A horrific fire rages in a tower block killing an as-yet uncounted number of people. Firefighters do what they always do, running towards danger in the same way as the police run towards unmeasurable threats that the rest of us flee from. Volunteers turn out from every direction offering accommodation, food, clothing, toys and anything else which might be of use to families suddenly dispossessed of everything they own. Lawyers volunteer their time to help sort out the multiple entanglements which must ensue.
Others are caught on the hop. The local authority is slow to react and poor at communicating. Prime Minister Theresa May appears distant and uncaring. Into the void come half-formed theories, accusations of blame, and that army of voluble but ignorant people on social media who instantly become experts on whatever is the scandal of the day, in this case building materials.
It gets worse. David Lammy, a respected MP for 17 years, holder of a first class degree in law and of an LLM from Harvard Law School, and a barrister, asserts definitively that this was “corporate manslaughter” and starts demanding arrests before the embers have cooled. He alleges a conspiracy to conceal the number of dead, apparently ignorant of well-established policies about the making of such announcements, to say nothing of the physical and practical difficulty of the calculation and identification. John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer escalates the claims by referring to “murder”, and hijacks the occasion for a rant about cuts and social justice.
Little Owen Jones, Jeremy Corbyn’s squeaky toy, jumps up and down urging a “Day of Rage”. A mob storms the town hall, and the professionally angry teams from the Socialist Workers Party take to the streets with their banners and expensively-printed leaflets to demand the Prime Minister’s resignation. None of them appear to have any direct connection with Grenfell Tower, and the already-stretched police must wearily add yet another task to a list that already includes serious terrorist threats.
There are a lot of questions to be asked here ranging from (working backwards) the immediate reaction of the government and other authorities, the wider context of cuts in services, and the planning laws and their implementation block by block. The default assumption by many is that the nasty Tories are to blame for it all; that is settling down to the realisation that politicians and authorities of all parties will have had some share of blame. Meanwhile, every step the government takes is derided as too little, too late without regard to the organisational feats required (and this is a government which seems to cock up everything it touches). People who would not know the difference between an inquest, an inquiry, an investigation, and a witch-hunt make demands for the one which suits their agenda (as I write, recently retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick has been appointed to head an inquiry)
The best piece of writing on all this, and particularly on the long-term questions about social housing, comes from solicitor Giles Peaker, @NearlyLegal on Twitter and a constant source of informed commentary on an area most of us know little about.
His article Aftermath looks at the instant myths, at the legislation and policies which have left local authorities not only without money but also without skills and control, at our attitudes to social housing, and at the lack of effective rights available to tenants, even if they could get legal aid (the latter being a separate point, on which Giles Peaker is attacking the Lord Chancellor as I write after an ill-advised assertion by the LC that tenants could have legal aid in these circumstances).
Ignore the empty yapping of politicians and others trying to make capital out of the disaster. Giles Peaker’s article is worth reading and @NearlyLegal is worth following on Twitter as this ghastly story develops.
Image from the BBC
Nearly Legal post