As the fire in the Grenfell Tower finally burns itself out, and the process of searching the building for what may be a significant number of bodies begins, the questions are being asked, one of which concerns Theresa May. Where was our Prime Minister? And so it came to pass that Ms May fetched up at the site. But it had been made clear to all concerned that this was a private visit: the public were not invited.
That means that the PM spoke to firefighters, Police officers, NHS workers and others who had assisted rescue efforts, but met none of the residents. There was to be no Prime Ministerial meeting for survivors, relatives, friends, voluntary organisations, or even those from local places of worship who had opened their doors to those affected by the blaze. The visit lasted around 20 minutes. And then it was over.
At this time, as is done on Zelo Street from time to time, J K Galbraith’s definition of leadership is wheeled out. “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time”. The major anxiety of the people around the Grenfell Tower right now did not matter to Theresa May; she therefore flunked the latest test of her leadership.
And it was leadership that was on the mind of those who observed the PM’s behaviour earlier today. Journalist Hicham Yezza noted “Theresa May has just ‘privately visited’ #GrenfellTower She didn't meet residents or media, but was quite happy to get a photo-op out of it”. Liam O’Hare was more forthright: “Theresa May just visited #GrenfellTower but left after refusing to meet any residents. Appalling”.
O’Hare later confirmed that Ms May had not met with any journalists either. There was also the suggestion from Joana Ramiro that the visit need not have been a purely private one: “Theresa May changed a public visit to #GrenfellTower to a private one, not even meeting residents. Appalling public leadership once again”. Again the question of leadership, with the visit’s private nature excused by citing “security concerns”.
The highly sound Natalie Rowe was also interested in the L-Word: “What kind of Leadership is that? She takes a peek then gets a-stepping back to her DUP pals”. Yes, letting us know the Queen’s Speech will be next Wednesday, before completing those negotiations with the DUP. More less than wonderful leadership.
Meanwhile, senior Labour Party figures are showing a little real leadership, with Charles Falconer, a former Lord Chancellor, telling “Government should set up statutory judicial enquiry now into Grenfell Tower tragedy requiring interim report by autumn”. It will surprise no-one when Jeremy Corbyn visits the Grenfell Tower area later, meets the residents and all those who Theresa May chose to ignore, and engages with them.
In the run-up to last week’s General Election, Theresa May was being lauded as worthy of a hundred-seat Commons majority. Now, as she clings to office by her fingertips, all those voters can see that the Tories and their press pals sold them a pup.