Thursday, 14 June 2018

"The Marks of Austerity" > Grenfell Tower one year on

A year ago, the Grenfell Tower fire sparked a lot of political fury:
Grenfell tower: The beginning of the end for the Tory austerity regime | The Independent
Austerity Policies Caused Grenfell Tower Disaster, Firefighter Says - Huffington Post

A year on, and the Spectator disagrees:
The LRB has exposed Grenfell’s awkward political facts | Coffee House

Enough of the political fury: now for the full facts about Grenfell

The Spectator

9 June 2018

The opening of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is good news. It will now become harder for politicians and campaigners to do as they did in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and exploit it for their own ends.

The 72 who died were not victims of an uncaring government bureaucracy, as some on the right have said. Nor was this about austerity and ‘Tory cuts’. The costs of the renovation which had been completed shortly before the fire worked out at more than £70,000 per flat: money had been spent, and an expensive deathtrap unwittingly created. The company which managed the block, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) was no heartless international corporation but a not-for-profit company set up with the express purpose of bringing management of social housing closer to the people who live in it.

Those who managed the block cannot be called uncaring. They were council tenants and local councillors — including, in the past, Emma Dent Coad, the Labour MP for Kensington. It was, or was supposed to be, exactly the sort of organisation involving local people and unsullied by shareholder’s demands which Jeremy Corbyn often advocates.

But no one is in any doubt that Grenfell was a catastrophic failure, and one of the most shameful episodes of modern British history. Those who died were in the care of the state — that is to say, in our collective care. The evidence heard so far reflects badly on many of the agencies and individuals involved, including councillors, contractors and fire service chiefs. What we have learned echoes many other disasters which have involved the heavy loss of life. The event, and in particular the scale of the casualties, was not the product of one failing but the result of an interaction of many and complex failings.

Enough of the political fury: now for the full facts about Grenfell | The Spectator

The Red Pepper sees it differenlty: 

Grenfell Tower and the long crisis of social housing

Council housing arose from the duty of the state to house its people. John Boughton writes that the tragedy Grenfell Tower epitomises decades of dereliction of that duty.

June 13, 2018

The fire at Grenfell was, above all, a personal tragedy to its residents and their friends and families. But to many more it symbolised, in devastating fashion, a crisis in social housing. It stood as an awful culmination to deeply damaging policies pursued towards council housing, and the public sector more widely, since 1979...

Council housing then, social housing now, arose from the duty of the state to house its people well even as the market proved unable or unwilling to do so. Grenfell Tower, at root, epitomises the dereliction of that duty – and the failure of private enterprise remains even as the state has, in recent decades, retreated from its former role. Grenfell has reminded us, in the most powerful way imaginable, how much we need the state. We need its regulation and oversight to protect us from commercially driven agendas which value profit over people. We need its investment to provide the safe, secure and affordable housing for all that the market never will. And we need its idealism – that aspiration to treat all its citizens equitably and decently which lay at the very heart of the council house building programme which improved the lives of many millions of our citizens from the 1890s.

This is an edited extract from ‘Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing’ published by Verso Books.

Grenfell Tower and the long crisis of social housing | Red Pepper

Perhaps the best response is in poetry.

A year ago, Nigerian writer Ben Okri penned an impassioned poem commissioned by FT Weekend, on the fire:Ben Okri reads Grenfell Tower, June, 2017 - Financial Times

A year ago, Sidmouth resident Mike Temple penned this: 

The Marks of Austerity

                                                written on the occasion of the fire at Grenfell Tower,
                                                with a finale from Shelley's “The Mask of Anarchy”

                                                                While I lay sleeping safe in bed
                                                                I knew not how the flames had spread
                                                                Up Grenfell Tower – foam, cladding fed
                                                                The raging fire – so many dead.

                                                                Next night I had a black nightmare -
                                                                I dreamt the Tories didn't care.
                                                                I journeyed back in recent times
                                                                And I dreamt it all in rhymes.

                                                                I saw Austerity on the way -
                                                                It  had a face like Mrs May.
                                                                So very “strong and stable” she,
                                                                Yet couldn't face much scrutiny.

