What Does the Grenfell Tragedy Tell Us About the Health of Representative Democracy?

SParticipatory DemocracyThat the Grenfell Tower disaster was a profound human tragedy is beyond dispute. Likewise, by general consent, the response of the non-emergency authorities was far from acceptable.  A remote and out-of-touch local council which suppressed opposition by disregarding it or actively mocking the attempt of representatives to challenge decisions. An inability to fully grasp the enormity of the problem and slapping away offers of help was mirrored by a central Government slow to react and seemingly incapable of displaying any understanding for the plight of homeless and bereaved citizens.

Now that a period of reflection is setting in, many officials are still in denial, repeating the mantra that we need to wait for a full inquiry before we know the cause of the blaze.  Within a narrow remit of the local conditions in Kensington and wider building regulations there is some sense in this, but you cannot escape the feeling that the aim is to delay and hope that by the time an inquiry reports back someone else will be in charge.

Representative democracy alone is failing us.

In an earlier post I pointed out that we need a complete rethink of rights and resources which can be wielded by citizens and civil organisations. But the possibility of such a review was immediately cast into doubt by the actions of Theresa May.  A few days after the disaster and clearly feeling the weight of public anger and resentment she agreed to meet with representatives of the victims. But where was the meeting held? In the privacy of Downing Street, which presumably left May in her comfort zone but must have been at least a little daunting to the representatives.  So why not at a neutral venue? There is no doubt that neighbouring local authorities would have been willing to have hosted such a meeting at short notice given the enormity of the disaster. But I think there is something deeper at work here than just another example of the lack of insensitivity to citizens by the Prime Minister.  It displays a fundamental fear by politicians of losing power or control; an inability to share authority where it really matters most.

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