I haven’t been in Camden this afternoon, so I can’t vouch for there being no marches of activists holding banners with the words ‘Labour Out’ and ‘Corbyn Must Go’, but somehow I doubt there are – and I certainly haven’t seen them on the news. But why not? Last week we saw no end of left-wing activists out on the streets trying to exploit the Grenfell Tower tragedy for their own party political purposes – trying to present it as a case of callous Tories treating the lives of the poor as worthless as they slash their way through budgets with abandon.
Yes, Kensington and Chelsea is a Conservative-controlled borough but it turns out that is was far from alone in cladding its tower blocks with flammable cladding. Today, it emerges that five blocks in Labour-controlled Camden have also been clad with a similar material, which is now to be removed as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, fire officers will man the corridors 24 hours a day.
The cladding of tower blocks with flammable materials is a scandal, but it is one in which all three main political parties have their fingers. Across the country, 600 blocks have been clad (not necessarily with the same materials as those at Grenfell Tower, though many are now being tested). They span council areas of all colours. The cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government whose Decent Homes Initiative, which demanded that 95 per cent of social housing be brought up to specified insulation standards by 2010 but which failed to lay down adequate fire standards. It was a Liberal-Democrat controlled Southwark Council carried out the renovations at Lakanal House, Camberwell, where new external panels were blamed for the spread of a fire which killed 6 people in 2009. The council was later fined £570,000.
The fact that all parties might be culpable in cladding tower blocks hasn’t stopped Jeremy Corbyn, however, who continues his attempt to turn Grenfell Tower into a parable about class oppression. ‘From Hillsborough, to the child sex abuse scandal, to Grenfell Tower, the pattern is consistent: working-class people’s voices are ignored, their concerns dismissed by those in power’, he said this afternoon. Yet Hillsborough victims weren’t all working class. While child sex abuse has been exposed among children in care in Rotherham, Oldham and elsewhere, it has also come to light in private boarding schools – where children’s complaints were equally ignored.
If Corbyn is going to continue this line of attack he might at least check his facts first. Last week he said: “The ward where this fire took place is, I think, the poorest ward in the whole country”. Actually, it comes in at number 3823 out of 32,844 wards in the government’s deprivation index: not even in the top 10 per cent. The most-deprived is Jaywick, on the fringes of Clacton, Essex, and the next two are in Blackpool. Corbyn might pitch himself as a champion of the working class, but in doing so exposes his own London-centric, middle class prejudices.