If burning in your home is not political then I don’t know what is’’- David Lammy MP-The article could of just been this quote. But I feel it needs explanation to answer critics.
The Grenfell disaster killed at least 79 people. What started with a fridge catching fire on the 4th floor just before midnight engulfed a 24 storey tower block. Within 40 minutes an entire façade was ablaze, by 3:00am nearly the entire building was on fire. Police have said some of the victims may never be identified.
Basic British expectations of fire and public safety, along with a fire-fighters exclamation of ‘’how the f*ck has that happened’’ whilst en-route and the now infamous images of the tower should be enough to show this should never of happened.
So why did it happen? This question raises what has become a core issue debated in the disasters aftermath, is this political? The answer is of course it is. Why it is political needs qualifying.
If the fire should never have spread so quickly, grown so large or uncontrollable something out of the ordinary has happened. A fire caused by an electrical malfunction is not something out of the ordinary. So if the cause wasn’t the reason for the extra-ordinary nature of this fire, what was?
The failure of fire containment structures, the lack of sprinklers and most crucially new cladding on the exterior of the building. Cladding which in recent days has been shown to have released hydrogen-cyanide when burning, to have acted as a ventilation system to the flames. Footage has also shown it to be many times more combustible than the fire retardant alternative. This cladding has already been found on at least 25 other tower blocks.
Who makes decisions on these matters of safety? The residents themselves? Well they complained and notified the council of these issues but they cannot alter them. It is the council that decides upon these issues. They decided to use the cheaper more flammable cladding, to not install sprinklers or to ensure the effectiveness of fire alarms.
To put it simply; the Council is political body, its decisions are political, affecting numerous aspects of borough life. The fires ferocity was due to massive failures in policy by the council. If policy and decision making is at fault, it is a political issue.
To insinuate that it is not, to suggest looking into the political basis of this is exploiting the victims for political capital is not just narrow minded, it is counter-intuitive. At its extreme it is propaganda to deflect from the mistakes that have been made.
To depoliticise this fire is to write it off as a mere accident, it is to ignore the complex ideological and political currents which caused a tower full of some of our poorest citizens to turn into an inferno. If such political issues are ignored then how can anything ever change? Indeed this is what happened in the 2009 Lakanal tower block fire in which 6 died. After this, numerous councils and ministers ignored the warnings and suggestions of the inquest.
Nobody wants this ever to happen again but that cannot be assured if changes are not made and the true causation is understood. What then is the true causation, what drove the Council to take a political decision that lead to so many deaths?
Architect and expert witness Sam Webb told The Guardian that in the aftermath of Lakanal he thought ‘’Either it has failed to comply with safety regulations or the regulations are inadequate’’. Due to the lack of reform on this issue he wrote in a recent piece the Grenfell fire ‘’is sadly of no great surprise’’.
But what could be behind the lack of, or inadequacy of regulation? If this is issue is not political then what is? When people die in their homes because of poor regulation, cost cutting and failed inspections- 16 council inspections did not highlight the use of illegal, cheap, flammable cladding it is immensely political. When all 71 Tory MPs who are also private landlords voted against legislation to make a property fit for human habitation, we must look at the greater political and social context in which social and rental housing is situated. This will be the topic of my next article on the disaster in Kensington.