Tom Goodenough

Grenfell Tower: Theresa May’s ‘Hurricane Katrina’ moment?

Grenfell Tower: Theresa May's ‘Hurricane Katrina’ moment?
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We don't yet know what caused the Grenfell Tower blaze. Yet already one thing is clear: this devastating fire, in which at least 17 people - and possibly many more - lost their lives, should never have happened.

Grenfell Tower is turning into Theresa May’s ‘Hurricane Katrina’ moment, says the Guardian, which contrasts Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to meet those affected and his ‘promise to find the truth’ with the Prime Minister’s decision to make no ’contact with the shattered survivors’. May looks ‘off the pace, inarticulate, seemingly uncomprehending – a leader failing the great ordeal by disaster that is the ultimate test,’ the paper argues. The Guardian says this is not just about leadership though: why were the recommendations made by a coroner ‘after the inquest into the deaths of six residents of Lakanal House in south London in 2009’ not enforced? It’s true that then communities secretary, Eric Pickles, gave advice to councils to ‘retrofit fire suppressant systems in older blocks’. Yet ‘without the funding to make it viable, councils adopted a minimalist approach, enhancing fire protection only in the highest-risk housing,’ the Guardian argues. The decision to hold an inquiry is a ‘welcome move’ for the Guardian, which goes on to say that ‘one of the catastrophes of Katrina was a great diaspora, and the irrecoverable disruption of children’s education’. The same must not be repeated here. Of course, these early steps to rehouse those affected within the local area are part of ‘only the start of what is necessary for the survivors of Grenfell Tower. But it is too little and maybe too late for a prime minister whose approval ratings have crashed,’ the Guardian concludes.

People are right to be angry at the Grenfell Tower ‘catastrophe’, says the Sun. After all, the ‘failures’ which led to this week’s devastating blaze ‘are many and grotesque’. Officials ‘turned a deaf ear’ to residents ‘fears’, according to the paper, which says that ‘the Government seemingly sat on its hands’. This is ‘inexcusable’. Yet ‘it is facile to blame “Tory cuts”, argues the Sun, which says that the reason ‘money is tight’ is ‘because it ran out under Labour in 2010.’. So, however we deal with this tragedy, 'the answer is not to overthrow capitalism...but to reset it with greater emphasis on the public good’, concludes the Sun.

We don’t yet know the ‘precise cause and course of the fire’, says the Times. But already it is clear ‘the tower’s charred concrete frame ‘ stands as ‘a reproach to the many agencies and officials who could have done more’ to keep residents safe. ‘Cladding…found to have been (a) fire hazard elsewhere in the world appears to have been used in the recent refurbishment of Grenfell Tower’, suggests the Times, which says that a planned government review ‘of fire safety regulations’ ‘has never been published or even, apparently, completed’. If ‘the first duty of government is to keep the public safe’, it’s clear that the devastating fire was ‘not only an appalling tragedy but a failure of government,’ says the Times.

It is far too early to apportion blame for what happened,’ argues the Daily Telegraph, which says that Jeremy Corbyn was wrong to suggest that the failure to implement key fire safety measures ‘was the fault of council spending cuts’. ‘He has no way of knowing that and it was inappropriate to say so when the burned-out shell was still being searched for victims,’ argues the Telegraph. It is clear though that failings, somewhere, were made: ‘residents had long expressed their concern over the fire-safety regime at the block’, only for their worries to be ignored. There are now key questions to answer. ‘Were corners cut? Was the advice of the London Fire Brigade followed? Is the local authority culpable in any way?’ Now, for the victims and survivors of the blaze, ‘a full, open and transparent inquiry is essential.’