Thursday 15 June 2017

The Grenfell Tragedy is Class War

The victims of yesterday’s fire at the Grenfell tower in north Kensington are casualties of the class war. There is no other frame, no other explanation that can convincingly thread together the answers to questions about how this unnecessary and entirely avoidable tragedy happened, and why it was allowed to happen.

Consider the circumstances:

Grenfell residents had repeatedly complained to the council (coincidentally, Conservative-run) about fire safety issues and were brushed off by councillors and officers.

Residents had also complained about their treatment at the hands of the contractors placed in charge of the two-year £10m block refurbishment. These complaints included allegations of physical intimidation on the part of the contractors.

The external refurbishment of the tower was added ostensibly to deal with water ingress into the building, but residents have suggested that cladding was added to make it look more agreeable to the eyes of nearby tenants and owners of luxury properties.

The fire happened in the context of the closure of ten fire stations in London at the behest of Boris Johnson during his time as London mayor. This is part of a nationwide package of measures aimed at reducing the numbers of firefighters and creating markets in the fire service through the outsourcing of calls, administration, and provision of equipment.

It comes after years of warnings and recommendations from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fire Safety and Rescue that have routinely been ignored by successive governments. Their latest recommendations pertaining to high-rises were sat on for four years by the government.

It comes in the context of a government utterly beholden to the ridiculous view that regulation, and particularly health and safety regulations, are so much red tape. This was taken to its extreme by the Tories who ran on a platform pledging to scrap two regulations for every one introduced: an intellectually bankrupt and profoundly stupid approach that risks lives for the sake of core vote grubbing.

Though the Grenfell tower would not have been affected by it, the government benches voted down proposed legislation requiring landlords to guarantee a basic minimum standard of housing fit for human habitation.

And, in the aftermath, following the media attention and the outpouring of sympathy and grief, the Prime Minister was at the scene for a “private visit”. She decided against meeting surviving residents.

Today the media is overflowing with hot takes about how it is a very political tragedy. But it is more than that. This has been a gross episode, a massacre, in the class struggle. It is a moment where local and national politics, the economics of housing, the snobby cultures of the H-band classes, and the managerial arrogance attuned to tuning out poor and working class voices all came together and have robbed dozens – hopefully not hundreds – of people of their lives. It’s a consequence of markets run rampant, of the gutting of public service provision to squeeze more cash into private coffers. That cash now comes dipped in blood.

We’ve seen what class politics in the 21st century can look like. This, however, is what's going on on the other side. They still have the whip hand, they are responsible for this state of affairs, and these are the consequences when the war on the housing front has gone their way unimpeded for so long.


Anonymous said...

I don't like your analysis, but I think it is correct. In fact, I think that's the reason I find your analysis very uncomfortable indeed. The decision to clad Grenfell tower in flammable material was the exact opposite of an accident. On the most charitable interpretation, it was reckless endangerment of multiple lives for the sake of a cosmetic makeover. Did no councillor sound the alarm when this proposal went through planning? There will be a paper-trail leading up to all this, and it might contain something horrendous.

David Timoney said...

I fully agree with the thrust of your post, but I think it is important not to go over the top and give credence to dubious claims. The idea that the external refurb was motivated by a desire to make it more visually agreeable to rich neighbours is an urban myth in the making.

This appears to have started with an Indy story that quoted planning documents: "The changes to the existing tower will improve its appearance especially when viewed from the surrounding area". This is just planning application boilerplate. Nobody says "we're going to build an eyesore".

The surrounding area, i.e. where you can actually see the towerblock, is mostly low-rise social housing, light industry and motorways to the north and west. The immediate neighbour to the north is a school. There is private housing aplenty in the vicinity these days, but it's nothing like Notting Hill proper (being mostly ex-council stock), from where you would struggle to see the tower.

The point about London is that it so closely packed that the "surrounding area" doesn't extend more than a few streets away in practice. The people who routinely see Grenfell Tower are those driving along the Westway, which is raised and therefore provides a view over the surrounding streets. I doubt the council spent the money just to please motorists driving out of the borough.

BCFG said...

The refurbs are about reducing the cost to councils and society in general with the minimum of investment. So instead of proper housing we get a sticking plaster, in this case it appears an highly inflammable one.

You call it a class war but plenty of people vote Tory and when people vote Tory they know hammering the poorest and most vulnerable is part of the package. In fact a primary reason people vote Tory is to punsih the poorest.

If this is a class war it is a war against the underclass, or the poorest sections of the working class and the war is often being conducted by wealthier members of the working class.

Though looking at the pictures this looks like more of a race war to me! But I guess the second reason to vote Tory is to attack immigrants or ethnic minorities.

This fire is a great metaphor for the policies of the Tories over the past ten years (attack the poorest and the darkest), often enthusiastically supported by large sections of the working class.

I can only hope the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn can fundamentally change the values of this country, I can only thank god that Yvette Cooper failed in her bid to be Labour leader. God knows where we would be now if that had happened!

Shai Masot said...

