Is the ‘elf and safety’ joke now done for?

HEALTH and safety jokes – they’re a laugh, aren’t they? People who drone on about red tape – they’re the purveyors of common sense and wisdom, aren’t they?

And if you want a laugh, you just swap that ‘health’ for an ‘elf’ and merriment is assured. Oh, the endless seconds I have spent amusing myself at those jokes – and the chuckles that arise are nearly as hearty as those stirred by all those references to “political correctness gone mad”.

You might have thought that one lesson from the Grenfell Tower tragedy would be that the health and safety ‘joke’ should now be banished for ever. Whatever the causes of the inferno, one thing that went up with the flames surely was the lazy notion that red tape and health and safety rules are somehow a burden to those who run businesses.

Yet since the days of Thatcher, we have seen inconvenient corners sanded away to help those who chase private profit in the public sphere. And only a day or so after last week’s blaze, the Daily Mail and Daily Express were maliciously blaming the fire on EU insulation regulations – even though the sort of cladding used is banned in Germany because it is deemed to be flammable.

We’re used to such newspapers turning the lens until it’s pointing in a stubborn direction, but that really was a twist too far – a reminder that in some quarters propaganda quickly overshadows what passes for news. (Just consider the front page of today’s Express: “EU exit deal to boost Britain – Confidence high as talks begin today” – a brave but feeble bit of spin if ever there was).

It is fair to say that the causes of the fire may be complex, with blame apportioned to various parties, local and national. But it is also reasonable to ask if all the endless cuts to council budgets, social housing budgets and fire brigade budgets played a part in what happened.

London mayor Sadiq Khan had a sensible thought along these lines in yesterday’s Observer when he asked if deregulation was to blame. “Those who mock health and safety regulations and red tape need to take a hard look at the consequences of cutting these and ask themselves whether Grenfell Tower is a price worth paying.”

Well said that man. Similar thoughts had been swirling in my mind and were forming into a blog as I read Khan’s words.

Good to see that the admirable Khan can still speak sense while being bombarded by ignorant Tweets from Donald Trump. Behind the bluff and bluster, Trump just happens to be one of the keenest cutters of red tape around, often to benefit himself and his billionaire mates.

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