The magic money tree is just for those who shake it
- Credit: Archant
Less than two weeks after blowing £130 million on an election which served nobody's interest but theirs, the Tories somehow laid hands on another BILLION.
When you've been in the entertainment business since your early 20s (and your early 20s are a dim memory receding even more quickly than your hairline) you never know what to do with yourself of a free Saturday evening, so it was something of a relief this Saturday last when a comedy club promoter of my acquaintance called me at about 6pm to say that one of his acts had bailed on him for that evening's show at his Leicester Square club and that the slot was mine if I wanted it.
Thus it was that a couple of hours later I was driving into the West End on my usual route: Richmond, Chiswick, Shepherd's Bush and thence up onto the Westway, the elevated not-quite-motorwayised stretch of the A40 which flies over the western half of the city centre and dumps you into a more or less perpetual traffic jam in Marylebone. As I turned onto the flyover, I noticed that the traffic, though slight by London standards, had slowed almost to a stop. And then I realised why.
You've all seen – and no doubt shuddered at – the pictures of the blackened shell of Grenfell Tower on television and online, but nothing can prepare you for the horror of seeing it close up. As you turn onto the Westway it appears to jump out at you from behind the surrounding buildings and then just hang there, like a 250ft high charred, grinning skull. You can't bear to look, nor can you tear your eyes away. I've driven past it a few times since, but always in the dark, when it looms as a slab of absolute black against the almost-black of the night sky like some vast obsidian tombstone; in daylight it's revealed in all its stark, skeletal horror. Your chest tightens, your stomach turns, your fists clench and your heart breaks all over again.
I've no doubt the tower will be pulled down in due course… Many have pondered (probably not in earnest) whether it should be left standing as some sort of dread monument to incompetence and complacency, perhaps bearing some sort of banner to this effect. While I don't think this will (or indeed should) happen, I know exactly how such a banner should be worded: 'IT'LL PROBABLY BE OK'
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That's how we live our lives, after all. We drive over the speed limit because it'll probably be ok. We eat and drink what we shouldn't because it'll probably be ok. We refurbish tower blocks with flammable cladding and no sprinkler systems because it'll probably be ok. Because at least nine times out of ten it is ok. The panic-driven safety tests of similarly-clad towers have thus far discovered dozens of blocks which are every bit as combustible as Grenfell. They've been 'ok' so far because no major fires have yet broken out in them.
Had that fridge not exploded on a lower floor of Grenfell, as far as anyone would know, those buildings would still be as 'safe' as we all thought they were a month ago. Most of the time, we take risks of omission and commission on our own behalf and indeed on behalf of people we'll never meet, and we get away with it. The point is that you can only not get away with it once.
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The insistence from certain (right-leaning) circles that an inherently political incident not be politicised has been surpassed in bizarreness only by the attempts to make the disaster anyone else's fault other than Kensington and Chelsea Council, or indeed to put some sort of pro-libertarian spin on events.
The professionally wrong-about-everything Brendan O'Neill posted a particularly unpleasant take on the event on spiked-online.com, in which he insisted that the response to the Grenfell disaster demonstrated the hypocrisy of the left: feigning concern for the working class when there's a chance of politicising a tragedy, despite having spent the whole year since the EU referendum dismissing them as too ignorant to be paid attention to (he's talking about us Remoaners there).
Leaving aside the fact that the left's current figurehead Jeremy Corbyn is every bit as pro-Brexit as Brendan (an uncomfortable fact that most Labour voters continue to ignore, which is why we have to keep reminding them), one could equally say that the disaster – and indeed Brendan's piece – flags up the hypocrisy of the right: feigning interest in the desires of the working class while there's a chance to whip up populist support for their half-baked cod-Imperial vanity project, then, that done, leaving them to burn to death in substandard social housing. One could make that point, if one were so inclined.
But in case one were in any doubt as to what lies at the heart of this incident, Theresa May herself cleared it up once and for all this week when she, let's not sugarcoat this, bribed her way back into Number 10 with a billion pounds of taxpayers' money.
Let's not – for now – be distracted by the puritan tendencies of the (indirect) recipients of this bribe, the gay-hatin' abortion-bannin' DUP; let's not ponder the unfairness of an extra billion quid being shovelled at one region of the UK rather than any of the other disadvantaged areas for no reason other than to enable a delegitimised government to cling to office; let's not even contemplate the fact that this has the potential to plunge the region – and by extension, the British mainland – back into the civil war which raged for thirty years until the now-imperilled Good Friday Agreement. Let's simply ask the question: where the HELL is that money coming from?
This is the administration which, after all, has been sagely lecturing the rest of us that 'there is no magic money tree', and yet, less than two weeks after blowing £130 million on an election which served nobody's interest but theirs, they've somehow laid hands on another BILLION?
And that, ultimately, is the point. There's no magic money tree for the likes of us, but when it comes to the stuff that they think is important, there is, apparently, at the very least, a magic money shrub hidden somewhere in the Treasury grounds. There's always money for the things they care about, whether it's refurbishing the palaces of Westminster or Buckingham, or staging an election to secure their own jobs or bribing a bunch of crackpots £100 million each when that goes pathetically wrong.
Case in point; the money was there to prettify an ageing tower block for the benefit of its well-to-do, property price conscious (probably Tory-voting) neighbours; the money was not there to make the block safe for its less well-to-do residents.
The tower stands as a solemn reminder to us all, but it stands in silent condemnation of those who 'can't find the money' for anything except the things they and their wealthy friends want.