Hor­rors are ex­pos­ing cri­sis of trust

The Scotsman - - Scottish Perspective -

Sum­mer is reach­ing its height and yet it feels as if Britain can’t get out from be­neath a cloud of tragedy.

The coun­try has barely had the chance to con­tem­plate the wound­ing im­pli­ca­tions of last week’s dis­as­ter at the Gren­fell Tower be­fore a whole new set of dif­fi­cult ques­tions were raised by the at­tack on wor­ship­pers at Fins­bury Park mosque yes­ter­day morn­ing.

With each suc­ces­sive hor­ror, those ques­tions grow more pro­found and trou­bling. Why are there peo­ple amongst us who would do us such harm? How can we pro­tect a free way of life from indis­crim­i­nate at­tack? In try­ing to de­fend our­selves, have we em­bold­ened big­ots and iso­lated in­no­cent mi­nori­ties?

And, worst of all in the wake of the dev­as­tat­ing fire in West Lon­don, the wake-up call at the cost of at least six dozen lives over the di­vi­sions be­ing per­pet­u­ated by the way our econ­omy func­tions.

The bar­rage of doubts un­de­ni­ably has a cor­ro­sive ef­fect. There can’t have been a time when pub­lic con­fi­dence in the peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions that lead and guide so­ci­ety has been so low. Even when the ques­tions posed by the tragic events of the past few months are an­swered, that in it­self should be a cause for con­cern.

Ev­ery bit of an­guish, be­trayal and rage voiced by the vic­tims and their loved ones at Gren­fell was en­tirely jus­ti­fied. The com­mu­nity has a right to ex­pect more from their lead­ers, lo­cal and na­tional, than what has been on of­fer un­til far too late.

They have un­der­stand­ably been left feel­ing as if a sim­i­lar dis­as­ter in another part of the world – let a lone a wealth­ier part of their own city – might have been dealt with dif­fer­ently.

But what was con­cern­ing to watch in the af­ter­math of re­cent events was just how alien­ated peo­ple felt from the in­sti­tu­tions that were there to help them – the ones that turned up.

Con­spir­acy the­o­ries about the re­sponse of po­lice and fire­fight­ers spread in the im­me­di­ate area and more widely on so­cial me­dia sug­gests a more pro­found lack of trust than I thought pos­si­ble.

And the level of anger that greeted jour­nal­ists who rushed to re­port on what was hap­pen­ing – not just tabloid news­pa­pers, but the ma­jor broad­cast­ers, too – should give us pause, given we’re al­ready alive to the risk of mis­in­for­ma­tion from dis­rep­utable sources.

I’m not try­ing to gain­say the re­ac­tion of those caught up in a wak­ing night­mare on their doorstep. But the depth of their feel­ing of be­trayal can’t be ac­cept­able or sus­tain­able.

Lack of pub­lic trust in politi­cians, govern­ment and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions isn’t new. It has been on the rise for years, if not decades. But that sug­gests that op­por­tu­ni­ties to change the way things are done are be­ing missed with ev­er­greater fre­quency. The shock of the Brexit ref­er­en­dum re­sult a year ago this week was sup­posed to of­fer Britain’s me­dia and politi­cians a chance to con­sider how well they serve their so­ci­ety. In the 12 months since, de­spite an en­cour­ag­ing speech about a need to chal­lenge “burn­ing in­jus­tices” from a new Prime Min­is­ter, we haven’t seen much more in the way of can­dour.

Yes­ter­day Brexit talks be­gan with the govern­ment stick­ing to its po­si­tion more or less un­changed, de­spite los­ing the ar­gu­ment in a gen­eral elec­tion.

Philip Ham­mond, the Chan­cel­lor, ac­knowl­edged yes­ter­day that a no-deal Brexit would be “very, very bad” but he could not step back from the cliff edge that the govern­ment is stand­ing on, in­sist­ing there was some other out­come from talks in Brus­sels that could some­how be worse.

Rather than re­spond­ing to the calls for a re­think on strat­egy from Ruth David­son, Leave rad­i­cals like Boris John­son seem to have sim­ply stolen her “Open Brexit” rhetoric with­out chang­ing their views in any way.

And de­spite owing much of their surge in the polls to Re­main vot­ers, Labour’s stance con­tin­ues to con­verge with the govern­ment’s, with only the re­fusal to coun­te­nance a no-deal Brexit as the real point of dif­fer­ence.

The pub­lic were told that a com­pre­hen­sive trade deal can be ne­go­ti­ated along­side Brexit un­til al­most the mo­ment that claim came into con­tact with re­al­ity on the first day of Brexit talks yes­ter­day.

The pub­lic con­tin­ues to be told that a trade and cus­toms deal will re­pro­duce the con­di­tions the UK cur­rently en­joys, and that it will cost Britain lit­tle, if any­thing.

And while the govern­ment has given up try­ing to put any kind of timetable on it, min­is­ters con­tinue to ar­gue that cut­ting net mi­gra­tion to 100,000 per year is de­sir­able and achiev­able, and can be done with­out sig­nif­i­cant cost to the econ­omy.

The most char­i­ta­ble de­scrip­tion of these po­si­tions is that they are hope­lessly op­ti­mistic and naive. What is most con­cern­ing about those hold­ing them is that they have ne­glected to pre­pare the pub­lic for the pos­si­bil­ity of fail­ure on any front.

When the UK is asked to pay a con­sid­er­able sum of money in a di­vorce set­tle­ment, or forced to re­main un­der the am­bit of the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice, or ends up with a Nor­way-style Brexit that de­liv­ers lit­tle on the strong bor­ders rhetoric that many in the Leave cam­paign em­braced, what then?

What will the con­se­quences of that be­trayal be, not just for who­ever is in 10 Down­ing Street when the fail­ure be­comes ev­i­dent, but for the whole po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment that will have brought us to that point?

It is a ques­tion that will have to be con­fronted in a rel­a­tively short timescale, but per­haps the tur­bu­lent years ahead for the UK won’t of­fer the best op­por­tu­nity to re­flect on the les­sons of the past year.

But it is dif­fi­cult to see from our cur­rent van­tage point how the coun­try will ar­rive at the end of the pe­riod feel­ing more com­pas­sion­ately and ably led; bet­ter and more hon­estly in­formed; and more trust­ing of the struc­tures and in­sti­tu­tions that make up Bri­tish so­ci­ety.

Maybe it’s just that the view is ob­scured by that cloud.

Vic­tims of ter­ri­ble re­cent events ques­tion whether in­sti­tu­tions have their in­ter­ests at heart, says Paris Gourtsoyannis

0 The de­spair and alien­ation felt by many af­fected by the Gren­fell Tower dis­as­ter mir­rors a wider dis­af­fec­tion

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