On the eve of the British election I wrote of how British Prime Minister Theresa May had failed to rise to the occasion of the two terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.
Two days ago I also wrote that the Conservatives were making a serious mistake by retaining her as their leader despite her failure to win a strong mandate in the election.
Events since the Grenfell Tower tragedy have underscored both points.
Firstly, it is important to say that whoever is responsible for the Grenfell Tower tragedy – if any single person is – that person cannot be Theresa May. Neither as Home Secretary from 2010 to 2016, nor as Prime Minister since 2016, has she done anything that could possibly have any bearing on the tragedy.
Secondly, since the cause of the tragedy is unknown, claims that it is in some way related to the deficit reduction ‘austerity’ policy the Conservative government has followed since 2010, and that this in some way means that the Conservative government bears responsibility for the tragedy, seem to me not just speculative but frankly mischievous.
However what is beyond question is that Theresa May has – yet again – failed to rise to the occasion. Where both Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Queen went out of their way to meet survivors and the families of the victims – with the Queen who is 91 at times close to tears – Theresa May over the course of a brief visit met only rescue workers and members of the fire service.
Inevitably this led to accusations that she is too afraid to confront the survivors or the families of the victims, with the optics looking like she was surrounded by guards (see picture) creating a disastrous impression.
Theresa May was then given a second opportunity to meet survivors and members of the families of the victims when she attended a service today in a nearby church. Amazingly she again failed to do so.
Meanwhile there has been no sense of the government visibly taking charge of the rescue operation or of helping the local Conservative run council do so. Instead the council has been left hanging out to dry, so that without the backing of the government behind it it does not seem to know what to do.
The result is that however wrongly or unfairly there is now a mounting sense amongst people that they have been left to fend for themselves, resulting in statements like this one from someone who says he lost a friend and her family in the fire
The reason for the protest is that so far in the last three days the general public have done everything from raising money to actually going out there on the streets, helping people, finding the victims of the tragedy, going to the community centres, the churches and the mosques with donations and in cash.
To this day the council has failed to do anything in public, they have not made a public statement or any public comment. The statement they made today was just a fluffy statement – open-ended promises with no concrete numbers of what they are going to be able to do for the people.
Unsurprisingly the result is mounting anger, which to anyone like myself living in London is now becoming palpable, and which earlier today resulted in the local council’s offices being stormed, and which has led to protests outside Theresa May’s office in Downing Street.
It is fair to say that where the terrorist attack before the election brought Londoners closer together, the inept handling of the Grenfell Tower tragedy has driven them further apart and is creating the conditions for a riot.
Whilst Theresa May cannot be blamed for the tragedy, she is entirely to blame for its disastrous aftermath. A tragedy of this sort is precisely the moment when a leader most needs to convey authority and leadership. Theresa May has utterly failed to convey either. The result is anger, confusion and drift. Americans who remember George W. Bush’s botched response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans know exactly what I mean.
If the Conservative Party had any lingering doubts that Theresa May should go, the events of the last three days ought to put that question beyond any further doubt