Monday 19 March 2018

Queen vs May: a lesson in how to carry on...

Theresa May’s handling of the crisis contrasts with that of the 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth. Picture: PA
Theresa May’s handling of the crisis contrasts with that of the 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth. Picture: PA

Joe Watts

Theresa May's most senior minister, First Secretary of State Damian Green, has defended the way the British prime minister has handled the tragedy.

He said suggestions that May did not have what it takes to respond to such a disaster were "terribly unfair".

"She's distraught by what happened, as we all are," he said on BBC radio. "But this is not going to be one of those exercises of using a public inquiry to delay a response. Actually, we want the response to be as fast as possible."

He said the probe would look at whether sprinklers should be retro-fitted to tower blocks and the government would "follow the recommendations of the public inquiry".

Grief over the Grenfell Tower disaster turned into angry protests last Friday. May faced cries of "coward" and "shame on you" as she returned to the site of the devastating fire in west London after being criticised for not meeting victims in the wake of the tragedy.

But there was public support for Queen Elizabeth, who declared a "sombre national mood" after the inferno and recent terrorist attacks.

The Grenfell Tower blaze has sparked anger and flickers of social unrest in the streets of west London amid an atmosphere of political paralysis as May struggles to respond to the disaster.

The prime minister was initially criticised for not meeting with victims during a visit to the site last Thursday. On Friday, she was heckled as a "coward" as she left a meeting with locals, despite announcing €6m for emergency costs. She then gave an interview to the BBC in which she repeatedly avoided answering a question on whether she had misjudged the public mood, using only talking points in reply.

May's handling of the crisis contrasts with that of the 91-year-old monarch. In a reversal of the situation 20 years ago, when prime minister Tony Blair showed the Royal Family how to acknowledge public grief after the death of Princess Diana, the Queen now seemed to lead the way for May with her short statement, which also marked her official birthday.

"In recent months, the country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies," she said.

"During recent visits in Manchester and London, I have been profoundly struck by the immediate inclination of people throughout the country to offer comfort and support to those in desperate need."

The crisis is compounding questions about May's future, which were already put in doubt after the disastrous general election result earlier this month which saw her party deprived of an overall majority.

With crisis swirling at home, May also has to contend with the start of Brexit negotiations tomorrow, one of the biggest diplomatic challenges a UK leader has faced since World War II.

The mood around the charred remains of Grenfell Tower was subdued yesterday after an eventful day on Friday as locals grieved and remembered.

Dozens gathered outside Latimer Community Church, where hundreds of messages cover a remembrance wall. Two women cried silently by the police-blocked gate to the tower estate itself, gazing up at the blackened wreck.

Anger has focused on why the government didn't do enough to tighten fire regulations in recent years and local people have also accused authorities of suppressing the true death toll, an idea that has spread on social media.

Sunday Independent

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