                                                                The Daily Mail, Express and Sun
                                                                Had told us all the deal was done:
                                                                The “strong and stable” May would be
                                                                The one to make “Our Country free”.

                                                                I saw the “ghastly masquerade”
                                                                Of all the cuts the Tories made:
                                                                “Cut building costs, de-regulate,
                                                                Cut services and cut the State.”

                                                                When bankers got us in a mess
                                                                The Tories cut the NHS,
                                                                With drastic cuts to Education
                                                                To harm the future of the Nation.
                                                                Cuts for the poor, for Social Care -
                                                                The Councils had no cash to spare.

                                                                Austerity, the Skeleton,
                                                                “Bowed and grinned to everyone”,
                                                                Said: “You must pay to pay the debt”
                                                                (The fatcats would get fatter yet).
                                                                The mantra was to “privatise”
                                                                (To help their friends). They told us lies.

                                                                Hypocrisy, like Cam'ron, May,
                                                                (“One-nation” Tories, so they'd say)
                                                                Two smirking ghosts, so slick and sly,
                                                                Astride two crocodiles rode by.

                                                                Lo, Boris, on his battlebus* -
                                                                The Tory Fool - fooled some of us:
                                                                Cash from EU for NHS?
                                                                Now Brexit talks are in a mess.

                                                                Along with these a motley crew,
                                                                Hunt, Fox and Gove and Fallon, too.
                                                                Grim Poverty came in their train -
                                                                Victorian times had come again:

                                                                More homeless people sleeping rough;
                                                                Disabled folk got less than “enough”;
                                                                Zero hours, cut benefits
                                                                Left many folk beside their wits.

                                                                Some nurses, who deserve our thanks,
                                                                On their low pay went to food banks.
                                                                The gap between the rich and poor
                                                                Grew ever wider than before.

                                                                The planning laws served market greed
                                                                (Few houses built for social need)
                                                                And house prices - they reached the sky
                                                                So average-earners couldn't buy.

                                                                Those on low income and the poor
                                                                Found the cost of rent much more,
                                                                All because the Government
                                                                Built so few homes for social rent.

                                                                Councils, starved of cash, did sell
                                                                Public assets, parks as well,
                                                                And the Construction Industry,
                                                                All-powerful, downplayed safety:

                                                                “Cut building costs, de-regulate;
                                                                Reduce the power of the State.”

                                                                Tory landlords, of one will,
                                                                Voted down a housing bill*
                                                                To make rented accommodation
                                                                Fit for human habitation.

                                                                Our Nation holds its head in shame
                                                                But who do you think is to blame?
                                                                To what extent did those in power
                                                                Cause the fire at Grenfell Tower?

                                                                But hear the words of Percy Shelley
                                                                On Peterloo*, fire in his belly;
                                                                His words ring out, a clarion call
                                                                To caring humans, one and all:
                                                                “Men of England, heirs of Glory,
                                                                Heroes of unwritten story,
                                                                Nurslings of one mighty Mother,
                                                                Hopes of Her, and one another...

                                                                Rise like Lions after slumber
                                                                In unvanquishable number;
                                                                Shake your chains to earth like dew
                                                                Which in sleep had fall'n on you -
                                                                Ye are many – they are few.”

Footnotes: Boris Johnson and Michael Gove claimed on their battlebus that £350 million a week would come from the EU to fund the NHS
In 2016 70 Tory MP landlords voted against the bill to make rented housing fit for human habitation
The massacre in 1819 by government cavalry in St Peter's Fields, Manchester where a crowd of 60,000 to 80,000 gathered to demand reform of parliamentary representation

With international comment:
After Grenfell Tower Fire, U.K. Asks: Has Deregulation Gone Too Far? - The New York Times
After Grenfell, regulation must not be a dirty word - The Conversation
The Year the Grenfell Tower Fire Revealed the Lie That Londoners Tell Themselves | The New Yorker
Anger Spreads Over a Divided Society After Grenfell Tower Fire - Bloomberg
Grenfell Tower disaster, a symbol of broken Britain – POLITICO

And a bizarre international connection, according to the Times:
Company behind Grenfell YouTube film has links to Kremlin | News | The Times
Russian TV wanted to stir class unrest after Grenfell | News | The Times

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