Issy Murray analyses the political ramifications of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s recent comments about the Grenfell Tower tragedy, especially in the wake of another general election.
Jacob Rees-Mogg’s latest controversy involves insensitive comments concerning the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the recently released Grenfell inquiry report. Speaking to the events which caused the death of 72 people during a radio interview for LBC, he suggested the victims lacked “common sense” in listening to the fire brigade’s advice to stay put rather than exiting the burning building.
Unsurprisingly, this has spurred outrage with many calling for his resignation over the offensive claim. At the heart of the insensitivity of this remark lies the tendency to victim-blame, a tendency that has been an underlying theme throughout the inquiry into what went wrong at Grenfell. This comes at the time of the Grenfell enquiry report having absolved the occupant of the flat where the fire began, Behailu Kebede, instead of having explicitly outlined the “institutional failure[s]” that resulted in the disastrous fire. This includes the planning and preparation of the London Fire Brigade, described as being “gravely inadequate”, and therefore part of the cause for the magnitude of the Grenfell tragedy. The “principle reason” for the insanely rapid escalation of the fire through the Grenfell building is the aluminium composite material found in the panels of the building, which contained a combustible polyethene core. These panels were ruled not to adhere to building regulations in the conclusion of the report. Hence, Rees-Mogg’s ignorant statement is all the more devastating, especially to survivors and victims’ families who thought they had finally received the closure they deserved. Looking at the wider context of this comment, the insensitivity only increases when you realise it comes sandwiched in Rees-Mogg’s complete dismissal of the interviewer’s question: “There have been suggestions that in part the tragedy was caused by racism or policies of class, are these suggestions correct?”, to which he proceeds to make the insensitive comment.
In terms of direct consequences, the probability of him losing his seat is only increased by his disrespectful and distasteful statements.
Among those calling for Rees-Mogg’s resignation is British rap icon Stormzy, who took to Twitter to voice his frustrations with Rees-Mogg, much like he has done previously about Theresa May’s handling of the tragedy. He wrote: “Oi @Jacob_Rees_Mogg you need to resign you’re an actual piece of shit”, calling for people to watch the clip of Rees-Mogg and saying, “these politicians are actual aliens”. He also rightly notes, “Let’s bare in mind for 2 secs how horrifying and terrifying the situation would have been for the victims” going on to conclude, “This is blood on the British governments hands. Grenfell was their fault and their fault alone”.
Rees-Mogg has since apologised for his heinous comment in a statement he gave to the Evening Standard: “I profoundly apologise”. He backpedals to claim: “What I meant to say is that I would have also listened to the fire brigade’s advice to stay and wait at the time. However, with what we know now and with hindsight I wouldn’t and I don’t think anyone else would”. This doesn’t seem to have convinced many though, including Karim Mussilhy, the nephew of Hesham Rehman, 57, who unfortunately passed in the fire. He told the Guardian that Rees-Mogg was an “idiot” and that “Sorry means nothing. It’s such an easy word to say. Your action means something but we have had words and no action”. The consequences of Mr Rees-Mogg’s flippant remark are sure to be felt in the upcoming general election.
The insensitivity only increases when you realise it comes sandwiched in a dismissal that the Grenfell tragedy was race and class-related and is a clear effort to deny the government’s role in the incident.
Rees-Mogg isn’t the only Conservative MP who is under fire for saying something offensive – Nick Conrad, only 24 hours into the race, was forced to quit after audio emerged of him saying women should just “keep their knickers on” to avoid being raped back in 2014. In terms of direct consequences for Rees-Mogg specifically, the repercussions might be serious for his career as MP for North East Somerset, as he runs against Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats. Despite Rees-Mogg having held the seat since its creation in 2010 and having a majority of 10,000, the probability of him losing his seat is only increased by his disrespectful and distasteful statements. Opposing MPs are using the outrage Rees-Mogg has caused to remind voters to use their vote tactically. According to a report by Metro, a recent poll shows the Lib Dems (and their candidate Nick Coates) are lagging behind the Tories by just six points. Lib Dems therefore believe that uniting Remain voters will allow them to overthrow Rees-Mogg and take his seat. However, so far they have failed to turn the North East Somerset constituency into one of the 60 ‘Remain Alliance’ seats, so the Green party and Plaid Cymru are also running in this area. Still, the Lib Dems seem hopeful this feat will still be possible.
What Rees-Mogg’s lapse in (or rather, complete lack of) judgement shows is that he is completely out of touch and will perhaps be out on his ear on election day.