We've got to look long and hard into the mirror as a party too. It's not just the Tories at fault here. Pre-Corbyn Labour had 13 years in power to get housing right, but we didn't. We didn't build enough social accommodation. We outsourced services all over the place. We courted the global elite, built London around their needs, and took our core voters for granted.

Ben Philliskirk said...

I think David is right and there are likely to be much simpler reasons for this tragedy, namely cost-cutting and the use of sub-standard materials when it comes to maintaining houses for the poor, and ignoring the opinions of residents because they're only council tenants.

Phil said...

Or, to summarise it succinctly, Ben, class struggle!

Syzygy said...

The Tories have turned us into a third world country where the poorest, the blackest and the already dispossessed, fleeing here from war, find themselves housed without regard to their safety. Doubtless, as in Katrina, the Tory council will take advantage of this crisis to ensure that the rich benefit from the disaster, both in terms of social cleansing and the sudden availability of high value land.

However, the truth is that this could have been a Labour council, as it was in Camberwell in 2009. There are too many councillors and councils who are Labour in name only.

Unknown said... yeah just a myth , in the making

Unknown said...

find me a council tenant, just one who's ever asked for a prettier skin to their building , instead we ask for a hundred things that arent done , 60,000 for new lifts wasnt on the budget but "rain screen cladding" which the manufacturers of admit in their own literature is mostly cosmetic "The primary driver for a rainscreen cladding system is usually down to the visual impact of the building. But the desire for aesthetics has to be combined with performance; weather-proofing the building and contributing to the overall thermal performance." council tenants wishes are irrelevant in the conversation ,take note my middle class friends quit your hand wringing and support action or i assure you pretty soon our homes wont be the only thing burning

Speedy said...

Capitalism killed them - I'm not sure about class. These panels are banned in Germany and the US because they are flammable - as the Daily Mail (!) reported - and for 5000 more they could have got fire safe ones.

The responsibility lies at the feet of the legislators who did not ban this material, despite warnings. Yes, there were contributory factors, but I'm not sure you can politicise this to the extent you do: concerns were raised as early as 2000, under a Labour government.

Anonymous said...

@ David T

If reports are correct, the cladding material chosen was Reynobond PE. Reading the literature it is hard to imagine it's use is for anything other than cosmetic purposes. I cannot see any reference to it's insulating properties which was another reason mooted for it's installation.

If this was indeed the cladding material chosen it seems pretty clear it was used for aesthetic reasons only, and I have also read that it's use in the US is restricted to buildings below 40 feet high.

MikeB said...

Interviewed on Newsnight,Sophie Khan, solicitor for the victims of the Lakanal House tower block fire in Camberwell in 2009, says that a public inquiry is NOT the right way to pursue an investigation into the events surrounding the Grenfell Tower fire.

“The right way is INQUESTS. The families have a right to participate ……… the Coroner is independent of the Government. In a public inquiry it is very much Government led, Government controlled, Government outcome”.

When asked, “Do you think it’s an absolutely worked out position that if the Government goes for a public inquiry and NOT an inquest, they will be not subject to the same scrutiny?” Ms Khan said, “YES, that is correct,; because in an inquest they (the Government) lose control ...I’m very concerned as to why Mrs May came out so quickly to say public inquiry. What is there that she knows that needs to be hidden?” Residents should, “really be demanding an INQUEST from the Government”

(quoted from The Daily Politik blog)

David Timoney said...

@Christie & Anon,

That the cladding had a cosmetic purpose is not in question. The point I was making was about the attributed motives - i.e. "a desire to make it more visually agreeable to rich neighbours".

There is undoubtedly a class dimension to the refurb, but we should remember that the way that class is usually imposed on the landscape is not by making the working class a feature but by making it invisible: out of sight, out of mind. In other words, the cosmetic purpose was to neutralise not prettify.

The idea that the council spent money to raise the aesthetic utility of rich residents in Notting Hill and Holland Park is akin to the claim that Marie Antoinette's Hameau de la Reine was for the purposes of peasant cosplay. Emotionally satisfying but not factually true.

Jim Denham said...

From the Radical Housing Network:

Hi folks,

You will all have seen the unfolding tragedy at Grenfell Tower. We are organising solidarity for our member group the Grenfell Action Group, which became part of the Radical Housing Network about 3 years ago. They have been pressurising the local council for its failings throughout that time, and it’s horrific to see the implications of the council’s intransigence now.

I hope to see many of you at the demonstration at DCLG tonight (Friday), 6pm by Victoria.

As well as that demonstration, we have called a solidarity meeting tomorrow morning at 9.30am, at Maxilla Social Club, 2 Maxilla Walk, London W10 6NQ – we will walk down from the meeting, to the demonstration we’ve called at midday tomorrow.

Action outside Kensington Town Hall to demand that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are held accountable for the deaths and tragedy of Grenfell, and that the residents’ and housing movement’s demands are met. This atrocity must never happen again.

Saturday 17 June, Midday

Kensington Town Hall

Hornton Street


W8 7NX

Johnnyf said...

