Before the London Fire Brigade had extinguished the last flames in the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, the left, galvanized by their recent electoral resurgence, had spotted an opportunity and hijacked the narrative. Much like the scientologists who set up close to the site to hand out leaflets and offer massages, political vultures saw an opportunity for some cheap point scoring while emotions were raw. A tragedy in a relatively deprived pocket of an affluent borough fits well into the class war agenda. A sympathy demonstration was dominated by ‘Tories Out’ signs. Labour MP Clive Lewis tweeted: ’Burn Neoliberalism, not people’. That is the zeitgeist: the world consists of victims and predators. There is always someone to blame.
One of the main culprits picked out by the left has been deregulation. In the minds of many on the left, the UK government, emboldened by Brexit, is engaged in a ‘war on regulation’. Commentators like Polly Toynbee have been quick to denounce deregulation as a killer, though readily admitting that ‘we don’t yet know if building regulations were weakened or disregarded at Grenfell Tower’. Ironically, it seems EU environmental regulation may have been one of the main motivations for using the external cladding that is being blamed for the rapid spread of the fire. The 2010 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, adapted into UK law in 2014, stipulates targets for buildings’ energy efficiency.
Anyway, the left is as usual engaged in false economics. Their tirade against deregulation omits the whole argument against regulation: cost versus benefits, risks versus rewards. It is of course possible that additional fire safety measure could have saved lives (for example there were apparently no sprinkler system installed in the tower), though it appears by now that the fire spread via outside cladding at a ferocious speed which made any rescue effort difficult. But apart from that, fire safety costs money. In a country dealing with a housing crisis, increasing the cost of housing is not something done lightly and we know the left is quick to call for rent controls and denouncing landlords charging expensive rents – wanting one’s cake and eating it is endemic on the left, not just in the Corbyn election campaign.
Austerity, used to bad press, has of course also been blamed. To the left, austerity is a political choice, an agenda to starve the welfare state and give tax cuts to the reviled rich, not the policy response when you run out of money. A news site wondered why George Osborne had not been blamed, since he was the one who embarked on the unholy mission of living within one’s means. Why not, indeed? He’s a Tory, after all.
Profiteering has been another buzzword in the search for a culprit. With no private landlord to chastise, the council has been accused of profiteering, as has the contractor who carried out the renovation – of course with no evidence of excessive profits (whatever that is). As has become the norm, evidence is secondary to finding someone to blame.
In summary, the left saw victims and knew there had to be a predator. Accidents don’t just happen, they happen because of political choices by opponents of the left. A few Momentum activists handed out signs to demonstrators. All the commentators had to do was drag out the usual suspects: deregulation, austerity and profiteering. The political mood in the UK is toxic. The country is polarized by Brexit and an increasingly radical left is happy to play into the growing atmosphere of class war. A fire in a social housing block could hardly have come at a more opportune time.