There is only one way to respond to disasters such as the Grenfell Tower fire: gather evidence, analyse it and take actions on that basis, says Paul Finch
Some really rather nasty people leap on to self-devised bandwagons in the wake of hideous events such as major fires. All sense of proportion is deliberately abandoned in a race to show how they are more outraged/angry/empathetic than anyone else. I am not talking about the wretched victims themselves, nor their families, but those who see an opportunity to project on to tragedy their favourite prejudices and world-views.
I regret to say that some broadcasters have fallen prey to this tendency. The repellent inquisition of the prime minister by a journalist who appeared to be auditioning for a role as Witchfinder General, was a good example of transference: if you do not react as I expect you to react, then somehow the tragedy is all your fault.
There is only one way to respond to man-made disasters (or organisational response to natural disasters): adopt an Enlightenment approach, which is to say, gather evidence, analyse it, and take action on that basis. If that includes criminal prosecutions, so be it, but let it be after the evidence has been gathered, not on the basis of head-banging political opportunism.
Blame-merchants thrive on rumour and partial evidence. At the time of writing, the clearest piece of information about the reason for the external spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower has come from the Department of Communities and Local Government, which carries responsibility for Building Regulations.
Those arguing that building catastrophes are the consequence of ‘deregulation’ or ‘cuts’ offer little evidence
According to a statement reportedly issued by DCLG, the type of over-cladding used on Grenfell Tower did not conform to regulations. If that is true, it would be remarkable, since the ‘saving’ in using the relevant system as opposed to an alternative fire-resistant type was a few thousand pounds against a budget of £8 million-plus. I suspect there is more to this than meets the eye, but will reserve judgement until we have all the facts.
Reserving judgement is not something that finds favour with those who hate high-rise buildings, of course. The suggestion that (a) all blocks are unsafe and (b) that no one should live in them is akin to saying that if an aeroplane crashes, nobody should ever fly again.
And whatever happened to a sense of history? The people who argue that building catastrophes are the consequence of ‘deregulation’ or different building inspection systems, or ‘cuts’, offer little evidence for their conclusions. That is because they are not conclusions in any meaningful sense of the word; they are outpourings of world views masquerading as objective truth.
The reality is that fire is far less a problem than it used to be, for a variety of reasons: better regulation (and in particular the bringing up to standard of a greater proportion of building stock to meet those regulations); better materials; better technologies. That is why there are relatively few fires these days in London – the city that invented a powerful regulatory regime in the wake of the Great Fire more than 350 years ago. It is a fact that we had more fires in the days when there was a different sort of inspection regime.
It is also questionable as to whether the work at Grenfell was a cheap project. This form of over-cladding is relatively expensive, so the suggestion that the contract was a race to the bottom needs much more rigorous analysis.
Finally, I confess that I had an unworthy thought in the immediate aftermath of the fire, which was to criticise ‘green’ insistence on improving insulation standards to meet climate-change targets. This was quite unreasonable on my part – but it was a private thought.
We must wait for the public inquiry. And, of course, the outcome of that police investigation.