Theresa May was rightly criticised for her response to the Grenfell Tower blaze. The Prime Minister’s decision not to initially meet survivors or relatives of those killed looked dreadful, and in the days after the fire there was a real risk that what happened was being pinned squarely on the Tories. While it was right to criticise May for her initial failings though, it also seems fair to say that the Prime Minister’s statement this morning was faultless – at least in terms of helping those on the ground in Kensington. Yet her remarks now raise troubling questions about how many other blocks like Grenfell Tower there are across Britain.
For those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, it is clear the Government is determined to make up for lost time. The PM confirmed that money paid out to victims won’t have to be repaid and that those left homeless will be rehoused nearby. Crucially, May also said that ‘we will not use this tragic incident as a reason to carry out immigration checks on those involved’. This stops short of the amnesty on illegal immigrants who might have been living in the block when it caught light which was called for by Sadiq Khan, but is a sensible step which will help those investigating the fire. It also avoids the ‘nasty party’ label being flung about. The Prime Minister – who looked a shadow of her former self yesterday compared to an emboldened Jeremy Corbyn – even managed a subtle dig at the leader of the opposition, who was praised for meeting survivors in the aftermath of the blaze. May told the Commons she was determined to make…
‘…a lasting commitment (in)… supporting the families affected, long after the television cameras have gone.’
Yet the Prime Minister’s statement makes it clear that something has gone badly wrong indeed – and not just in Kensington. The Government has said that tests on cladding in other blocks shows that flammable material was used in a number of recent refurbishments elsewhere in Britain. It’s thought that similar cladding to that used in Grenfell Tower might have been used in as many as 600 blocks across the country, with urgent tests now being carried out to establish how many are affected. These assessments will inevitably take time, and it remains deeply troubling that, tonight, residents will go to sleep in blocks wrapped in apparently flammable material.
While the Government appears to be finally getting to grips with the situation on the ground in Kensington, it is becoming increasingly clear that whatever went so badly wrong at Grenfell Tower cannot be dismissed as an isolated incident.