The Grenfell Tower Fire, Labour’s Cynicism And Theresa May’s Abdication Of Leadership

Tower block fire in London

By seeking to overtly politicise the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have overplayed their hand. But far-left protests and anti-Tory incitement must not excuse Theresa May’s unforgivable failure to exercise basic leadership skills

There is a bizarre new defence of Theresa May’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire doing the rounds, in which some people are claiming that public anger at the prime minister’s refusal to publicly meet with survivors and grieving relatives of the victims is somehow comparable to the way that the British people lost their collective cool over the death of princess Diana, demanding more and more conspicuous displays of emotion from politicians and the Royal Family.

Here’s Guardian, New Statesman and Spectator writer Stephen Poole scoffing at those who were angry at the prime minister’s aloofness:

 

Others have contrasted the prime minister’s cowardly behaviour (and her risible excuse that “security concerns” prevented her from meeting the victims) with the fact that the Queen managed to put in an appearance together with Prince William, to meet the people and offer some consolation.

Here’s the BBC making that very point, gleefully contrasting the Queen’s behaviour to that of Theresa May:

Mistakes that have included the significant time that elapsed before the Queen visited the site of the Aberfan disaster in the 1960s and the “Show us you care” newspaper headlines that were printed 20 years ago, in the days following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

As Theresa May is learning to her cost, it is a tragedy with a growing political dimension. There is a howl of pain and anger being directed at an establishment which has the royals at its heart.

There’s the talk of the divide between rich and poor. The Queen’s grandson is a millionaire prince living in a palace in the same borough as Grenfell Tower.

In coming to the site, the Queen was acting as “head of the nation” – a focal point at a moment of considerable pain. She was also providing her prime minister with a masterclass in how to respond on such occasions.

I think it needs to be made clear that Theresa May’s critics are not demanding that the prime minister engage in some kind of performative emotional labour on our behalf, or to be principal therapist to the nation. This is not like the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death twenty years ago, when there were virtually Grief Police on the streets making sure that everybody was appropriately sombre and baying crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace until the Queen showed up to personally examine the mountains of flowers.

On the contrary, May’s critics are simply expecting the prime minister of the United Kingdom to show some basic emotional intelligence and political common sense. They rightly expect Theresa May to display fundamental leadership skills instead of skulking fearfully in 10 Downing Street, terrified at the prospect of a negative interaction with members of the public.

Sadiq Khan managed to go on a walkabout and meet rescue workers and victims, and he was willing to endure heckling and visible public anger in the process. Why can the prime minister of this country not do the same, in the face of what may prove to be the most deadly fire since the Second World War? Yes, people would have shouted at her and emotions would have been very raw. But you know what? As leader of the country you stand there and you take it. You absorb the hate and you try to deliver a message of condolence, solidarity and action, even if the public anger makes it almost impossible to get your message across and the whole thing makes for awful TV. That’s just what you do.

Can anybody seriously imagine Margaret Thatcher, John Major or Tony Blair not having met personally with the Grenfell Tower fire victims were they in office at the time? Gordon Brown had the personality and empathy of a tree stump and he would have suffered through the indignity in order to show solidarity with people who are suffering something far worse than an awkward political situation.

David Cameron would have rolled his sleeves up, put his Wellington boots on and showed up to help, and probably ordered most of his Cabinet to do the same. And yet Theresa May thinks it is acceptable to sweep in by motorcade, confer briefly with the emergency services, avoid the victims altogether and then dash back to Downing Street without acknowledging the volunteers or the survivors, choosing instead to give a sterilised TV interview from back inside Downing Street.

This is Leadership 101, people. I am starting to think that there may be something physically or mentally wrong with the prime minister at this point – the utter collapse of her authority, the inability to regain her political footing, her unbridled terror and fear of any interaction with the public and her seeming unwillingness to do the basic things which are expected of the office of Prime Minister are getting mighty hard to explain away due to a mere confluence of unfortunate events or simple “bad luck”.

