Heading for Australia I wrote about Leaving the Country – Reflections on a Hysterical Britain Whilst enjoying being here it seems that the collective hysteria gripping the country back home seems to be increasing. None more so than in the reaction to the horrific fire tragedy at the Grenfell Tower. Over 70 people are dead or missing, all apparently as the result of an electrical fault with a fridge. It is a time for mourning…but in the messed up emotional world that is the UK at the moment, it is not mourning but blaming that is the name of the game.
Who is to blame?
- Jeremy Corbyn? – one report was that he voted in favour of exempting tower blocks built before 2007 from requiring sprinklers. Not true. This was just another example of fake news.
Corbyn is seen as a hero – he was the one hugging the people and showing his compassion. But all is not quite what it seems. There appears to be a somewhat cynical manipulation of this tragedy for party political ends and that is very dangerous. The Labour party is not entirely clean on this one. Grenfell tower was a council built property, built under a Labour government but most astonishing is the fact that the new Labour MP for Kensington, sat on the local board that oversaw the safety of Grenfell Tower . That is a far bigger scandal. Labour MP was on Housing Committee overseeing Grenfell
And Sadiq Khan – He is the Labour mayor in charge of the city. Khan has a record of having taken £10,000 in donations from a property firm which was found guilty of putting tenets lives at risk. Is it not a bit strange that some people are quick to blame the Prime Minister of the country who has no direct responsibility for housing in London, but have said nothing about the mayor of the city where it occurred, who does?
2. Gentrification? –
Kensington which has just elected a Labour MP is the richest constituency in the whole of the UK. There is a strange paradox here – those who are wanting to use this tragedy to refight the General Election are apparently the nouveau champagne socialists (IPOS Mori have just put out research which shows that the Tories got a far higher percentage of the working class vote since 1979, and Labour got a far higher middle class vote.). Why is this relevant to the blame game? Because the reason there was £10 million worth of flammable cladding is because the good people of Kensington wanted their social housing to look good. There is a great deal of hypocrisy in the reactions to all of this – not least from rich celebrities like Lily Allen who probably never darkened the door of the peasants tower block, but now are full of ‘compassion and anger’. It’s handy when you have deaths that you can use for your cause.
3. The Residents?
Or here’s another one – why not blame the immigrants? If the country wasn’t so overcrowded then we wouldn’t have these kind of dangerous situations happening. Of course its a ridiculous argument but that doesn’t stop it being made. I’ve read of those who blamed the residents for blocked stairwells etc.
4. The Management?
What about the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO)? The KCTMO has a board comprising eight residents (tenants or leaseholders), four council-appointed members, and three independent members. Do they not bear some responsibility?
5. The Government?
But most of the responsibility seems to have been laid, not on the local Council, or the mayor or the management but the Government. They do have a lot to answer for (as do the others) and an inquiry must not shirk from showing what is wrong with social housing in the UK. And not just the British government but also the Scottish. According to the Scottish Sunday Mail this particular cladding was axed from Scottish Councils in 2013 but after Scottish government intervention it was then again permitted. This has not stopped Scottish government ministers sticking the boot into May as though she were personally responsible.
In the blame game nuance is not allowed and simplistic solutions must be found. Hence it must all be the fault of the evil Tories. Lets not mention the support that the government is offering? The offer to rehouse within three weeks, the money etc. Who cares? We just select what suits our bias. This is what austerity means. The Tories are going round murdering people. Now is the time for the workers revolution! This all comes from the middle class champagne socialists who somehow think that their Marxist paradise can be ushered in on the burned out bodies of the victims they never knew. For cynical exploitation its hard to beat.
Brendan O’Neill again has a superb article on this. Its worth reading the whole thing but here is for me the most perceptive part –
This compulsion to blame is a central feature of 21st-century life. Every accident or awful thing that happens is followed by now almost instant demands for heads to roll. We seem incapable of accepting that sometimes horrendous experiences cannot easily be blamed on an individual or a group or a party. Like medieval communities who burnt witches when their crops failed – someone just had to be held morally responsible for the awful consequences of crop failure – today we point a collective or at least media finger at ‘uncaring’ individuals and institutions every time a tragedy occurs.
