The response by Theresa May and her ministers to last week’s fire which all but consumed the Grenfell Tower, an early 1970s block in West London, has not looked good from the word go. When it has come to showing support, sympathy, empathy, concern and reassurance, the Tories have been behind the curve, ceding the initiative to their critics, and especially Jeremy Corbyn. And yesterday it got much worse.
While the emergency services continued the grim task of working their way through the burnt-out building, locating the remains of those who had perished as the fire took hold, and the survivors tried to bring some semblance of normality to their lives, pick themselves up and move forward in any way they could, the Tory Party told the world just where its priorities lay - and they did not lie with the residents of Grenfell Tower.
The headline of Rachel Wearmouth’s HuffPo article yesterday evening said it all: “Theresa May Schmoozes Tory Donors While Grenfell Tower Residents Face Homelessness … ’Another example of the appalling lack of judgement and tact she has shown over recent days’”. Was it that bad? It certainly was: “Theresa May was schmoozing multi-millionaire Tory donors at the Savoy while Grenfell Tower residents faced homelessness”.
There was more. “The Prime Minister spent 50 minutes hobnobbing with Conservative backers at the lavish London hotel on Tuesday, despite aides insisting she was too “busy” for other engagements … at the Savoy event - where tables cost up to £5,000 - the Prime Minister posed for selfies and a bottle of champagne was raffled to raise funds”. The HuffPo had also secured a copy of the lunch menu.
The green asparagus salad starter, followed by slow roasted salt marsh rump of lamb, and finished off with mango pie, was washed down with a choice of reassuringly upmarket wines. There was a toast to Her Majesty’s Government. Gawd Bless ‘Em! But that was not all: while Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery was making the most of the Tories’ PR own goal, there was another schmoozing session in the evening.
One should not always give too much credence to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, but their post on the Tories’ evening schmooze is still live, which it would not have been had they called it wrong, and especially in the current circumstances. The Fawkes folks told readers “May To Schmooze MPs At No 10 Party Tonight”. That’s on top of the lunchtime event.
That post went on to tell “this evening she is throwing a drinks party for Tory MPs at Number 10, taking the unprecedented step of schmoozing her own MPs. Colleagues say this is a rare occurrence - not many of these events have taken place under May”. A rare occurrence with the most unfortunate of timing. It’s almost as if the PM and her party had gone into Millwall mode: “No-one likes us, we don’t care”.
As Oscar Wilde didn’t quite say, to host one schmoozing event in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire may be regarded as misfortune, to host two looks like carelessness.
The Tories don’t want to cast off that Nasty Party image just yet, then.