Obviously one should refrain from attempting to make any kind of remote diagnosis, but if the prime minister is having some kind of breakdown or stress-induced episode then she needs to resign immediately for the good of the country. And if she isn’t, then she is quite simply the worst leader Britain has suffered in nearly forty years, and she needs to resign immediately for the good of the country.

(The prime minister finally – partially – acquiesced and made a highly controlled and sterilised visit to some of the victims and volunteers this afternoon. At this point, entirely due to her own lack of leadership, public rage had reached such a boiling point that she was heckled, called a coward and her motorcade was chased down the road by angry protesters as she departed).

It is bad enough that through her inept leadership and lack of political vision, Theresa May has allowed 1970s-style Corbynite socialism to regain not just a footing in our political discourse but a very real shot at entering government and taking power. It is bad enough that the prime minister and her team prosecuted such a feeble, uninspiring general election campaign. But now Theresa May has compounded these errors by hiding away in the face of one of the worst peacetime disasters to befall modern Britain, and worse still she ceded the role of Healer in Chief to the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn.

That’s not to say that Corbyn is suddenly a saint. Far from it. The Labour leader has done everything he can to make a party political fight over something that should have united all politicians with the determination to identify the root causes of the Grenfell Tower fire and take whatever action is needed to prevent a recurrence. He has come perilously close to blaming the Evil Tories for the whole affair, which naturally has encouraged his acolytes to make that very accusation, as though Theresa May had personally ordered that the building be doused with accelerant and set ablaze. Just because this is a scandal does not mean that blood is on the prime minister’s hands.

At this point we need to keep two distinct and non-contradictory ideas in our head at the same time. Yes, Theresa May has displayed atrocious leadership skills, even by her own dismal standards, and has utterly failed to carry out the basic public duties one would expect of any other prime minister. But this does not mean that May or the Tories are culpable for the fire, or that “blood is on their hands”. This is a simplistic and reductionist take on the situation, born from the idiotic left-wing conceit that all conservatives are two-dimensional cartoon villains who actively want to harm the poor.

Therefore we should be able to condemn Theresa May in the strongest possible terms for her failures of leadership, while also condemning Jeremy Corbyn’s opportunistic scapegoating of the Conservatives as the villains responsible for the Grenfell Tower inferno. The two facts are complementary, not mutually exclusive. But ultimately, Jeremy Corbyn is simply being opportunistic as leaders of the opposition sometimes have to be. Theresa May, by contrast, has been doing everything that a prime minister should not do, and there is nobody else to blame but her.

This is not about expecting some kind of emotional performance from the prime minister. This is about expecting Theresa May to show the kind of basic leadership skills that would be expected of a small town mayor, never mind the prime minister of one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world. Theresa May couldn’t get the general election right. She can’t get the government’s Brexit approach right. She can’t even make policies consistent with her own party’s worldview or successfully articulate that vision to voters. And now she has proven herself incapable of showing basic humanity in response to a dreadful disaster.

At some point, one has to acknowledge that the game is up. Theresa May’s premiership is not going to get any better, it is not going to recover, it is not going to find stability, and every day that it is allowed to limp on, the country suffers from a lack of basic competent leadership. I don’t know whether there is some extraneous reason which has prompted Theresa May’s sudden political self-destruction, but at this point, from the perspective of what the country needs, that doesn’t matter. She needs to go, now.

This is not about expecting Theresa May to jump through emotional hoops in order to provide catharsis for a shocked nation. This is about expecting and demanding basic competence from our political leaders.

Who in the Conservative Party will step up, acknowledge that we are now drifting under the non-leadership of somebody who has proven to be completely out of her depth – in office but not in power – and force a leadership challenge?

