Don’t blame other peoples’ kindness for our Government’s failing over the Grenfell disaster
PUBLISHED: 10:19 22 April 2019
Saying that money pledged to rebuild Notre Dame should be spent on something ‘more worthy’ is a bit like saying the money we spend on going on holiday could be spent on helping other people - we need to look closer to home to find those who should help the victims of Grenfell.
With the noble exception of Norwich, my favourite city in the world is Paris.
Whenever we visit the spectacular French capital, we always make a point of visiting the 4th arrondissement of Paris and like the rest of the world, I watched in absolute horror last week as one of the world's most famous cathedrals fell victim to a terrible fire.
This wonderful building which has survived revolution and world wars was ravaged by flames, its spire falling as firefighters battled to save priceless treasures and as much of the building as possible. And, incredibly, their efforts were largely successful.
Immediately, there were pledges of help to restore the famous Parisian landmark from governments, organisations such as Apple, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Assassin's Creed and wealthy individuals, all desperate to see the cathedral rise from the ashes.
It didn't take long for the backlash to begin as people began comparing Notre Dame to the Grenfell Tower disaster in London in June 2017, which resulted in the tragic deaths of 72 people and left hundreds homeless.
Increasingly, it feels as if it's illegal to care about more than one problem at a time without weighing up the moral importance of all the world's problems at once to see which is the most deserving.
Before the Notre Dame had stopped smouldering, its demise had turned into a worldwide debate about the rich versus the poor: if there's all this cash floating around, argued lots of people, why isn't it going to those who need it more rather than a building? Why wasn't the cash being pledged to the cathedral being spent elsewhere, said critics, why wasn't it going to Grenfell victims? To Syria? To fund climate change research? Cancer research? Shelter for the homeless?
It's hard to disagree that money could be better spent elsewhere, making a difference to, or even saving, lives, improving the lives of families, bringing healthcare to those that need it most, but we all know that in real life, that's not how things work.
If that was how it worked, all of us would be slipping into hair shirts before even thinking about going on holiday: I wonder how many of the people complaining about money going to the Notre Dame live without any luxury whatsoever on the basis that “the money could be spent better elsewhere”?
Cathedrals have always been built thanks to the generosity of wealthy benefactors keen to secure their place in heaven by gifting the church vast sums of money, swathes of land or treasure. It was ever thus. At the time when the Notre Dame was built, inequality was as rife as it is now, the only difference being that now, thankfully, the poor have a voice.
While the vitriol has been mainly aimed at the French billionaires that have offered to help rebuild the Cathedral, I can't help but think that the anger should be channeled back across the Channel: I think it was a lovely gesture that Theresa May organised for the bells at Westminster Abbey to ring out in solidarity for Notre Dame, I think it's a wicked shame she couldn't even speak to the community who were left to organise their own fundraising after Grenfell.
People's anger at other people's generosity seems to me to be somewhat unfair: I don't think that kindness of any kind should be criticised, especially on the grounds that people don't agree with the way others spend their cash which is presumably cash they're amassed because taxation systems aren't stringent enough.
Let's be realistic: Gucci is more likely to support a Parisian landmark than a British tower block, particularly a tower block ignored by the very council on whose land it stood on.
Had the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea listened to residents' multiple concerns about the risk of fire in the months before the fatal blaze – including a warning from the Grenfell Action Group just eight months before the fire which warned of “dangerous living conditions”, a tragedy could have been averted.
I am glad that the heart of Paris will be restored and grateful that the French public won't have to dig deep in the way the public in Britain had to in order to help the victims of Grenfell. Let's not blame others' kindness for our Government's failing - we can look far closer to home for the villains in this piece.
* Stacia Briggs is away next week.
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