I have worked in Supported Housing since 1997 . One of the saddest things has been the corporstisation of the housing , health and public sector . Services should serve and they have lost their sense of vocation at a strategic level . Far too much management speak and so called business decisions when people's lives are at stake. We need a complete change of policy towards services that people need.

Anonymous said...

Well we all know that the Tory party don't care about anyone other than themselves, fortunately the Stoke on Trent workhouse hasn't been demolished so when they are reintroduced that will save them some money to give to themselves. It is a class war they consider us to be vermin,Well what about the parasites at the top? I rest my case.

BCFG said...

"I have worked in Supported Housing since 1997 "

Well I worked in the finance section but for the HRA, and I can concur that the tragedy at Grenfell is a product of New Labour policies of internal markets, arms length management organisations, outsourcing of staff to cheaper and more exploitative employers, public-private partnerships etc etc, which itself was a continuation of Thatcherism.

More blood on the hands of Tony Blair and his cabal of mass murderers if you ask me, funnily enough this time Jim Denham does not seem to be cheer-leading the bloodletting. Makes a change!

This class war has been going on for over 30 years, with the Yvette Cooper centre left totally complicit in the war. This is just the latest installment. Only a Corbyn victory can begin to address this.

David Timoney said...

Just like to point out that Northcliffe House, the home of the Daily Mail is literally a stone's throw from Kensington Town Hall.

jim mclean said...

Having spent my time homeless in London, and in the lower end of a hierarchical social housing system within the Capital, I have always kept my eye on the situation. Since those Thatcher years when I went on my bike I have gained a degree as a mature student (Sociology and Social Sciences) and have observed the war against the poorest members of society in London from a distance and have been outraged by what is happening and the inability of the London broad Left to put up a fight. Every change in law and benefits has been initiated to drive the poor from the city, to up property prices and to deconstruct the social housing supply and system. This is not only a class based war, but not surprisingly a battle to claim and optimise potential high value assets. Why did people start sleeping in the streets of London, openly and in cardboard boxes, why, in the late 80's we were driven from the Arches, the Bullring the cardboard cities as the property developers moved in. Canary Wharf, the Olympics and the Millennium dome or whatever, every investment of this kind lowered the number of houses for the poorest members of society. A main target of the Tories has been the Peabody Housing Trust, and the other major social needs providers, they hope to force them into a “right to buy” situation and destroy their cohesion, undermine the foundations and bring them into the buy to rent field. In Grenfell Towers a private let two bedroom flat costs £1800 per month, the council loved Universal Credits and Caps as they could drive out the benefits family and sell the empty flat as an investment for the would be Rachmans. Can they drive out whole communities? Why are Millwall pubs in the West End, the Isle of Dogs has been all but cleared. I have done the odd visit to the Capital just to see how things are on the streets and little has changed in 30 odd years.

BCFG said...

In a lot of ways this story is like the Rotherham sex scandal, in that it didn’t matter that kids were driven to substance abuse, self harming, suicide and homelessness, none of this mattered, no news story, no interest from the media or the left but as soon as sex became involved suddenly everyone became interested, including those people who the day before were calling these kids feckless youth who are a burden to hard working and decent families.

The same is happening with this situation, it is a response to an horrific event but no one cared about the social cleansing in London, driving people into the grip of blood sucking landlords, into homelessness or sub standard accommodation, the world only takes notice when an event like this happens and some heat is put on authorities.

In this way there is superficiality to the whole outrage that I think we need to be aware of, and in some cases a fakery about the outrage.

Having said that if this outrage was to spread, as it should, there is potential for great change but also potential for a backlash, fear of those below rising up is a fundamental basis of fascism in my opinion. The authorities feel the heat at present but this can soon be used by the authorities to spread fear, the Telegraph are already talking about political opportunism. People could see sense and think it is time to get rid of the Tories and elect Corbyn or alternatively they could freak out at the anger from below and turn in a fascist direction.

This is why it is important I believe to point out that the attack on the poor and immigrants was (and still is) enthusiastically supported by large sections of this country. This issue can go in any direction!

Lidl_Janus said...

"...the tragedy at Grenfell is a product of New Labour policies...."


Speedy said...

BCFG - "no interest from the media or the left" and you should know as you were the loudest apologist re Rotherham and the conduct of the authorities.

jim mclean said...

There is a strong battle being fought in regards to the social Cleansing of London, but those who are fighting it are wary of politicians.There is also growing concern over Labours immigration policies in the 2017 manifesto which in essence ends all free movement to a point repatriation is on the cards for those below the middle class income range. In cosmopolitan London the migrant population are uneasy, the ease with which Corbyn Labour have slipped into a populist position will not make them feel any better.

tidusd said...

I'm sad these people died.Did the Tories do it.Yes they did.Blood on their hands.Bastards

Agnes Young said...

You votingTory killed these people in a horrific fire .Just like voting Tory kills the disabled.You vote Tory you are to blame for every horror that befalls the poor. Well done you.Tits

Agnes Young said...

You votingTory killed these people in a horrific fire .Just like voting Tory kills the disabled. Oh how great you are.Shits