The burned-out tower dominates the landscape. While the immediate horror of the tragedy will fade, it will loom over our politics for a decade.
PD James sometimes decorated the claustrophobic settings of her murder stories with dark towers, to act as sentinel, as judge, over the scurrying pointlessness of the puppet-ants she conjured in their shadow.
For all the point of attempting to have a conversation about politics in the current febrile atmosphere — for all the agency such a discussion could effect — we may as well be those ants, creatures in someone else’s story. And for the foreseeable future, unless Tory-minded people get their act together, the author of that story will be Corbyn.
Consider the extent to which we are already his creatures (thanks to the inability of Theresa May to talk human to normal people over a six week election campaign). I heard a young man on the radio talking with a crack in his voice. He was protesting outside Downing Street: “These people [in the tower] were screaming for years. We’re all screaming. Austerity killed those people.”
Some have called this a “weaponisation” of the tragedy, but to me it seems closer to psychological projection. The “pain” of every public sector worker forced to confront economic reality as real as the pain of the tower’s victims. I turned off the radio in disgust.
But I had just witnessed the power of Corbyn’s narrative: austerity is simple wickedness; it was always a moral choice by the selfish; now it has killed people in the worst sort of horror. What sort of person are you — someone who’d vote to burn people to death?
If you think I’m exaggerating, imagine having the following conversation with that Downing Street protestor:
“You worry about how easy you’ll find the sourcing of a career, a house? Go Skype someone in Venezuela and ask them how their anti-austerity marches turned out. Share a pouting Instagram with a Greek teenager and ask them what living with unserviceable debt feels like.
“What your parents have forgotten to explain, and what you’ll certainly never hear in that godforsaken excuse of a ‘university’ that you already regret attending — is that a deficit the size of the UK’s will eventually hurt, in lost jobs and homes foreclosed and worthless pensions and raging inflation.
“It will hurt you, it will hurt your children more, and it will turn what is still a relatively decent country into a barren strip of unproductive nothingness for your poor, bewildered grandchildren to inherit — yes, when I am dead. We voted to stymie an endless gushing increase in the debt-to-income ratio for you.”
But now, not only the extreme Left will use Grenfell to end the argument for any sort of constraint on any public spending, and not only public sector workers and protestors will agree with them; not only is that argument lost on our young, with their justifiable fury at our generation’s unwillingness to build houses.
Most worryingly, the argument is lost on the swarming New Sycophantic Army which suddenly infests the parliamentary Labour benches – each member of which has “won the victory over themselves” in order to love Jeremy Corbyn, for ever.
The last time that the country substituted sentiment for critical thinking — in the aftermath of the death of Diana — not only good taste took a hammering. In its wake was ushered the era of prime-time Blairism, cracked over-emoting voices and all. Don’t worry about ideology, stop your fussing about motive, just tell me: how does this make you feel?
We should be so lucky to have Blair as the worst outcome now. Corbyn is openly calling for the occupation of private property as a “solution” to the housing crisis. This isn’t a surprise, as it’s exactly how he began his “career” in Haringey, all those years ago.
So make sure you lock your front door when you go out; be careful whose eye you catch on the walk back from the shops or the bus stop. The leader of the Labour Party has declared you fair game for anyone who feels dispossessed, and has perverted a tragedy to make the counter-argument near impossible.
For the many, not the few; you do know that you are the “few” in that equation, don’t you? And I wonder: how does that make you feel?