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Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Grenfell comments show us what the Tories really think about people of colour

06 Nov 2019

Header image byCarcharoth

You could be forgiven for thinking that in this day and age, certain false narratives like the myth of meritocracy and racial superiority are a thing of the past. Not so, felt Jacob Rees-Mogg, who this week decided to test his usually teflon-tongue, speaking on Nick Ferrari’s radio show about the report on Grenfell Tower. When asked about the causes of the 72 reported casualties, attributed in part to race and class discrimination that meant their concerns about the cladding went unheard until they burned to their deaths, he chose to partially blame the victims themselves for not ignoring the fire brigades’ advice and fleeing the building. 

He then compounded this narrative of how, and on whom, to apportion blame by asserting that, unlike the black and brown working class victims, “you and I” (the interviewer and himself) would have had the “common sense” to know better than to listen to the fire brigade. Despite the fact that any reasonable person might suspect the fire brigade are experts on fire safety, Jacob claims he would have exited and fled to safety. It is not immediately clear what distinction Jacob draws that holds himself and Nick on one side and the Grenfell inhabitants on another. But, Jacob and Nick are both white men, both Leave voters and both drive (and enjoy talking about) their expensive cars, a Jaguar for Mr Ferarri and at least one Bentley for Jacob. Or to put it simply, whilst the Grenfell victims were people of colour and poor, Jacob and Nick are both white and rich. 

It’s more than a little ironic given Nick asks Jacob whether he believes there to be any truth to the claims that race and class played a factor in those deaths, that Jacob’s reply both denounces that notion and performs what could only be an illustration of said notion. The Grenfell Tower victims were black and brown and poor. The interviewer and the MP are white with the means to purchase expensive cars, and Jacob asserts a strong commonality between them, one that imbues them with the common sense to ignore the experts (which as ardent Leave advocates offers an irony we can explore on another day). He was convinced that this alone would have saved their lives.

This hubris was then compounded when Andrew Bridgen, another Tory MP, attempted to defend Jacob’s comments yesterday. When told he was asserting that Jacob was cleverer than the Grenfell victims, Andrew, having never met the Grenfell victims and knowing little more than the fact that they were black and brown and poor, insisted that Jacob was “very clever”. He then declared that this is the same reason why Jacob is in a position of authority. 

Andrew’s comments are telling. The assumption embedded in his argument is that Jacob’s ascent (one in which the Eton-educated son of a Baron and grandson of a Mayor rises to become Conservative party Cabinet Minister) is a reflection of aptitude, and proof of the myth of meritocracy. But the evidence of course shows that steep inequalities are designed to benefit and maintain existing power structures.

“The comments tell us everything we need to know about this party as a whole – what they think of the public and how they would govern this country if given another chance”

The assertion clearly illustrates a particular kind of mentality that presumes white wealthy people are smarter than poor black and brown people – that whiteness and wealth are somehow evidence of aptitude, and poverty and brownness are proof of a lack thereof. For Tory MPs to perpetuate this narrative with no qualms tells us everything we need to know about this party as a whole – what they think of the public and how they would govern the citizens of this country if given another chance. 

The Grenfell inhabitants were ignored by the local council when they sought to draw attention to fire hazards, and the dangers of the cladding coating their building. The cladding contributed directly to the deaths of an estimated 72 people. If we have politicians in power who think they are intrinsically smarter than the kinds of people who live in blocks like Grenfell, aside from the ethical horrors of that belief, the practical one tells us that history will simply repeat itself. They will not listen to those they assume they are wiser than, making it possible for tragedies like Grenfell to happen again.

Jacob Rees Mogg’s comments are just one reason why gal-dem is mobilising to kick the Tories out. Read more about why here.