Gagging Grenfell

There’s a problem at the heart of British politics. The adverse effect any form of critique or social judgement has on a political party’s image repeatedly seems to override fundamental morality. Grenfell is just one heart-breaking example of British politics’ outright refusal to acknowledge the huge errors made by the government. In the face of 72 deaths, the government still remains unsettlingly stoic and unmalleable. Where social conscience meets political reputation, it seldom is the former taking precedence. This obsessive fear of ‘adverse publicity’ runs deep in British politics and causes both senior politicians to mischaracterise their own beliefs, and the suppressing of critical investigations.

After condemning a group who burnt an effigy of Grenfell Tower on Bonfire Night, an investigation by The Times revealed the government added a gagging clause to a contract with engineering company WSP stating they were not to generate “adverse publicity” for Theresa May or other crown institutions while testing cladding on other buildings. The government’s done it numerous times before, even banning Brexit consultants from doing anything to “embarrass” Theresa May or some governing bodies.

The issue also runs deep within the roots of the party lines. Within the prestige of political parties, there appears to be little or no room to open up critical discourse despite ongoing evidence of problems. There also appears to be an inherent fear of not abiding to the party’s views, and so a sense of individualism is lost. This individualism, which often helps to humanise politicians who seem so distant from society’s most vulnerable, is compromised for the sake of the broader party’s reputation. This fear of being a political outlier in your party is symptomatic of a political system unwilling to criticise any facet of their own institution. Such is the state of British politics to spin and suppress negative press about any part of the various institutions of government.

The behaviour of the government in issuing these gagging clauses only 12 days after the Grenfell tragedy is in itself immoral. How are we to prevent the likes of the Grenfell tragedy when we are limited in our criticism? How we understand various issues facing British society if we are subject to these political clauses that stifle freedom of speech and suppress the reform of institutions that are needed most?

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Samuel Woolford

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September 2021
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