Sometimes you can watch the TV news unfold its daily horrors and let it just wash over you; at other times the sheer awfulness leaves you breathless, heartsick, overwhelmed. Today is one of those other days. It’s been difficult to concentrate at work today, flicking back to the news websites every so often with a pounding heart. If this is how I’m feeling, a comfortable 200 miles away from Grenfell Tower, I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for those personally affected.
But perhaps I don’t need to be too concerned about this. Not yet, anyway. You see, “it’s too early to speculate” on the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire, according to the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation. It’s a line I’ve heard parroted all day by the mainstream media, including numerous BBC journalists. “It’s too soon to say how the fire took hold so quickly” they assure us blandly.
Too soon to speculate. It’s a phrase that’s been troubling me all day, and here’s why:
Just imagine, if you will, that there were rumours linking a horrific fire in leafy suburbia with the use of flammable materials in the construction of four bedroom semi-detached houses. Would anybody be saying it was ‘too soon’ to speculate? Somehow I suspect not. Building companies and fire safety experts would be overwhelmed by phone calls from concerned owner-occupiers like me, demanding to have the suspect materials removed ‘just in case’. A massive public information campaign, through the popular press and social media, would warn us of the potential dangers. A few days from now, the Daily Telegraph would feature a piece about how rip-off builders were hiking up their prices to take advantage of worried home-owners.
And yet, when it’s council tenants in a tower block… it’s too early to speculate. What kind of message does that give to the hundreds or thousands of people around the UK worried sick as they put their kids to bed tonight in tower blocks which may have the same fire safety issues? Isn’t it basically saying: you just sit there in your flat, with that nagging worry, that surge of panic every time you think you smell smoke, wondering what your options are. Keep those worries to yourself. The people in charge don’t want to hear it right now. “Too soon to speculate” is really just a polite way of saying “You don’t count. Your worries, your safety, your lives are just data on a piece of paper which hasn’t reached the top of the CEO’s in-tray yet.”
As always, it’s heartwarming and inspiring to see how quickly the emergency services respond, and how communities come together at times like this. But when the powers-that-be say “it’s too soon to speculate” about what’s caused the fire, to me it seems that they’re telling those who have lost their homes and possessions, who are spending tonight in emergency accommodation, that they’re somehow not worth worrying about, that they’re never quite going to make it to the top of the list of urgent priorities. What kind of society can be so blasé about the lives of the less well off? How have we allowed this country to become so divided, so polarised, that we don’t see this massive inequality?
Too soon to speculate. What a stunningly callous bit of double-think there is in those words. The time to speculate, to check, to act on the concerns raised again and again by tenants, should have been any time over the last few years. The horrible truth is, that it’s not too soon to be considering the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire. For the twelve or more people who have lost their lives, it’s too fucking late.