The Grenfell Tower residents deserve a thorough public inquiry, not a witch hunt.

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While the flames were still glowing, the politicisation of the fire was already developing.  There were calls to not politicise such an event, however it is inevitable that this picture of a social housing block, reduced to charcoal, will be a political icon. If it wasn’t for losses of life that the Grenfell tower disaster led to, the symbolism of the picture would make it almost perfect for an album cover. When the news came out I wondered with some disdain how quickly people would blame austerity. Yet within the current climate, the imagery provides the perfect illustration for those who feel that the very people who lost their lives have been ignored by the government for too long.

It’s important to ask questions but not to point fingers. Cuts to local councils may have had an indirect or even direct cause. A sprinkler system may have prevented the fire from spreading. However it may also be a gross case of negligence and a failure within the regulatory system: which isn’t necessarily linked to money. Realistically, there is unlikely to be a single reason. With any tragedy that arises all sorts of theories and speculations begin to form, trying and explain how and why. Some theories have authenticity while others fall into tinfoil hat territory. Gavin Barwell, the housing minister who delayed a fire report, should be asked some serious questions, but until an investigation has been carried out, a witch hunt shouldn’t be pursued.  There should also be a look into why a large amount of money was recently put into refurbishment costs to a building which would then become ash only several years later. Something has gone wrong, it is a scandal but there needs to be a measured approach to ensure the right person or body is made accountable.

Theresa May has shown yet again that she can’t seem to competently socially interact with the people she is supposed to represent. By not talking to residents of Grenfell tower after the incident, she has shown the worst type of weakness from a leader: the fear of the public. She knows that the public loath her and she hasn’t got the courage to face them. However despite her clear inability to lead the country, the chants accusing her of being a murderer or having blood on her hands are melodramatic and unhelpful. Any chants shouted should be about her ineffectiveness, rather than juvenile accusations of murder.

While it will take some time to understand why this has happened, there is something that has been known for some time: The poor often live in poor housing. After the maintenance work at Grenfell, residents complained of cheap materials and cost cutting. I am in doubt that economically efficient yet practically inefficient maintenance work is also a problem that exists within the private housing sector, however I also doubt that these properties could host a fire such as the one at Grenfell.  The ex-chair of the Grenfell Tower residents’ association had warned of the structural dangers of the building  – with another member warning there was a risk for a serious fire. Not even a decade has passed since another fire in a similar council flat block: the Lanknal House fire. The 2009 fire, which saw six people lose their life, was described as “one of the most significant fires in some time” by the London Fire Brigade assistant commissioner, yet will seem rather insignificant compare to the Grenfell fire. No lessons were learned then but hopefully some will be now.

Imagine for a moment, that such a fire somehow managed to set a block of luxury apartments ablaze. The residents, with the financial means to raise lawsuits against the people maintaining the property, would ensure they are compensated. The residents at Grenfell do not have the same power to legally fight those responsible. It is therefore of the upmost importance that a thorough inquiry takes place to ensure we can understand why this event happened and what can be done to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

It takes calamitous tragedies such as this to see one thing: a failure of the state to provide safety for those without the resources and funding to defend themselves. Thatcher’s Right to Buy was a success in helping many step onto the housing ladder, yet it’s important that those who still remain in social housing to not be discounted. A detailed inquiry, with as little political meddling as possible, is the least the society owes to the residents who lost their lives. One thing is clear: while we can expect the right wing idea of slimming down excessive ‘Health and Safety’ regulations to quieten, the deeper questions about class conflict and inequality will louden.

5 thoughts on “The Grenfell Tower residents deserve a thorough public inquiry, not a witch hunt.

  1. I agree with most of your comments- your argument is sound and well written- however, I’d like to share a couple of thoughts with you. Yes, Theresa May has been distant with the public but ultimately she should not be taking the blame for this disaster. The lack of fire safety should have been an issue dealt with by the local council, not by the national government. Therefore it seems completely wrong that May is being called a ‘murderer’ and a ‘coward’ in the streets. And that brings me on to my second point- it is more than likely that she was advised not to visit the residents in order to protect her own personal safety, and, in my opinion, rightly so.

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    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I somewhat agree with your first point which I why I said it was inappropriate to describe her as a murderer. However while we shouldn’t ‘blame’ her for the attacks it is still acceptable to question her response.

      I imagine that you’re right that she has been told to avoid the public. Just like she was probably advised to avoid a debate with Jeremy Corbyn during the election. However Theresa still has the autonomy to go against that advice. When Corbyn challenged her to a debate she should have said ‘game on!’ and attended, regardless of what her advisers said. Likewise I think it is her duty to speak to the victims of that fire. Her public support will continue to drop as it looks as though she just doesn’t care, so even from a strategic point of view it was a bad call to not to speak to the victims. And realistically, are the victims of a disaster likely to physically attack the PM? The worst I would imagine happening is they ask her challenging questions which put her in an awkward position. Ultimately when we get to a point that the PM can’t even face the public then we need to start questioning whether she can effectively lead the country.

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      1. You’re right that she should not have avoided debate, I personally feel she led an incredibly weak campaign,and I also agree that perhaps she should have made more of an effort with the victims of the disaster. I do, however, think that her actions are being scrutinized unfairly. With mobs of protesters screaming accusations at her, it is unsurprising she is unwilling to face then, not to mention the fact she has obligations in a situation like this beyond just meeting the victims.
        Yes, she has taken a blow and has lost face because of it; and, yes, as Prime Minister, she should continue to maintain her public image. I just cannot shake the fact that someone who holds no responsibility in this situation is being made the focus of the medias attention. It is wrong not only because she does not deserve the criticism but also because the political game-play is casting the disaster itself in a shadow.

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  2. I usually agree with your posts, however this one seems to suggest that you disapprove of a poor community’s emotional reaction to tragedy. Theresa May is our figure head, a person who we need to be able to look to in crisis and we can’t. Of course people are pointing fingers: someone must be held responsible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the response.

      I hope my article didn’t particularly come across in the way that you say – I was critical of Theresa’s response and I agree that someone needs to be held responsible. My argument was that calling Theresa May a ‘murderer’ isn’t particularly helpful as she can’t be blamed for the systematic failures which have occurred for this to happen. However people have every right to be angry for her very poor response.

      I admit my article might sound like that I am condemning an emotional response but I’m not really doing so. In fact, I actually do think these things need an emotional response as that anger and energy is what often drives changes to happen. The point I’m making is that there still needs to be some moderation to ensure emotion doesn’t cloud judgement. Accusations are dangerous and can even undermine an investigation. Journalists will often enjoy running their own ‘investigation’ in which they find a specific person to blame or pinpoint the cause and it’s important to wait for an official inquiry.

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