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On Grenfell Tower: Or, why everything about this is political.

On Grenfell Tower: Or, why everything about this is political.

In the wake of tragedies, such as the Grenfell Tower Fire, there will be inevitably be people demanding that it not be politicised. Or, to put it a different way, those who claim that by asking questions about how something happened, asking what the conditions that preceded the event where and then to make the point that had certain conditions not existed the tragedy would not have taken place, is to make illegitimate political capital off of the backs of victims of the event in question.

It is difficult to think of a circumstance where this view would ever be correct. A terrorist attack is a political event, a flood that destroys homes is a political event, and a fire in a high rise flat in a working class area is unquestionably a political event - especially if as it appears that fire was an avoidable result of deliberate policies persued. As well as a result of the lack of representation that the residents of the building had, and an unwillingness on the part of the local authority to hear their concerns about the safety of the building. These things are political, in the case of Grenfell they are even more so as they are set against a background of the ongoing de-workerisation of London.

There are several reasons why this is the case, the most notable being that: Truely unprecedented events are so rare as to be essentially none existent. Terrorist attacks happen - there are policies that make them more or less likely to happen. To claim that policy choices have no impact on the likelihood of terrorist attacks taking place is absurd. Likewise, floods happen - they generally happen every year and they tend to happen in the same places because of flood planes, to suggest that no one had any idea that they could or would happen is, likewise, absurd.

Fires of the type that took place at Grenfell Tower are thankfully rare, but they happen - any building can burn down - and certain materials used on the building make this more likely(1). Deliberate policies enacted by the Royal Borough of Kensingtion & Chelsea made this tragedy more likely to happen.

At the time of writing, an enquiry into the causes of the fire has just been announced. In the coming days, weeks, months and years the specific causes of the fire and the failings of those responsible will continue to come out.. At this point however it is pretty clear what the midwife and mother of all the other causes is government policy at a national and local level.

You should be spitting with rage that this event took place. It would appear at this point that the reason the fire was able to spread(2) is because of cladding attached to the exterior of the building to make the building more aesthetically appealing to the residents of luxury flats living in nearby conservation areas -  working class people have died so that the building they live in could be aesthetically acceptable to onlooking millionaires. This bears repeating:

Working class people have died so that the building they live in could be more aesthetically acceptable to onlooking millionaires.

This might be forgivable if no one had known that this was likely to happen. Residents repeatedly raised their concerns about the safety of the building to the local authority, they where not only ignored, they were threatened with legal action for having raised their concerns.

Don't take my word for it. Here it is. In writing:

The unreconstructed arrogance of this attempt at intimidation of legitimate citizen and resident oversight should shock and appall you, even if it hadn't been vindicated. Employees of Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea council are public officials making decisions that impact the lives of people living within the borough. They should not be threatening groups with legal action for practising citizen oversight.

Threatening a residents group with legal action, or implying it would be taken, in an attempt to silence criticism is appalling and whoever is responsible for this letter needs to go.

It may well be the case however, that whilst this specific tragedy was in some sense political, one cannot draw wider political lessons from it, and should not seek to do so. This view is also, false.

The housing situation in the United Kingdom, and quite acutely so in in London, is a fucking disgrace. Rent is absurdly high, the cost of taking a room in an overcrowded flat in London is often significantly more than the rent on a three bedroom house in other parts of the country. Likewise, house prices are absurdly high, it is unlikely that the vast majority of people in London will ever be able to afford to buy their own home if the situation continues, much less to be able to socially rent as the social housing stock has been privatised, robbing future generations of a right that previous generations have enjoyed.

The standard of accommodation in the private rented sector is also appalling. Many dwellings are unfit for human habitation. There is no legal compulsion for landlords to conduct elementary safety tests. Furthermore, attempts to codify in law demands that homes must be fit for human habitation and vetted for safety before being rented out, where rejected by the Conservative Party as recently as last year.

Tell me again that this isn't political?

The Conservative council leader of RBKC told BBC's Newsnight programme that residents had rejected having sprinkler systems installed. Residents have reported that they where never asked if they wanted sprinklers to be installed. This aside however; as leader of the council this man is responsible for its policies. Meaning that ultimately he is responsible for what has happened. Instead of apologising, and possibly tendering his resignation, he has instead gone to the press to defend himself and blame the victims. The reason he is able to do this is because he holds political power and office. I do not believe for a second that if this man had suspected this would happen he would have acted as he did - but using his position to give an account of himself and attempt to pass the buck on this is unforgivable. Furthermore, it is not even fair to say that the blame wholly and totally rests with this man - this is an institutional failure, it is also an indictment of a social system which is literally killing people.

So, tell me again that this isn't political?

The Daily Mail has published an article on the causes of the fire, making it very clear that the person to whom the faulty fridge that looks to have started the fire belonged is an "Ethiopian Taxi Driver" - possibly because they would have been reprimanded if they'd dropped the dog whistle and just called him what they clearly wished to call him. Let's be clear on this - his nationality serves no journalistic purpose, it is only included to cast him as "Other" and this is exactly what the author of the article in question intended.

That sections of the press are running around attempting to cobble together a way to blame the victims for what is an institutional failure - is despicable. The reason they are doing so is as a result of a deep contempt for the working class. To recognise that this was an institutional failure, made possible by the deep inequality and palpable unfairness that now characterises the United Kingdom would threaten the position of the government the right wing press campaigned so hard, but failed, to install and the system that they are ultimately there to serve.

The so-called journalists doing this do not deserve to be called journalists, they are at best the PR department of a deeply inhumane system. They should be deeply ashamed of themselves for failing to hold power to account prior to this taking place and subsequently continuing and compounding this failure after the fact.

This is political, and those asking that it not be politicised are actually asking that you do not look to long or to hard at the conditions that have made this tragedy possible. From fire service cuts, gentrification, the vilification of social tenants, the vilification of the working class, the contempt for citizen oversight, the laws on the use of external agencies for government contracts which mean that no consideration is allowed to enter the discussion except cost - from top to bottom, this is political.

Everything about this is political. The solutions to the problems that allowed this to take place are political. The resolution to it involves demanding a fundamental change in the way our government operates and us taking a long hard look at what our society has become and to ask ourselves if it is tolerable to allow the grave injustices that afflict it to continue. That is a political act.

The story that this tells about our society is not a pleasant one. We now live in a country where inequality and injustice don't merely afflict us - it fundamentally defines us. We cannot let this continue.

If we allow it to be said that this is not political, then we will fail to act politically to address the issues that made this tragedy possible. If we fail to make it political the burnt out shell of Grenfell Tower will stand as testimony to this failure.



(1) If you're interested in the risks involved in cladding a building - see; here.

(2) The people who designed these buildings in the 1950's and 1960's weren't idiots, they were aware that fires happen in domestic dwellings and the building is meant to be designed so that if a fire happens it would be contained to one flat, rather than being able to spread through the building. At the time the building standards that had to be met where much higher than those of today, let that fucking sink in. Furthermore, the dwellings had to be fit for human habitation, they had to be of a size that a family could comfortably live in one, and they had to be designed and maintained in such a way as to ensure the safety of those living within them. The stripping back of safety regulations and housing standards has made it that none of this is now true and this is the result.


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