14 Jun 2017

London's Burning

Imagine your house catches fire.

Imagine, worst case scenario, it burns down and the fire investigator declares it was because your electrical supply wasn't earthed, a dangerous, but preventable occurrence. Imagine, as you sift through the wreckage, how fucking furious you would be.

Now, imagine the above, but also imagine that you knew about this electrical fault. You'd known about it for years, and spent years trying to get the electrical company to come and fix it, only to be told it was fine and to stop making a fuss. Imagine your rage.

This is akin to what the people of Grenfell tower have suffered today. Because they knew their house wasn't fire proof. They knew there weren't enough fire exit routes. They knew the cladding the council had covered the building in was iffy. They knew what happened to similar tower blocks in the area. They knew. And they were absolutely powerless, as council tenants, to do anything other than try and get the word out.

Nobody knows what caused the fire. They've only just put it out; we won't know for months. But we do know that the tenants were formally advised to stay in their flats and put wet towels against the bottoms of the door in case of fire, because the fire wasn't supposed to be able to spread. The flats were supposed to be self-contained fireproof units. The tenants ignored this advice, and thank god they did, or they'd all be dead by now.

Some are dead. Many more are injured. And everyone who lived there has lost everything they owned. Perhaps that is the part that will resonate most strongly. We've all made the mental lists of what we would grab in case of fire, knowing deep down that we probably wouldn't grab anything in our haste to get out. There's nothing left of Grenfell Tower. It will never house anyone again.

I have seen many people say that this is a tragedy that shouldn't be politicised.
I did not see these people claim that terrorist prevention talk was politicising a tragedy after Westminster, Manchester and Borough Market. I did not see the people claim that dead Syrian refugee babies being washed up in the Mediterranean was politicising a tragedy. I did not see these people claim that talk of gun control after Sandy Hook was politicising a tragedy*.

Is a tragedy more or less political when it is directly caused by a lack of legislation?
Is a tragedy more or less political when it affects the poor rather than the unlucky?
Is a tragedy more or less political when it throws the unsavoury housing policy of the incumbent government into sharp relief?

More people have already died at Grenfell tower than died in the whole Great Fire of London.

When David Cameron began to gently dismantle public safeguards and services, he tried to package it as Building a Big Society, where everyone helped each other, so there was no need for governments to do it. Kensington has absolutely thrown itself into helping the people of Grenfell tower, with massive donations of money, goods and services. The badly cut fire and ambulance service has been out in force. But it should not have happened in the first place.

Ultimately, people should not have to face the possibility of losing all their possessions, their home, their loved ones and their lives just because they are in poorly tended social housing.

I hope this sparks reform, I really do.

*Well, I did, but mostly from gun-nut Americans and they are not my friends. 

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