“And I think if either of us were in a fire, whatever the fire brigade said, we would leave the burning building. It just seems the common sense thing to do.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg faced heavy backlash recently for his short-sighted comments on the Grenfell Tower tragedy. In response to being asked whether the tragedy had been about class or race, he suggested that Grenfell residents lacked “common sense” for following the fire brigade’s instructions to stay put.
He has since apologised, but is he truly sorry? Rees-Mogg’s comments highlight the elitism that persists in British politics, the type that many believe led to the avoidable tragedy of Grenfell happening in the first place.
Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report suggests the cladding on the building acted as a catalyst for the fire, causing its rapid spread up the side of the building. Initially installed to improve appearance and heating insulation, the cladding did not comply with basic building regulations which require it to adequately resist the spread of fire.
The BBC also found that nearly £300,000 was to be saved by the local council through installing the aluminium cladding, rather than a safer alternative. Residents had also been asking for improved fire safety within the tower block for years, though they were largely ignored by the local council.
So, why did Rees-Mogg, an Oxford-educated Etonian from Somerset, think he would have more common sense than the victims of the Grenfell fire? Simply put, Jacob Rees-Mogg is part of an elite in British politics who shift the blame onto ordinary people.
Being the 7th richest MP in the 2017 parliament, it’s not hard to see how incredible wealth and privilege distorts a person’s view of everyday British society. However, it’s demoralising to the victims of Grenfell to be insulted by the politicians who have the power to change society.
Jacob Rees-Mogg would never be in the same situation as the Grenfell residents and that is what makes his comments unacceptable. He has lived an extremely privileged life and for him to imply that he would have survived Grenfell because of his common sense completely underestimates the systemic class causes of how working-class residents were ignored by mainstream politicians once again. Has he ever lived in social housing? Has he ever been put in a situation of local authorities disregarding the need for basic fire safety?
Amongst others, his support for austerity politics has starved local councils of resources and adequate budgets to renovate and keep people safe. “Common sense” would be to give sympathy to the families. “Common sense” would be to adequately fund local councils and emergency services, or introduce stricter laws on building regulations.
It’s a vicious cycle – privileged people use their influence and background to gain power and look out for each other. Grenfell residents, sadly, did not have a responsive authority that could improve their situation.
Obviously, Jacob Rees-Mogg is not personally responsible for the Grenfell Tower tragedy, but he is a part of an elitist culture entrenched in British politics that might be. As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry enters its second phase, and politicians continue to speculate on the initial cause of the fire, it’s important to be respectful and considerate towards the victims and those who are still grieving. Rees-Mogg’s much-needed apology was put out swiftly but left a bitter taste.
The most harrowing conclusion from the report was the “Matters of Particular Concern” section, suggesting that authorities failed the community through the weak structural safety of the building and their lack of response to the warnings from the local community about a potential disaster.
Jacob Rees-Mogg was a part of a government that cut fire and safety regulations, and it was a local council ran by his party who ignored the concerns of residents. So maybe he is the one lacking in common sense?