Tory press is Tory, and on packing bags

A front page of the Daily Mail with the headline "Three lethal questions", namely, "Were green targets to blame for fire tragedy? Why were the families told to stay in their flats? How many more tinder-box towers are there?".So, after the intial flurry of sympathy and devastation for the people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire last Wednesday, by Friday evening the Tory press had started to show their true colours: as early as Thursday morning the Daily Mail had printed a front page, “Three Lethal Questions”, the first being whether environmental regulations were to blame for the flammable cladding being applied to the tower; last night and this morning the Mail and Telegraph were branding the protesters at Kensington Town Hall as thugs, anarchists, a ‘mob’ and the like — true, there were some SWP there and a few men with faces covered, but the majority were friends and relatives of those trapped in the tower or people made homeless who were angry at the total lack of any official response and lack of information as to where their injured relatives and friends were. The Telegraph saw fit to reveal that Mustafa al-Mansur, who helped to organise yesterday’s town hall protest, was “a Jeremy Corbyn-supporting political activist who was once arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences” although he was released without charge, that he used to be a spokesman for Finsbury Park mosque, and that he lived in Haringey borough, not the estate affected (though his friend Rania Ibrahim and her children died in the blaze).

The Mail also printed a story claiming that the man in whose flat the fire started had stopped to gather a few things together before alerting his neighbours and fleeing the building. I saw this posted on a friend’s Facebook and an early version of the story claimed he was white and British, yet they went to the trouble of amending it when they discovered he was in fact from east Africa, and printed pictures of him drinking beer while on holiday (as if that was relevant, or as if he had been lazing round drinking beer since the fire; a lot of people drink beer in their spare time and on holiday). The reason is obvious: it makes him look selfish and unconcerned with others, as if he could have anticipated that the fire would engulf most of the building, or as if those few seconds really could have cost the lives of so many (unlikely), or as if the flammable cladding on the outside and lack of other safety equipment were not the real reasons the fire took hold. Anyone who has been through a fire safety drill will have heard the instruction to evacuate without delay, and not to stop to gather possessions. Yet, many of the newspapers, including Tory ones that have been busy demonising the protesters, also feature the story of a young girl who fled the tower with her GCSE chemistry revision notes and sat a GCSE exam later that day.

I was discussing this on Twitter with the friend who told me about the second story, and she said that most people would gather some essentials and some treasured possessions such as photos of loved ones in the event of a disaster. Most of the people who fled did not have the time to take anything, so right now they no longer have identification, passports, bank cards, documents and so on that they will need to rebuild their lives; even if they have money in the bank, it will be difficult for them to access it. I was reminded of people of some religions who anticipated the Second Coming or who had a memory of persecution, where a peaceful time could end suddenly, and who kept a bag packed just in case they would have to leave home suddenly. Perhaps everyone should start doing this — keep an ‘emergency bag’ packed either by one’s bedroom door or front door, containing a change of clothes, your ID and bank cards and a few other essential items and things you wouldn’t want to leave home without (such as books and notes in the case of students), so that if you do have to rush out in the case of a fire or other emergency, you would not have to gather anything together but simply grab the bag and go.

Again, I don’t want to focus on the man who supposedly packed a bag before he left his flat. Maybe the story was made up (it was the Daily Mail, after all). The block should have contained the fire; that is why residents are told to stay in their flats when there is a fire elsewhere in the block, and should certainly not have been covered in flammable cladding. But as it would be most people’s instincts to gather their things before they flee, and it would not always be obvious that it is essential to leave without delay, perhaps we should make sure we’re ready if the worst happens.

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