Almost two weeks have passed since the tragic event in Kensington that has taken many lives and left even more unaccounted for.
Since the fire engulfed the 24 storey tower block in a wealthy area of West London there has been little in the way of sober and sensible reaction to the calamity.
It has not been lost on the country that the victims of this disaster were mostly poor social housing tenants. The response of the local council was predictably appalling. The families affected by the incident were left clueless for days about where they would be accommodated and what provision was open to them to meet their basic needs.
Equally dire has been the reaction of the government. There was no meaningful response to the fire until well after the flames had died down.
Yet the tragedy does not stop there. The media hype surrounding the inferno has been very difficult to stomach. I have split the coverage of the Grenfell Tower fire into two categories; the quacks and the snobs.
On one side we have the quacks. They had been loud and proud in declaring why the fire occurred and how to stop furthers incidents like Grenfell. But the quacks don’t mention fire resistant cladding, structural modifications or a more robust maintenance procedure. The quacks have been in overdrive explaining how the tower went up in flames as a result of right-wing malevolence.
The reason the fire happened, they proclaim is because nasty Tory politicians don’t care about the poor. Many even claimed that certain sections of the Conservative party hate the downtrodden so much that they somehow allowed this to happen. It wasn’t long before people were highlighting that private companies being able to assess council run properties are a new phenomenon and if we just left things to the council then everything would have been alright.
There have even been suggestions that given the suffering that the UK’s poor face on a daily basis, the Grenfell fire is not even that terrible.
One quack interviewed on LBC even went the whole hog and blamed the Grenfell Tower fire on Margret Thatcher.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have the snobs. Broadly speaking these people seem to think that somehow the Grenfell residents only have themselves to blame for the fire. One newspaper quickly exposed the perpetrator as a beer swilling foreigner.
The snobs really came into their own in the aftermath of the fire. I am as convinced as anybody that state procurement of private property is a bad thing. But the suggestion that the Grenfell residents don’t deserve rehousing because they are dirty, lazy, unproductive, drunkards etc. should leave a bitter taste in all of our mouths.
The idea that giving no assistance to the Grenfell families will somehow further the cause of freedom is obviously a ridiculous idea.
But the snobs don’t stop there. Some have even claimed that the victims deserved their fate. Facebook comment sections and Twitter feeds have been crammed with suggestions that ‘if the Grenfell people cared about their families they would have moved out of social housing’, ‘they should have had home insurance’ and ‘social housing should be dangerous so people are incentivised not to live there’.
Lambasting people who have very little breeds resentment rather than ideas on how to alleviate suffering.
Poverty is the perennial question of modern politics. But let us not lose sight of what poverty is. It is a condition that some find themselves in at points in their lives and not a moral failure. Like poverty disasters such as Grenfell play a devastating role in people’s lives occasionally.
Although engaging with ideology is worthwhile in many ways we should not let it totally cloud our judgement of what we perceive in the real world. It appears that for some people the tragedy that has dominated the news over the past couple of weeks has an opportunity for individuals to flex their doctrinal muscles.
When people are made out to be pawns in an ideological power struggle they become dehumanised. I very much doubt that either the quacks or the snobs appreciate this. At times like these there is a lot to be said for good old fashioned common sense and sympathy rather than grandstanding.