After Theresa May made her brief private visit to talk to the firefighters and other first responders who had attended the tragic fire at the Grenfell Tower in north Kensington, she met no residents, spoke to no reporters, and instead scuttled back to the security of Downing Street. But at least she ordered a public inquiry into the blaze; if only she had acted before Labour’s Charles Falconer had prompted her.
So residents, other locals, and volunteers ended up yet more frustrated at a Prime Minister who considered meeting the lower orders was beneath her, never mind actually engaging with them. What a difference a few hours made: later this morning, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrived on the scene, along with housing spokesman John Healey and local MP - yes, Kensington now has a Labour MP - Emma Dent Coad.
One resident passed severely adverse comment on Ms May’s discreet private visit, told Corbyn “that Theresa May was ’s**t’ after she broke through a police cordon to ask for his help … The resident said action needed to be taken to ensure there was no repeat of the horrific blaze, which has left at least 17 people dead with the death toll expected to rise … She told Mr Corbyn: ‘Theresa May was here but she didn't speak to any of us. She was s**t.’ Mr Corbyn said he would see what he could do”.
The Labour leader left reporters in no doubt that he would ensure action was taken. “Some very hard questions have got to be asked and some very hard questions must be answered … Questions on the sprinkler system, questions on the fire breaks, questions on why the cladding apparently burnt, questions on building control regulations, questions on the safety … Every single person who lives in a high-rise apartment today is going to be thinking, 'How safe am I?’”. Earlier, he was confronted by another resident.
This man was unhappy at the prospect of the whole tragedy being swept under the carpet. Corbyn reassured him “Emma is your MP. She will speak for this community. John Healey is our housing spokesperson. He will speak up for us. I will speak up for all of you because we have to get to the bottom of this. The truth has got to come out. And it will”.
While Theresa May flunked her leadership test this morning, Corbyn committed himself to confronting unequivocally the major anxiety of the people. Thousands of Kensington’s residents live in tower blocks. Nationally, that figure is in to the hundreds of thousands. Could they sleep safely in their beds, after such a dreadful fire?
While our Prime Minister cowers behind her security detail - and a right-wing press which will screamingly denounce Corbyn as an opportunist in tomorrow’s editions - the Labour leader has demonstrated his willingness to show some real leadership. Whatever he could do, he would do. There would be no pretence, no artifice.
Even before the Grenfell Tower fire, Theresa May’s approval ratings had fallen way behind Jeremy Corbyn’s. By now they will have plummeted. And all the time, another General Election looms. It might not be so easy for the press to con their readers next time.