Change is in the air. First there was Brexit, then Trump, then Corbyn’s unexpected surge, and now, the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has brought all of these events into unavoidable clarity: we are a society divided, deeply, by class.
Inside our bubbles, it is too often easier not to see; but amid the smoke and shattered lives, the anger of the poor can no longer be ignored. There is a growing, spoken-out-loud fury with the Haves, by the Have-Nots, and the old platitudes about meritocracy and free market don’t wash. There is simply no way to defend the reckless disregard for the safety of Grenfell’s tenants.
Of course the emotion of catastrophe is sometimes blinding: it is not the fault of the wealthy Kensington neighbours that Grenfell was clad, essentially, in petroleum. It is not true that the well-off are heartless or selfish; there were many who leapt to immediate aid of residents and lead highly philanthropic lives. Similarly it is not right to suggest that Theresa May and the council/government do not care. But the factors leading to Grenfell’s vulnerability are symbolic of all of the ways in which all of these people have not cared enough.
Many of us have felt the injustice nagging away. Despite being a true-blue all of my voting life, this was the first election in which my vote was cast reluctantly. (This was not only because of profound disappointment in Theresa May – the self-motivated election, the blind charge out of Europe, the weak stance on gender, evident in her policies but also in more trivial examples such as a 1950s laughing off of the Daily Mail’s ‘Legs-it’ headline.) It was not only this. It was also because of a niggling conviction that the status quo is not working – there is no trickling down, no equality of opportunity, not enough compassion.
But Jeremy Corbyn is not the answer. There are some who see him as a champion of the underdog, perhaps he even sees himself as such, a man able to recognise divisions and stand on the right side of them. But division is not in fact what he is fighting against; it is not his enemy, but his greatest tool. Because like many socialists before him, he relies on inciting rage and vilifying the Other. It is not enough to support the poor, he must denigrate the wealthy.
A year ago, many senior Labour politicians were concerned about this. They worried that Corbyn’s rhetoric on tax avoidance for example would appear anti-success, anti-aspirational. But he has found that this is what the current climate welcomes. Not so much a drive to pull up the poor, but instead, or at least also, to drag down the rich. To blame them. To punish them. To occupy their homes.
It has been evident this week. The anger after Grenfell treads a fine line between forcing those in a position of privilege to listen, and making them feel unfairly persecuted.
The Jewish community in particular has felt this already from Corbyn’s Labour. Many Jews wish desperately to prioritise social conscience. Many Jews have long been proponents and leaders of it. Many would even get on board with a more cautious support of Israel than previous leaders have offered. But Corbyn’s cosiness with those intent on Israel’s destruction, and his blithe enabling of anti-Semitism, make it impossible. Corbyn has identified the division, chosen his underdog, and we ‘aint it.
It is not only Corbyn. Amongst many who see themselves as empathetic, who bind their identities to notions of social justice, there is a wide entanglement with an anti-Israel stance. But this un-nuanced position does damage to any possibility of real change, because it defines the world as Us and Them. It fuels division. It feeds anger. It makes it harder and harder to close the gap.
So it is too, with economic class. But the poor, those people Labour supposedly care about, need that gap closed.
There must be more innovative ways to redress the inequalities that plague our society. Few of us can claim to agree upon what these are. But what we can all acknowledge, now more than ever, is that unacceptable injustices exist, and shouldn’t. Change is in the air. There is an appetite for it. Sadly, so long as the conversation is hijacked by division and the resentments that accompany it, both sides will continue to either button down their hatches, or arm their crusaders, in the hope that They remain at bay, or else, They be destroyed.