 

Grenfell Tower protests - Theresa May car

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Peak Guardian: Mocking The British Public For Holding Street Parties To Mark The Queen’s 90th Birthday

VE Day Street Party
Sickening, apparently

The Guardian’s lonely struggle against all of the things which unite us as a community and country finds a new source of virtue-signalling outrage

Today’s dose of Peak Guardian comes courtesy of Dawn Foster, who finds herself consumed with bitterness and resentment that many people will voluntarily choose to celebrate the Queen’s birthday this weekend – and in some cases commit the unforgivable crime of holding a street party to mark the occasion.

In a bitter tirade against the great British street party, nearly rivalling the sneering tone of the Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones (who castigated the Tower of London poppy exhibition as a tacky “UKIP-style” memorial to the fallen of the First World War), Foster seethes:

Friends of mine who live in areas where street parties are in the works have, without exception, reported that the people responsible are the perennially furious residents who spend most of their lives in a rage about parking. Shifting their attention from the contentious temporary ownership of asphalt, they have decided the neighbourhood needs to commemorate the birthday of a 90-year-old woman none of the residents have met.

The party will follow the usual template: tea, cupcakes, flags upon flags upon flags, wartime slogans and songs, and the performance of a very specific type of Englishness – the Englishness of Fry and Laurie rather than This Is England. One harks back to the empire while the other attempts social realism.

This kind of middle-class nationalism, rooted in a confected history of postwar austerity, has been resurgent in the years since the last royal wedding. The ubiquity of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster is the most obvious symbol. As the writer Owen Hatherley puts it, the cultish signifier points to the “enduring pretension of an extremely rich (if shoddy and dilapidated) country, the sadomasochistic Toryism imposed by the coalition government of 2010–15, and its presentation of austerity in a manner so brutal and moralistic that it almost seemed to luxuriate in its own parsimony”.

Nationalism now has two faces: that of the far right, signified by a certain sort of caricature of a football supporter and England flags, and now the middle-class right, posh enough to wear chinos while raising a glass to “her maj” in front of a Union Jack. The two aren’t entirely separate: the former is openly racist, the latter a frequent apologist for the British empire.

Can these perennially sour people never just take something at face value? Must the good-natured efforts of ordinary people to try to reconnect with that lost sense of community spirit embodied in the VE Day and Jubilee street party celebrations be so carelessly dismissed by sneering Guardian journalists as a corrosive form of middle class oppression?

Foster continues:

But this isn’t harmless. All the warm Pimms and cupcakes with corgi icing feed into a narrative that says the empire was a force for good, and its destruction is to be mourned. When people refer to the “blitz spirit” and say we should heed lessons from how Britain used to be, they usually mean two things: when it comes to austerity, suck it up; and Britain was better when it more resembled a monoculture.

It’s possible to be a good neighbour without indulging in these performative pastiches of community. Speaking to people on your street should be an everyday occurrence, not prompted only by an unreciprocated love for the unelected Queen. Enforced pageantry with nationalistic undertones and a forelock-tugging subservience towards someone who has succeeded in surviving nine decades mainly because she is fantastically wealthy is enough to make many people lock their doors, close the curtains and pretend they’ve fled for the weekend.

Foster uses the word “nationalism” in her piece, but we all know that it is garden variety patriotism in her cross-hairs. And apparently, in Foster’s alternate universe, only two kinds of patriots exist – the middle class ones that she deplores, and working class “far right” football supporters whom she fears and openly slanders as racist.

People wonder why the Labour Party lost the 2015 election, and still fails to gain significant traction despite facing a rootless Conservative government. Well, this is why. Because whole swathes of the Left have been captured by what Brendan O’Neill described as the middle class clerisy, who openly loathe the working classes and treat their interests, hopes, fears and dreams with derision. And the voters are perceptive – they can tell when they are being mocked or looked down on.

The British Left is presently dominated by people who think that Britain is a weak, insignificant and unremarkable place, a country whose past flaws overshadow any positive legacy or current contribution which we might give the world. Ask them to participate in an event praising their country and the middle class clerisy will chuckle nervously and exchange knowing glances with one another. The words stick in their throats.

