Grenfell Tower - 21st June 2017
Let me start from the premise that while anything that a politician says in the wake of a tragedy is almost certainly going to be wrong, saying nothing is also likely to be construed as at best callous indifference and at worst cowardice.
In the scale of 'natural' disasters, and set alongside the young lives lost at Aberfan, for example, or the Hillsborough football deaths or any one of a number of terrorist attacks or even, with a monstrous similarity, the fires and collapse of the Twin Towers following air strikes in New York, Grenfell Tower will surely take its place as one of the most literally horrific and graphically depicted events that any of will ever be required to witness. For through the 'benefit' of live television and social media we have all been witnesses as people have been, in that high-rise tower block the like of which there are so many up and down the land, incinerated alive or seen hurling themselves and their children to almost certain death to escape the flames.
Reactions will vary. A Prime Minister who went swiftly to the scene to discuss with professionals what needed to be done before going back to Downing Street to try to do it is criticised for not seizing the 'photo-opportunity' of a meeting with traumatised residents. A Leader of the Opposition is praised for 'empathising' with survivors while surrounded by a posse of television cameras. Crowds of residents from a genuinely grief-stricken and tight-knit community are hijacked by placard-carrying screaming activists as they try to get 'answers' from a local authority that is plainly not in any position to offer those answers.
A broadcasting colleague much wiser than I said to me a long time ago that 'the world's worst disaster is the one in which somebody that you know dies' and he was, of course, right. Most of us cannot begin to comprehend the sorrow of sudden, unexpected and terrifying bereavement.
While recognising the raw courage of fire and police and medical and other professionals that go towards a situation that most, understandably, are fleeing from those of us who bear responsibility can only try to put in place measures that will genuinely help those who have lost everything that they possessed and in many cases loved ones as well. In the words of one Sunday newspaper editorial that inevitably seems trite "for those victims not to have died in vain we have to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again".
Now, surely, is not the time for the blame game. Questions will have to be asked, certainly, and lessons learned and those who may be criminally responsible or who have been negligent will have to be held to account. That is the task of police and of an independent public inquiry. The work may take months but in the interests of the peace of mind and security of others living in tower blocks - including some in East Kent - some answers have to be offered, and any necessary remedial action taken, swiftly.
In the meantime we offer no dignity or respect to the dead and we should receive nothing other than deserved contempt, for seeking to exploit a human and very real tragedy for party-political purposes.