6. Theresa May?
And that brings me on to the most disturbing part of all this – the demonisation and abuse of the Prime Minister Theresa May – you know that you are in trouble as a Tory PM when even some of the right-wing press join in the mob. It’s a strange combination – the Socialist workers, the BBC, Momentum, the ‘Progressives’, and the Tory press. I suspect that it is a combination which will be too much for her – especially if the Tory Grandees – who are utterly ruthless, believe that she is too wounded.
There is a sickening hypocrisy here- amongst other things it’s an example of a deep-rooted highly selective mysogyny. If you criticise Diane Abbott you must be a racist misogynist. But Theresa May – she’s fair game. She’s a witch. She’s responsible for everything. She’s cold and callous and robotic and unfeeling. She’s not like a real woman. Or that ever so nice Jeremy.
For me the worst aspect was the interview by Emily Maitlis for the BBC. I heard of this in Australia through gleeful tweets from political opponents of May, who thought that it was a disaster for her. So I thought I should watch this latest ‘car crash’ interview. Except it wasn’t. I thought May came across quite well. Maitlis on the other hand was quite appalling.
It completely disgusted me. Maitlis is an experienced journalist so her conduct astonished me. It was hectoring, bullying and exploitative. She must have known what she was doing – seeking to build her career by taking down May, but it was one of the most exploitative and shameful pieces of journalism I have ever seen.
“There is a need for the public to hear you say in words of one syllable something terrible has happened, something has gone badly wrong, it it our fault, we acknowledge that and accept responsibility. What about it?…..do you accept you misjudged the public mood?….you misread the publics anger about this. They shouted ‘coward’ at you this afternoon…there was no-one in charge, no one willing to accept responsibility…”.
I hope you don’t have to be told what is wrong with absurd logic but let me list just some of the things.
a) The public are dumb – they need to be treated like children and we need to be spoken to in ‘words of one syllable’! Seriously? Maitlis was asking for – “Fire bad. Me sad. So wrong.”? This is apparently how BBC journalists perceive us – as idiots…who need to be spoon fed soundbites.
b). The public need a sacrifice. Someone has to admit it was their fault. According to Ms Maitlis it was not the Tower management block, nor the council, nor the mayor, nor the local MP who actually sat on the safety committee for that Tower; no – it must be the Prime Minister – who actually had no direct responsibility for the building. I have just been reading Hilary Mantel’s wonderful novel on the French Revolution – A Place of Greater Safety – in which she chillingly portrays the effect of mob rule. Those who stir up ‘the people’ and speak in the name of ‘the people’ need to beware. The media and the politicians are creating an atmosphere in which one sacrifice may not be enough. Once the mob taste blood….
3. Some within the BBC apparently think that their role is to be mob cheer leaders – not to provide news or impartial analysis. Anyone with a scintilla of common sense could have worked out that May was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. If she had gone to the scene and sought to meet with residents in public – there would have been those (some genuine, and some just political ‘all Tories are evil scum’ types) who would have yelled at her and abused her. The news would then have been full of headlines – ‘May attacked by angry residents’, ‘May faces anger of the bereaved’ ‘Heartless May condemned for deaths’. If she decided not to be part of that charade then she gets condemned for being unfeeling (unlike Jeremy who had some nice photos taken).
The BBC again had a disgusting soundbite of a young man going on about how the PM was ‘as cold as ice’ because she went to her car, rather than be yelled at by him. He never met her and he of course therefore has no way of knowing that – but in the interview, which the BBC highlighted on their website, he got his one minute of fame and his soundbites. “Where is the home secretary?” he yelled. I suspect he would not know either the name or the face of Home Secretary. Again – why not the mayor? Why not the local MP? I suspect the young man had been well briefed – there was no indication he had anything to do with Grenfell tower – but who cares – it suits the narrative of ‘heartless May’. The irony is that such ‘journalism’ is itself heartless and cruel.
