London — Facing increasing criticism for not meeting with locals sooner, British Prime Minister Theresa May will visit those injured in a London tower block blaze in hospital on Friday, as pressure mounts on her after a failed election gamble.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan have all met residents. The queen and Prince William visited residents on Friday morning after government ministers had done so.
May has even been criticised from within her own Conservative Party for not doing so.
She has pledged to hold a public inquiry into the fire that killed 17 people with dozens still missing after it engulfed a 24-storey social housing block in West London, and expressed her sorrow on television after meeting emergency services personnel.
"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."
Asked on Thursday about why she did not meet locals, May said she wanted to be briefed by the emergency services.
The Sun newspaper said 65 people were now feared dead or missing. London police expect the toll to rise but it could take months to search the building and identify the victims.
Locals were expected to stage a march in Kensington, where social housing tenants live cheek by jowl with billionaires in one of Europe’s richest districts, from 2pm GMT while a rally to demand justice for the victims was due to start in the government district of Westminster at 5pm 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.
"Now the anger"
British newspapers, including those which backed May in the June 8 election, sharpened their criticism of the government. They cited a series of unanswered issues including whether the cladding used on the building helped the blaze spread.
Planning documents detailing the recent refurbishment of the block did not refer to a type of fire barrier that safety experts said must be used when high-rise blocks are re-clad.
"Now the anger — furious locals demand answers," was the Sun headline, while The Daily Telegraph ran with "Sorrow turns to anger" under a picture of two girls in an emotional embrace.
May also drew criticism for seeming wooden and reluctant to engage in open debate with political rivals and voters during her election campaign, but local government minister Sajid Javid, responsible for housing policy, defended her on Friday.
"What she wanted to do was to speak to the people working on the ground on the recovery operation, the rescue operation to make sure that they’ve got everything they want and see how she could help," he told Sky news.
May failed to win an outright majority in the June snap election and is now battling to strike a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to support her government.