I have already discussed how politics and ideology led to the devastation in Chelsea and Kensington. There can be no doubt the tradgedy is political. The question now is how is it effecting our politics?
The expected impact of an event of this magnitude would be- policy changes, attitude changes, resignations and inquests. Events similar to this (but on nowhere near the same scale of loss or horror) have happened before, nothing changed then. The Lakanal fire of 2009 stands out as a prime example. We can also look to the fact as pointed out by the President of the Kensington Society- Nick Ross that, the vast majority of domestic fires and fire deaths occur in social housing. Nothing has changed. In fact things might have gotten worse, 100% of council tower blocks tested so far have failed safety checks on claddings fire retardence.
The news has abounded with revelations that council leaders nationwide and ministers such as Brandon Lewis MP (who was at different times been housing and then police and fire minister) ignored the requests of residents and experts to improve fire safety.
But, and this is said with hope and conviction, this time is different. Policy change will have to follow. Indeed we can already see this impacting on our politics. So why is it different this time?Embed from Getty Images
Firstly the sheer scale, any such deaths are a tragedy but when 80 or more die in one fire it garners more attention and anger. When a political decision is at the heart of a disaster, politics is affected. The country is also in the midst of a political crisis precipitated by a hung parliament, with the ideology of austerity rejected by the people. As austerity was rejected at the polls its toll was physically demonstrated. Just as the voters voiced their anger in the polling booth the people of Grenfell have voiced their anger on the streets. Their voices cannot be ignored and neither can the nations’.
So how has this affected our politics already? What does the election have to do with Grenfell Tower? Well when a friend asked me what I thought about the election fall out, my answer quickly became centred on Grenfell. As parliament was still dissolved the post-election crisis and much of the narrative of the campaign was played out on the streets of Kensington. The initial responses of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn were strikingin their polarity. The emotionally detached and physically distant May giving sound-bites and deflections. Corbyn showing his humanity, sharing the people’s grief and calling for political and social justice to be done.Embed from Getty Images
This was one of the core narratives of the election. It was a huge factor in the shock result. The fallout from this, played out in the framework of the disaster, was mirrored not only on the streets but by the media coverage. Just days after the press had been calling for her to go and after May herself had promised the Conservatives 1922 committee she would bring in a new engaging, more expressive brand of leadership, she had reverted back to the Maybot.
Yet instead of condemning her for this the right-wing papers rushed to her defence, as ever using it as a weapon with with to attack Corbyn. His humanity and interaction with the victims smeared as a publicity stunt, a crass attempt to politicise the situation, a myth I have tried to debunk. Instead May was ‘’Strong and Stable’’ working behind the scenes and not milking the publicity. The reaction of the victims of Grenfell would suggest quite the opposite.
To me this is faux outrage. To express humanity and emotion in these situations is being the mark of an individual who cares. To talk about the political context demonstrates an understanding of events and supports the victims. The Telegraph and The Mails coverage has been to deflect from the fact it is the Tories who bare the brunt of the political blame. I have not heard the residents displaying disgust that their plight is being politicised.
Another example of false or hypocritical emotion is the praise and (platitudes) gratitude expressed by the Conservatives towards the emergency services. The recent political storm over a rise in public sector pay was in a large part catalysed by the fire, along with other recent events. People saw images of fire-fighters emotionally and physically devastated and rightly thought they may deserve a pay-rise higher than 1%.
If the government were to revoke their policy of a 1% p.a public pay increase, as many think they should it would be another nail in the coffin of austerity and a further blow to Theresa Mays agenda.Embed from Getty Images
If the fire itself has quickened the debate on austerity then the political response to the aftermath epitomises the crisis we currently face. We have no effective leader, we have no effective government. The response of all authorities bar the emergency services has been slammed by the victims. They have been absent and detached from the plight and suffering of some of the most marginalised in our country.
This disaster has highlighted the divide between the people of this country and the establishment. Whilst the council and government bunkered down and hide away from this humanitarian crisis, the people of London, from all walks of life showed their humanity. Within a day vast amounts of food, clothes and toiletries had been donated, people were offering whatever they could. The people were shocked, the people cared and the people were angry. But most of all they were willing to help.
To me this shows that most Britons do not disregard the poor or view them with contempt, we still expect some basic standards for everyone in our society and are appalled when they are not provided. Yet a government has failed to provide. The residents see this distinction is it any wonder they are incensed.
Such claims are of course not proven and very unlikely. But something I think we can assert, as was put forward by Aditya Chakrabortty is that this is social-murder. The events at Grenfell Tower have cast further light upon the massive divide we currently have in our politics and society. It has magnified the failings of the government both its individuals and policies. But it has assured they were not swept aside. We need to make sure that the people of Grenfell are not swept aside.