In fact if we are going to play the blame game – why not blame the BBC and Ms Maitlis? It makes as much sense to blame the ‘conscience of the nation’ as it does the Prime Minister. Maitlis was after all the deputy producer for Newsnight. Why did they not do a programme on the dangers facing people in Grenfell Tower block? Where were the cutting edge news stories about the housing conditions of the poor? Surely if they had done their job and ran a piece beforehand they could have saved lifes? How easy it is to be wise and self-righteous after the event!
This demonisation of May reminds me of the hysteria surrounding the Queen after the accident in which Diana died. Again there was a collective mob hysteria, stirred up by and reflected in the press – ‘Ma’am where are you? Why are you not showing your feelings? Your people need you to cry!”. Brendan O’Neill again nails it –
Do people want Theresa May to weep in public? Allow herself to be pelted with rotten fruit? Make herself available for cries of “murderer” even though it’s ridiculous for her to be accused of murder? What if it isn’t in her nature to show her feelings to strangers — should she still do it? For the good of the nation? I’m finding this climate of emotional retribution quite ugly, I must say. The public’s urgent questions and anger over Grenfell are being channelled by some into a narrow, cartoonish anti-Toryism designed to hurt May and help Labour. To refight the General Election on the ruins of this building strikes me as a far more callous thing than May’s inability to emote for the cameras.
But this has gone even further than the hysteria surrounding the Queen.
This is the kind of tweet that has been going the rounds. Notice the Star of David on her ankle and ears. The mockery of mental illness. This is the nastiness and viciousness of those who campaign against the Tories as ‘the nasty party’. What level of depraved mind uses the burned bodies of the poor in order to promote anti-Semitism (or whatever other cause is your thing)? Why Anti-Semitism Matters in the British Election
A Christian Perspective
Sadly there are those Christians who have joined in with the mob. They should be ashamed. It is not Christ-like behaviour. Christ was crucified by a mob – he never incited one. Paul and the disciples were often set upon by mobs – they never stirred up the irrationality and hatred that are characteristic of such mobs.
There is a Christian perspective on this. We share the passion and concern of God for the poor. We seek justice (do those bearing the placards shouting for justice have any idea of what that means?). We know that God is even concerned about building regulations – Deut. 22:8 When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof. If there are those who through shoddy workmanship cheap skate building are found guilty of cutting corners in order to save money, then they do need to dealt with by the courts of the land.
Jesus was once asked about a massacre of Galileans by Pilate and he talked about them and also about a tower incident. “Or those eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish”. Jesus was teaching a very hard truth – that in fact everything is destined to perish. We are all dying. And all our great institutions and the things we boast about as though they will last forever. They won’t.
I am just preparing another column on Revelation and we have come to Revelation 18. It is somehow appropriate. The great city, Babylon (ie Rome), is full of luxury, drunkenness, promiscuity – they think they are the rulers of the world and they will last forever. Revelation 18 talks about the ‘smoke of her burning’. The bible is not being pessimistic – it is being realistic. Empires rise, empires fall; cities are founded, cities are destroyed; towers are built, towers burn, people are born, people die; – we all need to be prepared for the inevitable. This is not saying that if the people in Grenfell Tower were all Christians (doubtless some of them were) then it would not have burnt down. It is saying that all of us need to be prepared to meet our Maker. Rather than play the blame game – where it is all someone else’s fault – we need to admit our own guilt, not just in the temporal things which will doubtless come up in the inquiry into this tragedy, but in the eternal aspects. Are we prepared for the day of Judgement?
Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked man;
call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
that would not otherwise be found out.
16 The LORD is King for ever and ever;
the nations will perish from his land.
17 You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherlessa and the oppressed,b
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.
Another excellent article is this from Peter Hitchins
And this was sent to me just after I had written this – The Demonising of Mrs May