A year after the death of Jo Cox, we are supposed to be celebrating in the Great Get Together. I quote from its website: “This summer, on 16 – 18 June, we’re organising the biggest neighbourhood celebrations since the Jubilee street parties. It’s called The Great Get Together and we’d love you to be a part of it. We’re inviting people to get together with their neighbours to share food and celebrate all that we hold in common. It could be a street party or a shared barbecue, a picnic or a bake off. What matters is that we have fun and bring communities closer together.” Given the fantastic weather, I hope that this event is a huge success but I can’t help feeling that the country is probably more divided than ever.
The one person who seems to have her finger on the nation’s pulse is the Queen. No, I haven’t been drinking – well, only a bit – but her statement on the day of her official birthday sums things up in a way that mere politicians have been unable to do. This is what she said:
“Today is traditionally a day of celebration. This year, however, it is difficult to escape a very sombre national mood. In recent months, the country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies.
“As a nation, we continue to reflect and pray for all those who have been directly affected by these events. 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.
‘Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity. United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favour, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss.”
My loyal reader knows I am no monarchist but then again I have no pressing desire to get rid of the monarchy either. There are more pressing matters to deal with and anyway, I think that in her own way, the Queen, in her 92nd year, showed real leadership yesterday, in visiting the area around Grenfell House with her grandson, the estimable Prince William, and today with her short, considered message.
In my safe European (for now) home, little has changed. People are still going to work, living their lives as if the general election, the terrorist atrocities and the disaster of Grenfell House were twice-removed from reality. And that’s because I live in a world, at least in my personal life, that has not suffered from islamic fascism, where most people have food to put on the table, don’t live in a potential death trap. That said, I am not ignorant to the fact that there is another world out there, a world where people live miserable lives, earning a pittance, living in a hell-hole of a flat and whose future passed before it really came along.
Grenfell House changes everything, but it was not the only example of where working people spoke out. The referendum to leave the EU was, at least in part, the action of an electorate which saw it being lectured to by an out of touch elite who felt that all they had to say was jump and the reply would always be “How high?” Whilst Brexit will undoubtedly turn out to be an epic act of self-harm, as politicians scrabble around to get a deal for Britain which is bound to be worse than the one we already have, a lot of people took the vote as an opportunity to give politicians a kicking. The same thing happened in the general election last week where the unlikely figure of Jeremy Corbyn suggested there could be another way to run the country and the hope he gave people ensured the Tories did not win an overall majority. The divisions caused by Brexit and by gross inequality across the country have been exasperated by the tragedy of Grenfell House. The genie is now out of the bottle and it may not go back in again.
There is unbearable sadness and not a little anger in Kensington right now. The gap between rich and poor can be measured in many millions of pounds but only by a few yards. Turn the corner from Grenfell House and you see unimaginable luxury. It has been tolerated by many people for, perhaps, too long.
Cards on the table, I am concerned about the politicisation of the Grenhell House disaster. Today, a large march took place, ending in Whitehall, attended not only by local people but also by the usual suspects from the hard left who spent much of the day calling for Theresa May to resign. Quite what the rape apologists from the SWP and the Socialist Party (AKA Militant tendency), were there for, well work it out for yourselves. They were no more welcome than the thugs of Britain First, led by Paul Golding, who turned up to heckle and abuse muslims who were arranging for supplies to be taken to Kensington. Three things are certain in life: death, taxes and extremist groups seeking to exploit a national tragedy. I certainly found it disappointing that the shadow education secretary Angela Rayner was one of the Whitehall speakers.
The trouble is that there is a leadership void at the top, which the Queen managed only temporarily to address. Without trying to politicise the situation myself, it is achingly obvious that the prime minister has proven to be hopelessly out of her depth in this crisis. As a mainstream Labour Party member, I take no satisfaction from this. Theresa May’s relentless self-promotion as being a “strong and stable” leader has backfired disastrously and instead she stares into the camera, gurns from time to time and always avoids the question she is being asked. Worse than that, she has become a figure of ridicule. Her situation is unquestionably irretrievable.
The idea that this out-of-her-depth prime minister can solve the problems of inequality, division and, starting Monday, negotiate with the EU when she has taken over a week to fail to reach agreement with the hardline loyalists of the DUP is laughable. But then, who can? The leader of our country will only be a Conservative for the foreseeable future. The Tories will not call another election if they do not think they will win and they will almost certainly have learned that well after May’s disastrous campaign. Does anyone seriously see Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Philip Hammond or even Amber Rudd as anything other than continuity drift? Johnson would add only further chaos to May’s incompetence.
It’s a terrible mess and it isn’t going to get any better anytime soon. When a 91 year old monarch offers the only leadership available, you know you are in trouble. Britain is in trouble now. We have no leaders with compassion and vision, no one who is capable of uniting the country. In short, no one who has a clue.
The Great Get Together was a great idea but it won’t change anything, much as I wish it would. The divisions remain, we are an unequal country. The Great Get Together gives only a temporary break, it’s sticking plaster, that’s all.
I fear for Britain, I really do. A divided country, a desperately poor and weak prime minister and, just to make things much, much worse, we are about to exit the European Union at huge cost. If we are not careful, we will be holding the Great Wake next year.