not rich. Various interest groups then jumped on this wagon and attempted to blame, or at least find guilty by omission, just about any politician local or national, that has held any responsibility over the local services, regional services or national law making power since 1999!
The news media, ever desperate to look both virtuous and caring, rush to pretend to hold power to account. The Daily Mail first rush to blame dodgy businesses and their, luxury dwelling, owners. Then Boris Johnson, who they wish to ensure does not lead the Tory party, for unrelated cuts to fire stations. Sadiq Khan is then in the firing line but this is tactically slanted to imply that the residents are blaming him. The Guardian start to run any number of stories about inequality and neglect of the poor in order to create the narrative that, whatever the actual cause, the real problem is the right-wing of politics and un checked capitalism. The Daily Express decide that the EU must be partly responsible and therefore find a tenuous link to regulation and an unfinished report. The Telegraph decide that it must be excessive Green regulations and begin to build a case against the cladding based on energy efficiency. In short each and every one of our media outlets manages to swing their coverage to fit an agenda and fix the blame for a national tragedy onto whichever hobby-horse they ride on a daily basis.
Theresa May again shows her nervous and awkward nature. Shy of meeting people, and things being out of control, in normal settings our Prime Minister demonstrated that she does not have the full set of requirements for the job. This is not to criticise her other responses to the events which have been largely correct. Her site visit and talks with emergency service personal were right and proper.
The public enquiry must be held and leave no stone unturned in putting together the chain of events that actually caused and exacerbated the charnel house that was Grenfell. The police and fire service enquiries must be allowed to work in their usual methodical and determined way in order to provide evidence for prosecution, if appropriate, and in order that the public enquiry is as fully informed as possible. It should be remembered that the Taylor report into Hillsborough and the Popplewell enquiry into Bradford both identified the causes swiftly and recommended action that was put into place.
Respect for the dead, and traumatized, must now be the number one priority for everyone dealing with this shocking event. This means that no-one should seek to gain advantage from the inferno itself. Press must restrain themselves from the excesses that have already enraged victims families. Television must resist the urge to show every image and dwell on people’s worst grief-stricken moments. Rabble-rousers in the political arena should reflect upon how the shoe would feel on the other foot.
Of course following the completion of enquiries, and publication of results, politicians and press alike must be free to debate and criticise in the strongest terms. But it must be based on factual evidence and not instant, emotional and heavily biased assumptions. Someone or something is to blame, and it must be someone whose world view is different to mine, is not good enough. causes must be identified, contributory factors must be included and action taken. This action may be against individuals, companies or authorities in the first place. Then laws, or regulations, must be changed, strengthened and vigorously enforced in order that such a monstrosity is not repeated.
If we do not learn now that politicking with tragedy is beneath contempt then we are heading for a truly dark place where no limits apply and a free for all at the expense of victims is the norm.