After Grenfell we must move political debate forward

Amidst the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower block fire, we have seen the public become dissatisfied with the lacklustre response of those in charge. This feeling of outrage has spread far and wide, up to the North East, with protests against cladding in Newcastle, as the story of what happened in London resonated with us here. There has been public denouncements of politicians, councillors and anyone seemingly in authority. But how do we determine who should be held accountable?

Much of our information as to who the heroes and villains are comes from social media. The price we pay for living in a consumerist, technologically linked society is that our views are facilitated by Facebook, Twitter and the rest. We have a platform for airing dissatisfactions on a grand scale, and make these tragedies seem as raw as if they occurred in our own back yard. Bad news gets more hits than good, and stories like this will quickly gather momentum, no matter how close to home they happen.

As a species, we love to have our survival senses tweaked by horror stories so they are readily available to protect us when we need them, ensuring that we survive. They are imbued with the anger of the fight response, and this primal factor can often fan the flames of a wider public discontent. Rage responses seek to find someone to blame, and we target all our energy on them in order to find closure. Unfortunately, the situation is often far more complex than that, and anyone seeking blood will find that they are shooting messengers rather than culprits in the heat of the moment.

What happened at Grenfell Tower was a tragedy. It needs full investigation, as shortcuts have been clearly taken, and it falls to those in charge, namely the politicians, to provide answers. Ultimately, the buck must stop somewhere.

Conversely, it is hard not to feel sorry for the politicians caught up in this situation, as they are tied to a system that is far from perfect. Efforts to change the system often result in disastrous consequences, and those in the public eye are left to carry the can. In the recent past, this has often been because they are seen to act unscrupulously from a position of greed, rather than in the best interest of the general public.

Perhaps we as citizens need to think about our place in the world, and how we can affect the change we want to see. Clearly, we should be empowering the disadvantaged to participate in political processes, and our elites need to understand their role as part of the community, rather than increasing their separation. We need to move the debate on, and examine ways we can resolve these issues without resorting to mudslinging and blame.

We see glimmers of this when we hear about people who are prepared to offer greater taxation in exchange for public services. People are giving to charities with a generosity that’s rarely seen elsewhere in the world. When a crisis occurs, people living in relative independence merge together, open their doors and a real sense of community occurs. The Geordies and the Grenfell residents alike are, at some level, emotionally linked and economically bound, standing united together.

Maybe it’s time to have sensible debates about where responsibility lies, and how we can manage our economies effectively whilst still caring for our people. Maybe it’s time to hold our local politicians to task to get the right policies in place, rather than only those informed by the simple, old-fashioned principles of tax and spend.