In Dawn Foster’s mind, it is simply inconceivable that a working class person might be moved to celebrate the birthday of the person who (besides our families) has been the one constant in all of our lives. She simply cannot fathom why anyone other than upper middle class chino wearers or heavily tattooed EDL types might want to mark the Queen’s birthday. But that says far more about Foster than it does about those who will be celebrating this weekend.

This isn’t just the Guardian being insufferable, there is a real issue here. What will be left to bind us to our history, to our ancestors, if the Left continue to insist on heaping scorn on so harmless a thing as the humble street party? And what will bind us contemporary Britons to each other when the Left sees no value in inculcating a healthy sense of patriotism and a common national identity?

Religion and the Church of England no longer play the central role in our national life that they once did. Many in the Guardian are happy about that. But what new societal glue will replace it? We don’t yet know. This matters immensely when it comes to assimilating new immigrants in the kind of numbers that Britain has experienced in recent years, or when we need disaffected Muslim youths to grasp on to a positive shared vision of Britain rather than steal away to join ISIS (in mental allegiance, if not always in body). If we insist on tearing down the customs and rituals which define our culture because hectoring moralisers like Dawn Foster have decided that they are passé, what is left to bind us together?

The “blitz spirit” which Foster decries is something of which Britons should remain proud. And the fact that Foster chooses to compare the “austerity” of today (basically slightly less spending growth than the previous Labour government envisaged before 2010) to the mortal danger of the Blitz only goes to show just how hysterical the British Left have become in their anti-Tory fervour.

But more than that, the blitz spirit shames the Left because it reveals how the pursuit of left-wing policies has, in some ways, changed our country for the worse. An overly expansive welfare state, ratcheted upward in the decades since the Second World War and only partially restrained by Thatcher, has left us dependent on government rather than one another. This is good, to a degree – welfare should certainly not depend on arbitrary charity. But such is the scope of today’s hyperactive state (David Cameron won the 2015 general election on a creepy manifesto “plan for every stage of your life”) that the need for neighbours, communities and even families is being steadily undermined.

Similarly, the previous Labour government’s encouraging of record inward migration and obsession with the virtues of multiculturalism has led to an increasingly atomised and segregated society, preventing the melting pot from working and in some cases now actively feeding extremist and terrorist behaviour.

Amid all of this change, the quintessential British street party stands as testament to a time when no matter what other identities and affiliations a person may have held, one was expected (and agreed without a second thought) to be British first and foremost – a time when our national identity was a source of pride to people of all political viewpoints, not an embarrassment to the Left or an exclusive toy of the far Right.

Fast forward to 2016 and any event, celebration or ritual which calls to mind Britain’s history, heritage and achievements is immediately suspicious to swathes of the modern Left because it encourages pride where the middle class clerisy feel there should only be shame and embarrassment. Any event which suggests that we should look to our families or communities rather than government for friendship, advice, recreation, health and solidarity will be ruthlessly attacked, just as Dawn Foster quietly seethes when neighbours get together of their own volition in a civic act of positive patriotism.

This blog has long argued that the British Left will not taste power again until they learn to love (or at least accept) the country for what it is, until they cease being so openly contemptuous or downright hostile toward the smallest act of public patriotism. Remarkably, they seem to have gone backwards in six years, and are now even further away from this objective than they were in 2010.

One year since their second general election defeat and the critical lesson has clearly still not been learned. The vast majority of the Labour Party are actively advocating for a Remain vote in the EU referendum, in a campaign noted for its pessimistic, miserabilist view of Britain and unconcealed contempt for those (including many working class people) who yearn for Brexit. Meanwhile, the house journals of the middle class Left continue to pump out their unambitious, defeatist view of Britain, and are not above scoring blatant own goals – like tearing into the British public for daring to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.

How can the Left ever hope to lead this country again when they so clearly disdain it in every way?

