“Burn neoliberalism, not people” said Clive Lewis in a tweetshowing the skeleton of Grenfell Tower. Odd words from a Labour MP. When asked just what he meant, he explained that his ‘agenda’ is to ‘end not just the current government but Thatcherite economic dogma’. In this way the grief and anger after the Grenfell Tower disaster has been moulded into a march on No10 with chants of ‘May must go’ and ‘blood, blood, blood on your hands’. Just a few days ago, John McDonnell was calling for a protest march in Westminster. Now, he has got one.
The protest at Kensington Town Hall this morning seemed to be dominated by the bereaved and the angry; the No10 march is posing as an organic extension of the Kensington movement but seemed to be a different March entirely involving far more middle-class activists. The Socialist Worker movement has been ready with the placards saying ‘Defy Tory rule’ and ‘Kick the Tories out’ – seeking to fuse its cause with the grieving after Grenfell Tower. The narrative of the march on No10 appears to be along the lines that Clive Lewis suggests: drawing a link between ‘neoliberalism’ (ie, non-socialist rule) and the appalling tragedy in Kensington. Just what the link might be doesn’t seem to matter: emotions are running high. In such situations, all sorts of unlikely claims seem plausible. The protesters outside No10 seem to be using the template of the Mark Duggan affair, which preceded the 2011 London riots: “no justice, no peace”.
Those who died at Grenfell were certainly victims of a dysfunctional system – but one built up under Labour, Conservative and coalition governments. All of which Mr Lewis et al probably regard as “neoliberal”.
Listening to the speeches, they seem to be from fairly seasoned speakers – reciting the familiar (and false) statistics about the 1pc owning 80pc of the wealth, but now referencing Grenfell at the end of their various arguments. My hunch is that a lot of the speakers being written up as ordinary members of the public will turn out to be far-left militant campaigners. As is to be expected: this is what the far-left do. They organise, wire up the megaphone and act where they spot an opportunity – or a weakness.
And have no doubt: the government is weak. Theresa May’s response has been dangerously inept and she seems not to have a communication strategy. Her critics are only too happy to fill this void. As I argue in my Daily Telegraph column today, this was set to go very political because the tower blocks in London’s richest borough certainly is a powerful metaphor for inequality. Corbyn’s allies are ready; the Conservatives are not. As one of the protesters said, it’s going to be a long summer.