The long-form journalist Andrew O’Hagan has written an incredible 60 000 word piece on the Grenfell Tower fire in the London Review of Books that exposes much of the political opportunism that followed the fire in June 2016. Initially, O’Hagan said that he has been furious about the blaze and wanted to know who was responsible for the 72 deaths; however, as he researched the incident over a ten month period he began to realise just how much the fire had been politicised by activists who had long-standing ideological grudges against the Tory-led Kensington and Chelsea council.
In the angry political atmosphere in the weeks after the fire, a narrative took hold that neglect by the council was to blame for the catastrophe . Kensington Council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown was forced to resign as well as his deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellon, even though, as O’Hagan shows in the piece, the two men had actually done everything they could to help the victims of the fire. O’Hagan argues that errors on the night by the fire service and the unsafe cladding on the outside of the building were the likely reasons behind the number of fatalities. Yet Paget-Brown and Feilding-Mellon were pilloried as the “Tory Toffs” who didn’t care about poor people. Here is one of the most memorable quotes from the article:
Very early in the morning, as the tower still burned, people began mobilising these arguments and creating a high judicial platform for them. We wanted political scalps before the fire was out, even if it meant that the worst failures of the night would take a long time to be recognised. A game of political name-calling and blaming began, which appeared, for the better part of the coming year, to meet the needs of a world that demanded stock villains. It was a sign of the times: not only the fire but our reaction to it was relayed all over the world.
He also describes how Prime Minister Theresa May and then Housing Minister Sajid Javid were easily panicked by the bad press their Conservative colleagues in the Kensington and Chelsea council were getting, and were quick to call for their resignations.
The full article is here. Please do read the whole thing.