Grenfell: for the victims
Saturday, 18 November 2017 10:05

Grenfell: for the victims

Published in Poetry

Author's Note: Joyce Grenfell (1910-1979) was a British actor, singer and stage entertainer who specialised in comic monologues and achieved huge popularity in the decades following World War Two. Among her best-known imaginary monologue-speakers was a teacher of very young children, among them George who was more than once asked to stop doing something (nature undisclosed). Grenfell Tower was named in her memory.

George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer between 2010 and 2016. He – or his advisors – promoted the drastic and divisive creed of ‘austerity’ that inflicted great damage on many aspects of British social, communal and political life. The cuts to local authority spending on health and safety regulation were adduced by some as having contributed to the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower.

 

'George, don't do that': Joyce Grenfell in the role
Of hard-pressed infant teacher, trying not
To let it get her down or lose control,
But at a stage where things have clearly got
Just a bit much and now she's left in sole
Charge of this endlessly demanding lot
Of noisy five-year-olds. What really stole
The show was having listeners wonder what
He, George, was doing and how she'd cajole
Him out of doing it, first by a spot
Of gentle blandishment, then, as the toll
On her nerves grew, by adding just a shot
Of reprimand, and lastly – as the whole
Class seemed to sense a lesson gone to pot –
By one more plea before the bell, with droll
Yet perfect timing, closed her lesson-slot.

'George, don't do that': don't give us all that spiel
About austerity, the debt, how we're
'All in this thing together', or how we'll
Just have to pull our belts in and adhere
To your fine plan for cutting a great deal
With your old banker pals. We've done 'austere'
For long enough to guess it's us who'll feel
The pinch alright and them who'll stand to clear
A fortune when the billions you steal
From those who put the work in yield their year-
On-year fat bonus. Know what made it real,
What brought it home, that sense we had of sheer
Unutterable rage? That you could seal
Your devil's pact and no one interfere
To bring those crooks to justice or reveal
The swindle in a reckoning more severe.

'George, don't do that': for Christ's sake don't pretend
You haven't grasped the Grenfell link, or take
The standard Tory view that one can bend
The safety rules and regs for profit's sake
So long as those affected are low-end
In status terms, with no financial stake
Or friends and influence that might extend
Beyond their local patch. And, just to make
The point more plainly: when the plan’s to spend
A bit less on the stuff for those fire-break
Partitions in the high-rise towers, or mend
The cracks less frequently, it's in the wake
Of all your government directives penned
By jobsworth types who know just how the cake
Gets sliced. Losers and immigrants, my friend:
Don’t fret too much if cladding starts to flake.

You'll do that, George, you'll let the paupers fry
(Crass metaphor: forgive the vulgar taste)
So long as they're the ones who just get by,
Or don't, while you and your lot are well-placed
To fix it so that no-one gets a try
At changing things. If we lament the waste
Of talents, lives, or chances not to die
A needless death because you lot embraced
'Austerity', then no doubt you'll reply
With some glib chunk of right-wing wisdom based
On trickle-down. This aims to justify
What's really plain old dog-eat-dog showcased
In think-tank talk to stop us asking why
They've not run riot, those survivors faced
With the charred tower each day while some rich guy
Like you says let's not act with too much haste.

But how to stop you, George, how make the kind
Of full-scale revolution that they’ll need,
Those tenants yet to come, if we're to find
Some remedy for scenes like this and heed
The hard-won lesson that it leaves behind,
That blackened witness to the Osborne creed
That, by malignant chemistry, combined
Mammon with Moloch, your sharp-suited greed
With everything the system does to grind
Its victims down. But then, a point that we'd
Do well to keep continually in mind
Is how keen the survivors were to lead
Discussion back to life-hopes intertwined
With Grenfell Tower and show how we'll misread
Their testimony should our anger blind
Us to the fact that those hopes may succeed

Despite the heaviest odds. That's because they're
Flat contrary to every point of your
Unspoken doctrine: that the poor should bear
The greatest burden just because they're poor,
Or just because they've not yet done their share
To fill the vast tax-coffers destined for
Long-planned redistribution on the fair
(By your lights) principle which goes: the more
Ye have, the more shall what ye have declare
You worth ten times as much. The Grenfell score
Looks bad on your side, George, if we compare
Your moral credit-rating (through the floor!)
To high-rise tenants with no cash to spare
Yet with the guts and dignity to shore
Against disaster. 'Ta'en too little care'
You have, like Lear; these deaths you can't ignore.