The Conservative Party in the last week have had two serious PR blunders. One was Jacob Ress Mogg’s careless and hurtful comments about the victims of the Grenfell tower fire. The second was Prime Minsters Johnson’s comments that flooding in the north of England did not constitute a national emergency. Why are the UK Conservatives showing such lack of compassion and empathy?
The comment by Boris Johnson was made to the media on over the weekend. It came after reports that a women had been killed and that hundreds of residents had evacuated their homes in Fishlake due to flooding. The Prime Minister said the floods did not constitute a national emergency. If you take this comment literally, Boris is correct in that the flooding is a localised rather than a nation wide event. However it is still a national emergency, where state resources will be required to help people living in the area.
As mentioned in this blog before, Boris Johnson is no fool. However what we see here is a lack of compassion and empathy in his comments. When you are the Prime Minster, you are judged by your response to events like natural disasters. When commenting on events like this, you pick your words very carefully. Specifically you try to be comforting and show sympathy and willingness to help. Boris Johnson has failed to do so with the Fishlake floods.
No doubt the Conservatives strategists were alarmed by this blunder. The Conservative election strategy is to try and pick up Brexit voting marginal constituencies in the north of England, many of whom have traditionally have voted Labour. The assumption that as Brexit voters they’ll be more attracted to the Conservative Party is a big assumption. Many who voted Brexit did so due to a feeling of being neglected, both by Brussels and Westminster. In the north, the policies of austerity and the loss of jobs have hit the region hard. Advisors have no doubt explained to Boris, that these comments could well cost the Conservatives crucial votes in key marginal constituency races. The opposition have also been quick to call Johnson out on this, saying that if the floods had happened in the south of England he’d have been more likely to call a national emergency.
In response to all this, the Prime Minster has called an emergency COBRA meeting to respond to these floods. This is the right thing to do, but it looks now like he is reacting to criticism and is clearly on the back foot.
The other big blunder made by a Conservative Party MP this week were the comments made by Jacob Rees- Mogg. A key ally of Johnson, Rees-Mogg is a strong supporter of Brexit and was chair of the European Research Group (ERG). Rees-Mogg became leader of the House of Commons after Johnson became Prime Minister.
In an interview on LBC last week, Rees-Mogg made the comment that victims in the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire “lacked common sense” for listening to emergency services and staying in their apartments.
Rees-Mogg was forced to apologise for these comments. Families of Grenfell victims and their supporters including British rap artist Stormzy have hit out at Rees-Mogg and called for him to resign. Conservative Party Chair James Cleverly said the comments had caused a “huge amount of hurt and distress.” No doubt party advisors will be trying to keep Rees-Mogg out of the media for the remainder of the campaign if possible.
Grenfell Tower is in the Constituency of Kensington. Days before the fire in the 2017 the Labour Party un-expectantly won Kensington from the Conservatives by just 20 votes in that years general election. Kensington is a key marginal that the Tories will be trying to win back. For residents in the area, memories of the horrific fire are all too vivid. Even today the tower still stands on the horizon with the green heart covering the burnt building. For residents of Kensington, the comments by Rees-Mogg will do nothing to convince them that the Conservative Party want to help those affected by the Grenfell fire.
Both Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are from privileged backgrounds having both studied at Eton and Oxford. I am not of the view that people from privileged backgrounds or with a high net worth are not capable compassion for those less disadvantaged, as plenty are. But having self awareness, and understanding your own privilege is crucial. The comments by both Johnson and Rees-Mogg show a stunning lack of empathy, awareness and political judgement. UK voters will view these comments with dismay.
As an end note on Grenfell:
The Lib Dem candidate for Kensington has been making dishonest statements. Specifically, that Kensington Labour MP Emma Dent Coad was responsible for the decision to put the combustable cladding on Grenfell Tower. Emma was part of the Labour minority on the Kensington Council and had no involvement with the decision to install this cladding. My previous blog post discusses the Liberal Democrat’s seeming inability to be factual so far in this election.
The Conservative Party leadership have failed to show compassion in this election, and the Liberal Democrats seem to struggle with honesty. No wonder the British public are very angry with politics at this time.