By now you’ll have no doubt heard about the fire at Grenfell Tower in West London. If, for some reason, you haven’t – here’s what happened: a 24 storey tower block was completely engulfed in flames in the early hours of yesterday morning, burning for hours, and killing multiple people. We still don’t have a final death toll, but so far it’s on 17, with another seventeen in critical care. Many people are still unaccounted for, and it could be weeks before they get the final count.
Before I talk about the political aspect of this – I want to make it clear that, first and foremost, what happened at Grenfell Tower is an absolute tragedy. Political implications aside, my heart goes out to the residents, their family and friends, and the local community. I honestly can’t imagine how horrifying this must have been for them.
But what makes this even more horrifying is the story behind the fire.
The neglect leading up to the fire
Let’s take this back to 2013, when apparently, a fire had already been narrowly avoided, when Grenfell Tower experienced a number of dangerous power surges due to faulty wiring. The association’s attempts to bring to light the severity of the event were, however, ignored.
In the same year, residents also warned that fire safety equipment, including fire extinguishers, had not been tested for 12 months. This was also ignored.
Then, in 2015, another KCTMO property caught fire – the 14 storey Adair Tower in North Kensington. A number of residents were taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation. The London Fire Brigade, whose quick response prevented any casualties, found that the KCTMO had not been looking after the safety of residents properly and issued an Enforcement Order compelling them to improve fire safety.
Ten years previously, in the adjoining block to Adair House, someone died due to uncovered grills on the fire escape acting as a chimney, speeding up the spread of smoke and fire. The Fire Investigation Team ordered that the grills be covered up following the fatality, but nothing was ever done.
Then, In November 2016, the Resident’s Association at Grenfell Tower published an eerily foreshadowing blog post about their landlords, the KCTMO, reflecting on these past events, and how they completely neglected the welfare of the residents:
“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”
So these people have a pretty clear history of putting peoples’ lives at risk – but did anyone listen? Of course not.
Which brings us to now.
This is what the fire safety signs in Grenfell Tower looked like:
They were operating a “stay put” policy, and said “you should initially be safe to stay in your flat keeping the doors and windows closed”. Because that seems totally safe.
Last year, as part of a regeneration plan, Grenfell Tower underwent refurbishment, which added cladding to the outside of the building – so that it would look nicer to the luxury flats surrounding North Kensington. One of the planning documents said:
“Due to its height the tower is visible from the adjacent Avondale Conservation Area to the south and the Ladbroke Conservation Area to the east. The changes to the existing tower will improve its appearance especially when viewed from the surrounding area.”
It acted like a chimney – where it was supposed to act as insulation (and a shiny exterior to keep the nearby rich people happy!), it was actually creating a cavity between the cladding and the building itself. Nearby residents said they saw the tower “just went whoosh”.
Although we don’t know the exact cause of the fire yet, it’s fair to say that the complete and utter neglect of the KCTMO and the local council at least amplified the severity of the fire, if not caused it.
The wider political implications
Now – let’s look at the political implications here. Because honestly, the victims of this horrific event deserve justice, and I’m sick and tired of sitting around watching this government get away with what’s, quite frankly, killing us. These people have died because of neglect from their local council and housing association, and it’s absolutely disgusting.
There are almost 7,000 fewer firefighters in England than five years ago, leading to longer response times and, obviously, less fire fighting. The firefighters at Grenfell Tower are absolute heroes – but imagine if we didn’t have them. Or worse still, imagine if another huge blaze happened to have started at the same time? There simply wouldn’t be enough of them.
When questioned about cuts to firefighters in 2013, Boris Johnson, then the Mayor of London, told a member of a fire safety panel “to go stuff himself”. A year ago, Theresa May, then acting as home secretary, announced that fire services were going to have to cut costs.
Also last year, Labour tried to pass a law that required rented homes to be ‘fit for human habitation’, which would have included fire safety measures – but it was rejected by the Tories. 72 of the MPs who voted against the proposal are private landlords, who were obviously voting with their own financial interests in mind.
It seems as if every day, I’m presented with more overwhelming evidence that a Conservative government really is just a breeding ground for elitism, and frankly, selfishness. They don’t care if you’re disabled and you have no money to live. They don’t care if your children are starving. And they certainly don’t care if your tower block is literally flammable – if it means that rich people don’t have to deal with the ghastly sight of a slightly less shiny building in the view from their luxury penthouse, then who cares?! As long as us middle and upper class people aren’t losing any money, it’s all fine!
The bottom line is – working class people are put in danger so that the rich can profit. And it’s absolutely disgusting. But that’s just how our Conservative government works, and it’s becoming clearer every day. Even just looking at the different reactions from Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn when they went to go and visit Grenfell Tower makes its so blindingly obvious.
Theresa May had a ‘private visit’ to the site, where she didn’t speak to any of the residents, or the media, just the emergency services. Apparently she was there for about five minutes and then left again, with one resident saying “she was sh*t. She was here but she didn’t speak to any of us.”
She’s launched a full scale inquiry into the fire, but let’s be honest, it’s only cos she’s had to, and it only came after Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn urged her to.
Contrast this to Corbyn, who went to the scene, was talking to residents, hugging them, and going to the local community centres where people were rallying together to help.
Now, look, I don’t want it to seem as if I’m jumping off the back of something terrible and using it to push my political agenda, but Christ – it’s like two sides of a coin, it really is. And yet, the UK still would rather vote for someone who doesn’t care.
I just feel that this horrifying incident has actually done a lot to reveal how corrupt a lot of this country really is. What we have at the moment is a selfish system that puts the conveniences of the rich above the lives of everyone else. And the residents of Grenfell Tower deserved better than this. We all deserve better than this.
If you’d like to help, the local community is no longer accepting physical donations as they have been completely overloaded – however, a financial donation to their crowdfunding page is always welcomed.