Sun | Jul 22, 2018

Brian-Paul Welsh | Babylon burning

Published:Tuesday | June 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM
The scorched facade of Grenfell Tower in London.

A series of tragic events over the past few weeks have shattered the facade of English gentility, briefly exposing the underbelly of institutional indifference that we in this former British colony have come to know all too well.

As we watched in amazement while the poorest in our political motherland blocked roads and waved placards screaming 'we want justice', we were immediately transported to that familiar Jamaican scene of cruel treatment by an uncaring government followed by explosive clips of the villagers' righteous indignation.

Last week, the world was horrified to watch as dozens of London's least privileged died with just as much dignity as Dark-Age peasants while supposedly in a modern-day society. The stark image of the scorched Grenfell Tower has now been seared into the minds of the marginalised as a symbol of wilful neglect, an icon for failed leadership, and a visceral reminder that poverty is a sin ultimately punishable by death, even in the prosperous nations said to be leading development by example.

Jamaica's current rulers inherited this custom of misanthropy from our colonial masters, and after centuries of reinforcement, it has become an endemic part of the culture of administration. Our disinterest in dignifying the cries for help coming from the poor and the attitude of official aloofness often encountered by ordinary citizens are characteristic of the systemic cold shoulder we customarily experience in this country, elements of which can now be seen happening over the pond on the telly.

We acquired a very keen understanding of governance in absentia after centuries of remote control by Her Majesty the Queen, which means as children of this philosophy, we can quickly recognise emotional abandonment and systematic disenfranchisement in its various incarnations.

Having surmised the subtext in which this most recent catastrophe took place, once the names and faces of those who perished were revealed, many were soon implying the existence of a sinister plot, as well as inferring the operation of a ploy to understate the overall gravity of the situation. The bitter taste of disrespect we have grown accustomed to receiving in Jamaica has now incensed the underclass in England, from whence this style originated, spurring them to protest the wickedness of their distant representatives.


Initial reluctance


What was seen as the prime minister's initial reluctance to address the sorrow of her suffering subjects felt familiar to us after considerable time and similar experience with emotionally unintelligent politicians habitually using expedience over common sense.

Every year, thousands of commoners on this Caribbean estate meet terrible deaths, and yet no real effort is ever made to curb these shocking occurrences. Infants die in record numbers, and those with a duty of care glibly remind us they weren't babies in the real sense; we witness gruesome acts in broad daylight and are told by the magician running the department of whimsy that reporting these facts will affect tourist numbers.

Meanwhile, the green wizard in charge warns that if more resources are to be allocated for citizen safety and security, we will have to sacrifice something else, like maybe food or shelter. Unsurprisingly, the new police commissioner has already declared his tenure as null, given the unwillingness of our leaders to do what is necessary for an effective reduction in crime, which basically means we can expect more of the same mayhem until his time is up.

Watching poor families in England writhe in pain over this deep wound, we, as residents of this former slave plantation island, can commiserate with their distress.

Few thought the bastion of moral virtue and polestar of our great democratic institution could have seemed so impotent following this succession of alarming episodes, but after observing these masters at work it seems our current Prince and former Queen were in fact fine students at the royal school of governance for dummies.

We know very well that the only way to get any real attention from those in control is to be bold, impolite, and to cause quite a rumpus, otherwise, in keeping with their ignoble political tradition, only injustice can prevail. And so while the tower smouldered and the villagers gathered to discuss how they would piece together their broken lives, there was the ominous sense that this might be the moment to spark a revolution among those typically ignored.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to and, or tweet @islandycynic.