With her recent election trouncing still ringing in her ears, one might have expected Theresa May and the Conservatives to have a re-think about their stance on virtually every aspect of their misguided and ill-conceived approach to government.
Yet we see Tory central command apparently paying little heed to public opinion as they plough on with an administration that has only slightly more credibility than Donald Trump’s hairline.
It’s evident that in all the confusion of power sharing negotiations with a party even more rabid than their own, the Conservatives haven’t had the time to re-program robot-in-chief Theresa May and have left her to trundle from interview to interview answering every question with the same gushing, non-sequitur soundbites.
Presumably the fear is that any activity outside the rigid confines of the Maybot’s pre-planned responses will overload her humanity simulation chip and send her into a meltdown more terrifying than a Michael Gove acid trip.
It’s clear the Tories are in desperate need of an upgrade to their leader’s software, or even a better specified model, perhaps one able to interact with humans who haven’t been pre-vetted without treating them like something you might find on your shoe after a paddle in a septic tank.
In the meantime the Tories seem determined to continue with their plans as if their majority hadn’t evaporated on the hubris of their own arrogance. Whilst we’re not actually seeing them kick people out of the homes to pay for social care, we’ve witnessed what could conceivably be classed as social cleansing in the heart of millionaire row.
Grenfell Tower is Theresa May’s Hurricane Katrina. It’s as if she’s playing from the GW Bush handbook of how to treat the poor folks in times of distress. First ignore them, then when the PR starts to turn against you send in a sacrificial spokesperson as we saw when former PM hopeful Andrea Leadsom was thrown to the masses in an even more painful display of faux emotion than I’d previously thought her capable of.
Ultimately May had no choice but to show her face in Kensington where the locals quite understandably booed and chanted her as she turned tail and sped away in her official car. This was her chance to show a human side to the people and she blew it.
Yesterday she was also forced to admit that the aid effort in Kensington wasn’t effective enough. Yet today we hear reports from the site that things are yet to improve. Perhaps there’s a more chilling and practical reason why the authorities and politicians have been so slow to provide aid to the survivors, and why Mrs May can be so uncharacteristically forthright in her claim that they will all be rehoused within 3 weeks. It’s because there are so few of them.
Locals who are there supporting the survivors, offering shelter, food, clothing and basic needs are all painfully aware that they don’t need the vast majority of the donations that have been pouring in. The lack of government response would seem to support this. They know that sending in troops and providing aid for hundreds of survivors will be pure tokenism.
Lilly Allen has already highlighted the fact that the police and the government are refusing to admit the scale of this tragedy in terms of lives lost in a building that housed over 650 people, including some in new apartments that were shoehorned in to every available space during the recent refurbishment, regardless of the lack of fire escape routes. The authorities are managing the media and only letting the scale of the loss of life filter out slowly.
A video emerged yesterday which seems to provide a more realistic assessment of the situation. Local woman, Nadia – also knows and DJIsla on Instagram, says she knew many people who lived in the tower and she’s been able to find none of them. Her claim is that much of the aid pouring into the area isn’t needed. Most of the perishables will go to waste as the hundreds of people it is intended for simply aren’t there. She goes on to claim that volunteer agencies such as Oxfam have also been equally unresponsive and that the media have effectively refused to admit the reality of the situation, either through a misguided sense of propriety or lack of information.
So what we appear to have is a massive exercise in misdirection from a government terrified of the backlash, especially coming so close to their own personal disaster at the ballot box. In classic Theresa May style, they’re keeping their heads down and hoping they can brazen it out until the anger, frustration and sense of abandonment gives way to grief and depression.
Of course no one wants to report that hundreds of people have been burned to death in their own homes, but we have to start to accept that as more than a possibility now. That should then lead to a renewed sense of urgency over measures to ensure this never happens again in other towers that may be susceptible to the same risks.
There are many other similar buildings out there, many of them clad in the same materials as Grenfell. Some of them don’t even have the basic protection of a fire alarm let alone a sprinkler system which was also absent in Grenfell. The scale of the work needed to deal with these dangers is probably what is at the heart of the response we’re seeing from Theresa May.
The public enquiry she is proposing can be managed by government and may take years to report, rather than an inquest where the public will be able to attend and comment. The denial of the logical death toll, and now the announcement of £5m in ‘aid’ for 76 survivors is an easy response that may turn out to be equally as cynical as her lack of personal interaction. As DJIsla speculates, that money that is now more likely to be needed to cover funeral expenses rather than humanitarian aid.
We need to see a sense of urgency over this tragedy. Immediate assessments of all buildings in a similar situation. A commitment to install fire suppressing systems and effective alarms in all of them without further delay. The installation of external sprinkler systems, as is compulsory in many countries where external cladding of this type is fitted. The provision of fire extinguishers to all residents, fire risk assessments and an urgent report from building engineers into what else can be done immediately to mitigate the risk for thousands of other residents living with this terrifying prospect.
But allied to that we need a government who will remove the right to buy option which stifles council house building along with the lack of borrowing facilities available to local councils. A government who won’t look to shift the blame for this disaster and the lack of housing on to local authorities who they have systematically starved of cash over the past 7 years.
Ultimately we need to see the provision of safer, modern socially rented homes for people such as the former residents of Grenfell Tower. Perhaps when the building is demolished, the land should be used to build a modern block with fire prevention built in so that residents from other towers can be moved there, before their block is also razed and replaced in the same way. That may be expensive, and many of the local rich property owners might not like it, but at least then communities can be kept together rather than dissipated.
That would perhaps be a fitting memorial to all those who lost everything in in this awful and probably avoidable fire, burnt on the altar of austerity by a government who knew the price of everything, but ignored the value of a human life.
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