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By Jason Michael
Austerity kills. No greater proof of this fact exists than that we are watching unfold around the burnt out husk of Grenfell tower in Kensington, London. This was no accident. It was cold and calculated murder.
Austerity is a spectator sport. Television has conditioned us to be entertained by low-lifes living in high-rises as the London government’s brutal cutbacks and dehumanising benefits regime produces an endless supply of grist for the mill. How fitting it was then that we woke this morning to the harrowing sight of a central London tower block engulfed in flames, like a campfire we could all enjoy together. Grenfell tower was an unignorable spectacle; crowds of helpless onlookers beaten back by the blaze, hearing the desperate cries for help, watching the twinkling lights of people’s phones on the upper floors – stars, light years from rescue.
Are you entertained yet? We are being told we can’t politicise this disaster by the very Conservative media apparatus that has rallied the hordes of the right against the poor; that has made an untold fortune from marketing their suffering. There can be no denying there are mothers, fathers, children dying as we write. There is no denying the insensitivity of what we are doing, we keyboard worriers. Yet not politicising Grenfell is unjustifiable, the final injustice we can inflict on the dead – on the soon to be dead.
There’s this phrase moving about in my head. It’s from a book about the holocaust, a sort of religious response to the scale of the horror and the impossibility of stopping it. “I will bear witness.” Everything about Grenfell tower is political. As someone pointed out on Twitter, the reason it was built was political, that people were forced to live stacked on top of one another was political, that people had no choice over where they could live is political, that it was beautified with flammable plastic cladding for the sake of the market value of its wealthy Kensington and Chelsea neighbours’ properties was political. Grenfell tower was an act of political violence. Each death in it is a political murder. Let’s bear witness.
Residents in the tower, a social housing nightmare farmed by the government out to a private landlord, wrote on 20 November last year in a blog post that this was a disaster waiting to happen. The Grenfell Action Group had been highlighting for years the negligence of their landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the innumerable fire safety issues throughout the building, and the utter indifference of their local councillors and MPs. It would have been safer for these families to be living on the street. They wrote:
It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice! The Grenfell Action Group believe that the KCTMO narrowly averted a major fire disaster at Grenfell Tower in 2013 when residents experienced a period of terrifying power surges that were subsequently found to have been caused by faulty wiring.
Quite clearly the victims thought of their impending murder as a political issue years before they were killed. It would be wrong of us to take this, their truth, from them.
Fires happen. Tragedies happen. But it is the responsibility of landlords and local councils and governments, who have a duty of care for their tenants and citizens, to do absolutely everything in their power to keep people safe. They have a moral and a legal obligation to put safety over financial benefit, especially over those financial and aesthetic concerns of people not forced to live in these dangerous, substandard social housing projects. In this duty of care and of their moral and legal obligations the KCTMO, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council, and the whole British government failed.
As the well-to-do homeowners of plummy and posh south Kensington wring their hands as the death toll mounts on their backyard, it was their demand for a more pleasing vista – and not the Grenfell residents’ plea for better, safer accommodation – that led to the multi-million pound RBKC council “regeneration” of Grenfell tower. Millions of pounds were spent on Reynobond PE cladding, an aluminium composite material manufactured by Worcester based Omnis Exteriors Ltd., to made the eye sore look pretty. It’s more of an eye sore, more of a heartache, now. For the sake of a saving of £2 a square metre the accountants of the regeneration project opted for Reynobond PE over Reynobond FR – the FR standing for “fire resistant.”
Austerity imposed by Westminster on the poorest and most vulnerable people in the United Kingdom has forced untold millions to live in such high-rises; crammed together above and below one another in structures that might as well be unlit bonfires. At Grenfell it was decorated so as to keep the ugliness of austerity far from the sensitive gaze of the rich with a cladding that acted as an accelerant, rapidly spreading a conflagration that could have started in any flat anywhere on the tower to every apartment all over the building in minutes – all in the dead of night as people slept.
Will there be justice for the people in Grenfell tower? There will be an inquest. Big words will be used and experts will offer their opinions, but there won’t be justice. Wring their hands as they might, stand silently at some public memorial at some later date, but we can’t help but guess that there are some in Kensington and Chelsea who are secretly over the moon their problem has been solved. Unkind of me? Perhaps, but realistic.
Some 400 to 600 people, we are told, were living in Grenfell tower. The news is giving updates of “confirmed dead” – 6, 12, 17, now 30. No one is saying how many have survived. Where are those numbers? We’re hearing a lot of this “still missing.” Missing?! Missing where exactly? Did they all miraculously get to the one part of the tower that wasn’t completely consumed in the flames? Have you seen the building? Missing means dead! How many have been confirmed “missing?”
Remember this video, in the coming days, weeks and months