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By Jason Michael
Watching the buffoonery of English MPs solemnly marking the silencing of Big Ben – the death rattle of Britain – could not but remind me of their conspicuous absence from Grenfell in the days after it burned down. It was all so British.
Were we supposed to take the events around Big Ben seriously today? It’s a clock tower in need of a repair job, but at lunchtime MPs and crowds of onlookers gathered to pay their respects as the bell rang out the hour for the last time for the next four years. Stephen Pound, the Labour MP for Ealing North who once claimed £4,251 in travel expenses for the 11 mile commute to work, wept openly at the last dong ceremony as he quoted the old adage, “no one is as conservative as a Labour MP.” Of course he would be emotional. He wouldn’t be the only honourable member to shed a tear. This is, after all, the clock on the platform where their gravy train pulls in.
In an interview with Sky News the Tory MP for Wellingborough, when asked if he had bothered his backside going to Grenfell tower, asked in reply if it would have been appropriate for him to have gone. This is Westminster, the British political establishment at its very best. We are being forced to fund a political class that could not have been more indifferent about the Grenfell catastrophe if it had tried yet can’t get enough of the public shows of obeisance to the trappings of flaccid imperialism. These are the modern day effendis of Nebuchadnezzar bowing to the deified effigy.
I suppose it is quite apt that all this should remind us of the Tower of Babel. At once we have this afternoon’s ridiculousness and the haunting shadow of Grenfell’s burnt out husk. In many respects they are twin aspects of the same colossal hubris, the glorification and worship of power and the nightmare reality of the consequences of this idolatry.
Grenfell, from the top to the bottom, is all about power. It was the power of the state – in its social engineering projects of the late 60s and early 70s – that condemned the poor and the powerless to live in brutalist concrete tower blocks which were widely known by the mid-1980s to be death traps. It was the access to power bought by the wealthy that dictated the need to whitewash these structures with a veneer of prettiness. It was the power of the local authority to cut corners and pay as little as possible that resulted in them being clad with cheap, fire accelerant plastic. Already, now, we are seeing the power of the government in another whitewash – hiding the numbers of the dead and aiding the national forgetting process.
People in power stayed the hell away from Grenfell. Those few who did go went for one reason: to be seen to be there for fear that their absence would strip them of power. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn had to go. Those who did not have to show their faces didn’t. Elizabeth Windsor was the exception. It was her duty to attend. She was merely fulfilling the terms of her job description. But bowing to a bell tower? They all did that for free.
Given the choice – and I am not one for the destruction of monuments, no matter how repugnant – I would have preferred the tower at Westminster to have burnt to a crisp. Such a spectacle may have just restored my faith. Watching London’s underfunded and undermanned fire brigade struggling to contain the blaze would have stirred inside me a need to kneel in reverent awe to the reawakening of cosmic justice. Alas, this was not how it was. Once again we had to witness the sad truth of British power that the poor must suffer what they must.https://twitter.com/jetpack/status/899678841848946689
Sadly it is Big Ben and not Grenfell that will continue as the icon of brand GBTM on postcards and tacky souvenirs. Power will ensure that the other will vanish into the past, growing dimmer as the years go by. Soon enough Big Ben will bellow forth again. In four years. And this is my hope. That when we hear that oppressive bell once more – that bell which has tolled for the death of nations and peoples – it will ring out over a hollow England, a nation abandoned by its lovers. When those four years are over I want to see all the powers of that nation brought to their knees, that I might smile in the knowledge they did it to themselves.
Is this a spiteful want? I think not. It is simply my desire to be generous, to give these people what they desire most – enough rope with which to hang themselves. Let them have their silly trinkets; their palaces, their clicking redcoats, and their big dong chimer. We’ll take their butcher’s apron, unburden it of its blue, and reclaim the black oil they have stolen. We’ll watch in astounded wonder as the sun finally sets on the empire even God never trusted in the dark.
Then we can leave them to their confusion; let them remember their better days. Why this rage? I’m asking myself the same thing. Looking at them weep over a silenced bell angered me. In this I saw for a moment what it was really all about. We saw clearly the only thing that breaks their hearts. It wasn’t people. It wasn’t the suffering they have caused and the death they have brought about under that bloody bell. It was empty ephemera – the blood-soaked bricks and mortar that tickles them most; symbols of the demons they venerate.
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