The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower last week tells us a great deal about Britain today. Also, the way in which Kensington & Chelsea Council handled their PR in the hours and days after the tragedy is a classic example of how not to do things.
The residents of Grenfell Tower reflected the cosmopolitan nature of London. They are the sort of people the city relies on, working for minimum wage or on zero hours contracts as cleaners, porters, carers, etc. London’s hopelessly out of control housing market means that social housing in tower blocks is often the only option available to them.
I’ve always believed that the way to deal with an emergency is to fall back on the three Rs; react, regret and respond. The blue light services certainly reacted in an exemplary manner. However, neither the Council nor the Government expressed any regret for the suffering caused. I got the impression that they did not understand that it is perfectly possible to express regret without admitting blame.
The response, particularly in PR terms, was appalling. Instead of taking a lead and clearly explaining what was happening and what aid was available, Kensington and Chelsea chose to keep a low profile. The result was that they lost control of the story, allowing residents groups and opposition politicians to set the news agenda.
One of the main problems with the Council’s media response to the tragedy was that nobody seemed to be taking the lead. Eventually both the Council Leader and the Lead Member for Housing did disastrous media interviews. It should have been obvious to the Council that two obviously posh white men with double barrelled names and public school accents were unlikely to send out the right message.
The public were left with the perception, rightly or wrongly, that both the Government and the local authority would have reacted very differently if the victims of the tragedy had been further up the socio economic ladder.
It all comes down to one uncomfortable fact. In the wealthiest borough of one of the wealthiest cities in the world, scores of people died simply because they were poor. Does that make you feel proud to be British?