Mogg in meltdown
Jacob Rees-Mogg thinks that the people who died in the Grenfell fire did so because they lacked common-sense, and Andrew Bridgen, his apologist who has now himself apologised, thinks that Mogg would have survived because he is clever. Not just a clever person, he has explained, but one who is a natural leader of the sort we need running the country. This conveniently ignores Mogg’s actual political career, in which he has studiously avoided running anything, preferring to criticise and manipulate from the side-lines, and defy the whip when it suits him. Even in the last brief session of parliament, when he finally came into the cabinet, he was there as ‘leader of the house’, a position of power without responsibility.
Cleverer than the victims? Of the 72 who died, only 31 were UK nationals (many of them children) and only seven of these were ‘white’. The other adults who died were immigrants, and given the barriers that the British state has erected to prevent them getting here, and the obstacles, of sorts that Mogg has never had to face, that they must have had to overcome to do so, it seems very likely that not only were many of them a great deal cleverer than him, but that they would have had to deploy far more courage and resourcefulness than he ever has.
There is another factor, seldom taken into account. In many cases those immigrants had fled their own countries because conditions there had become unsupportable. They came from places such as Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea and the Sudan. Places where, if a man in uniform tells you to do something, you do it, because you are only too well aware of what happens to people who do not.
As it happens, I have myself been in a high-rise that caught fire. I was staying in a company-rented twelfth floor flat in Calgary when, at about nine in the evening, I heard fire engines below. Looking out, I saw that they were clustered around the building I was in, and that smoke was gushing from windows about five floors down. I grabbed my passport, headed for the stairs and left the building, along with a large number of other people, all of us thus qualifying as clever in Bridgen’s eyes, or at least as having common-sense in Mogg’s. But would I have done that if a fireman had been telling me to get back in the flat and shut the door? I honestly don’t know, because it didn’t happen.
In the end, it was all very anti-climactic. The fire (in the drying room of the communal laundry) had been almost non-existent, with a lot of smoke but very little else. After about half an hour of milling around outside, we were all told we could go back inside and go to bed. Which, I understand, is what some of the residents of Grenfell were told, and did, before the fire took hold in the cladding. In Calgary we all followed that advice and, fortunately for us, it was good advice. If it had not been, would Mogg have been accusing me, post mortem, of having been lacking in common sense?
Ayn Rand, of course, had her own take on disasters. In ‘Atlas Shrugged’, the Taggart Comet, being pulled by a coal-fired engine when it should have been a diesel, breaks down in a tunnel and and everyone on board is asphyxiated and dies. To make doubly sure, another train crashes into it and the tunnel collapses. Rand went even further than Mogg in blaming the victims. Meticulously, she took her readers through the train, compartment by compartment, explaining in each case just why its occupants deserved to die. Some, like Mogg and Bridgen, were politicians, a breed she hated, but others were just not clever enough to deserve to live. Mogg and Bridgen may or may not be fans of Ayn Rand (who knows?) but they are certainly her worthy successors.