British Prime Minister Theresa May faced increasing criticism on Friday for not meeting survivors of a deadly London tower block blaze as she scrambled for a deal to stay in power after a botched election gamble.
May pledged to hold a public inquiry into a fire that killed at least 17 people when it engulfed a 24-storey social housing block in West London, expressing her sorrow in a televised statement after meeting with the emergency services, reports Reuters.
But unlike opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who was confronted by a young boy asking, “How many children died?”, May did not meet with residents and this struck locals, commentators and fellow Conservative party members as insensitive.
“She wanted an entirely controlled situation in which she didn’t use her humanity,” former cabinet minister Michael Portillo told the BBC. “She should have been there with the residents. You have to be prepared to receive people’s emotions, and not be so frightened about people.”
When asked on Thursday about why she did not meet residents or visit a local community center, May said she wanted to visit the scene of the incident to be briefed by the emergency services.
The Sun newspaper said 65 people were now feared dead or missing in the fire. London police expect the death toll to rise further but said it could take months to search the burned-out building and identify the victims.
Locals were expected to stage a protest march in Kensington, where social housing tenants live cheek by jowl with billionaires in one of Europe’s richest districts, from 1400 GMT while a rally to demand justice for the victims was due in the Westminster government district from 1700 GMT.
While the disaster has prompted an outpouring of generosity, there was also anger at politicians as the charred tower was cast as a deadly symbol of a divided society where the poor are neglected and the rich pampered.