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.