 

Queens 90th birthday celebration

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Thirteen Years

911 Memorial New York Queen Elizabeth II

 

“But nothing that can be said can begin to take away the anguish and the pain of these moments. Grief is the price we pay for love.”

– Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II offered these words in a message read by British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Christopher Meyer, at a memorial service in New York City on 22 September 2001

A Queen’s Work Is Never Done

Buzzfeed Sports have what I’m sure they thought would be a funny piece cataloguing the Queen’s sixteen most excited faces captured during the recent opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games. This is obviously in reference to the numerous remarks by commentators that Queen Elizabeth II seemed less than enthralled or impressed by many of the goings-on in the stadium.

However, as I started to look through the pictures I became more convinced that the bored and often distant facial expressions are much more a symptom of tiredness than boredom. And not just day-to-day tiredness, but a rather more profound one.

Take this, for example:

Image by Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Here, the Queen is declaring the London 2012 Olympic Games officially open. This was a joyous moment, but I believe she spoke fewer than twelve words.

Or this one:

Image by WPA Pool / Getty Images

And compare these to this image of the Queen at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, a decade ago:

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Of course, she continues to fulfil all of her duties as head of state superbly, and beyond reproach. But, quite understandably, a decade older and with her husband in failing health, and fresh from an exhausting list of Diamond Jubilee commitments, she does appear to be slowing down markedly.

All of which is perfectly fine, but for the fact that more and more of her duties are likely to fall to her heir, the organic food-loving, modern architecture-hating, idiosyncratic Prince Charles.

Ah well.

The BBC Doubles Down

The Guardian reports that the BBC is shrugging off the unprecedented levels of criticism of their Diamond Jubilee television coverage with the practiced ease and disinterest of the vast, bloated behemoth of an organisation that it is – one that doesn’t have to generate its £4.2bn annual budget by turning a profit, nor justify the way in which that money is spent.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jun/06/queens-diamond-jubilee-bbc

In fact, as the chorus of complaints grows louder, it emerges that the BBC executive in charge of the jubilee coverage has actually gone on holiday, and will not be available to answer any of the criticism:

The senior BBC executive responsible for the corporation’s diamond jubilee coverage has been unable to defend the output amid mounting criticism, because he is now on holiday.

BBC Vision director George Entwistle, a leading internal candidate to replace Mark Thompson as director general, went on holiday on Tuesday evening and could not appear on Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday to defend the corporation, which has faced criticism from vnewspapers, celebrities and even former executives about its four days of diamond jubilee coverage.

By Wednesday afternoon the BBC had also received 2,425 complaints from viewers and listeners about its diamond jubilee coverage, with the vast majority – 1,830 – about Sunday’s Thames pageant. The BBC said it had also received “lots of positive feedback”.

Though the majority of the complaints centred around the lightweight presenters and their lack of a decent command of their subject matter, the BBC chose to duck this line of criticism altogether, focusing instead on defending itself against a number of other decoy straw man arguments:

A senior BBC source said that this was the biggest outside broadcast of a flotilla ever undertaken, with 80 cameras attempting to film 1,000 boats.

“You cannot rehearse something of this scale and you certainly cannot have a running order or predict monstrous weather,” the insider said.

The source said that senior staff involved in the coverage were too tired to appear on the Today programme: “They had worked flat out and we were unable to put up somebody who knew exactly what they were speaking about.”

Fine, but the cloudy weather, scale of the event and the technical hitches had nothing to do with the fact that you assembled a cast of C-list presenters who between them had less gravitas and knowledge of the unfolding events than the jubilee-themed sick bag that one of them, in her wisdom, decided to promote.

Here’s some news, BBC – just because you caught the attention of 15 million largely captive viewers in the UK doesn’t mean that your coverage was any good. It wasn’t. It was really, really, uncharacteristically bad.

And as an organisation you really need to acknowledge it as such if you want to avoid a similar broadcasting catastrophe when the next big national event rolls around.