‘Blunderwoman’ under fire in Grenfell fallout

Clinging on: Theresa May’s approval ratings hit an all-time low this week. © Getty

The sharks are circling around Theresa May after her faltering response to the Grenfell Tower blaze. Some are even blaming the prime minister for the tragedy. Is this really fair?

Two months ago Theresa May announced her decision to hold a snap general election. Then many expected her to govern Britain for a decade. But now she appears to have lost all authority.

Five days after her embarrassment at the polls, the Grenfell Tower in west London went up in flames, killing at least 70 people. But what first seemed like a tragic accident is now morphing into a political disaster for the prime minister. As one of her predecessors, Harold Macmillan, said: the greatest danger governments face is “events, dear boy, events”.

First the government’s austerity policies were criticised as it emerged that corners had been cut in making the building safe. Then the public anger turned on Theresa May after she initially refused to meet victims face-to-face at the scene, citing “security concerns”.

The Guardian said May looked “off the pace, inarticulate, seemingly uncomprehending”, comparing the event with President Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Meanwhile The Daily Mail has claimed that the PM has “ten days to save her job”. One of May’s aides told Tim Shipman of The Times that “she just wants to be behind the door of number 10 and not talk to anyone”, while another claimed that she had cried three times in the last week.

Theo Bertram, a former aide to Gordon Brown called it “a failure of communication, not compassion”, sympathising with the PM’s plight.

May has taken action: she quickly announced that a full public inquiry into the fire would take place, as well as pledging £5m to help victims.

But some are not satisfied. On Friday crowds marched from Kensington to the Houses of Parliament, chanting “Blood, blood, blood on your hands,” and “Theresa May has got to go.”

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee pointed the blame at the whole Tory Party. The tower, which she calls “austerity in ruins”, sums up the “May-Cameron-Osborne era”.

Is it fair to blame the prime minister?

Maybot malfunction

No one thinks May is solely to blame, but as the prime minister she must take a lot of responsibility, say some. She voted through legislation that helped lead to this disaster, and her response has been dreadful. As George Eaton of the New Statesman says: “One of the Prime Minister’s essential roles is to embody the nation’s spirit at moments of tragedy. May is failing.”

“This is a nasty, bullying witch-hunt”, reply others. A vicious mob mentality is taking over Britain. People always want a scapegoat and they have found one in the figure of an embattled, downtrodden PM, whom they mercilessly portray as cruel and heartless. There are questions to answer, but it is insane to blame her for the building’s deadly shortcomings.

You Decide

  1. Is it fair to blame Theresa May for the Grenfell Tower fire?
  2. Should Theresa May stand down as prime minister?

Activities

  1. Put yourself in Theresa May’s shoes. Write down three things you would have done in the 24 hours following the Grenfell Tower fire.
  2. Research a similar historical disaster that had a measurable effect on a country’s politics and give a five minute presentation about it to your class.

Some People Say...

“Unintelligent people always look for a scapegoat.”

Ernest Bevin

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
That the last two months has seen public confidence in Theresa May completely melt away. Many people have identified an unwillingness to talk to people as the prime minister’s hallmark, from refusing to do a head-to-head debate with Jeremy Corbyn to not meeting victims of the fire at the scene. We know that many in the Tory party now want May gone as soon as possible.
What do we not know?
Who, most of all, was at fault. Everything and everyone from Theresa May, Kensington borough council, the EU and 1970s architects have been blamed in recent days. The public inquiry will aim to work all this out. We also do not know whether May can ride this out. She is said to be motivated by duty to the country, but many now predict that she will not last the year.

Word Watch

Harold Macmillan
Conservative prime minister from 1957 until 1963. He was generally known for favouring pragmatism over ideology.
Meet victims
This contrasted heavily with Jeremy Corbyn, who was quick to travel to North Kensington, and the Queen, who met victims on Friday.
President Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina
The hurricane, which hit New Orleans killing around 1,500 people, was the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. Many of the victims were poor and black. Questions were raised about the adequacy of the city’s flood defences, while George Bush was criticised for his response.
Gordon Brown
Bertram wrote: “The Tories turned Gordon’s political mistakes into fundamental character flaws. The same is now happening to May.”
Kensington
On Friday protesters stormed into Kensington Town Hall before marching across London. Many of those present had links to far-left political groups.
Legislation
Tory MPs voted down an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill designed to require private landlords to ensure their properties are “fit for human habitation”.