Saturday, June 17, 2017

Disasters like Grenfell Tower need justice, not scapegoats.

The first stage of shock when something terrible happens is denial, and the second is anger.

It is right and proper that the causes of a terrible disaster like the Grenfell Tower fire should be properly investigated, that when we know why it happened all reasonable steps should be taken to make such disasters less likely in the future, and that if anyone has been negligent they should  be brought to justice.

What should not happen is lashing out in anger on the basis of having jumped to conclusions about what happened and why on the basis of speculation or, worse, outright falsehoods such as the inaccurate claim that the Home Office had put a "D-notice" on the fire to prevent reporting of the details.

(The first clue that this particular smear was rubbish is the attribution of this action to the Home Office, which has nothing to do with D-notices. Both the Defence and Security Media Committee, the government body which actually issues D-notices, and the newspapers, including even The Daily Mirror which has otherwise been critical of the government, have flatly denied this story.)

I've seen comments from some, mostly Labour, people trying to blame Conservatives for the fire, I've also seen it suggested in other quarters that some decisions by Labour ministers on fire regulation may have contributed to the tragedy.

There has also been a great deal of fuss about whether or not Mrs May should have met the victims and survivors earlier. I am old enough to find this highly ironic because I remember exactly the opposite charge was made from the broadly same political quarter against Margaret Thatcher.

Mrs Thatcher as PM had a deserved reputation for being one of the first people on the scene whenever there was a terrorist atrocity or terrible accident. After the Piper Alpha North Sea drilling rig disaster, the Kings' Cross fire, the Manchester Air disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, the M1 Air Crash, and too many other tragedies and atrocities to mention, the dust would barely have settled and Maggie would be there, meeting the emergency services and survivors, visiting the injured in hospital, the whole works.

Did Mrs T get any credit for this from the kind of people who have been accusing the present PM of not doing this? Of course not. In fact they found excuses to criticise her for it.  One left-wing comedian even asked if there was a card he could carry to tell the emergency services that if he was in hospital after a disaster he didn't want the Prime Minister visiting him there.

If we had twitter records going back forty years I strongly suspect we would find some of the same people who suggested this week that Theresa May did not do enough to meet survivors, victims and the injured quickly were among those who criticised Maggie Thatcher in the eighties because she did.

I agree with Spiked Editor Brendan O'Neil who writes in his article

"Please stop exploiting the dead of Grenfell Tower"

that

"In the 20 years I’ve been writing about politics, I can’t remember a national tragedy being exploited for party-political gain so quickly. The time between a calamity occurring and the use of it to harm one’s political enemies and fortify one’s political allies is shrinking all the time. It’s now mere hours, minutes even, courtesy of social media. What has happened to us?"

"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."

"This is not to say there isn’t a discussion to be had about Grenfell. Of course there is, and a very serious one indeed. Specific issues, about the building’s cladding and its weak fire-alarm system, must be addressed. And far broader questions about the failures of house-building and the corresponding warping of the housing market, and how these things impact on house prices and on the moral value we accord to social-housing residents, must be asked too."

"But the blame game, today’s sometimes hysterical retributive instinct, doesn’t address these issues or questions. In fact it can distract from them. Its preference for condemnation, for the collective chiding of evil individuals, for finding the person or thing we can all round on and get a kick from destroying, elevates the narcissistic moral needs of the media mob over serious analysis of Britain’s broad and complicated economic and social problems."

Exactly.

The time to point fingers is when we have evidence to ensure those fingers are pointing in the right place.

Whoever does it, the search for scapegoats which neatly fit our previous prejudices demeans us all.

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