The ugly politics of the Grenfell Tower fire

Grenfell Tower in flames, early morning of June 14, 2017.

People have died in an entirely preventable fire that engulfed a 24-storey tower block in west London, after landlords clad it in flammable material and council chiefs, together with MPs, failed to review safety.

Not only that, but is it significant that Grenfell Tower, in Notting Hill, is in the Kensington Parliamentary constituency that was taken by Labour in last Thursday’s election? I wonder.

The fire began on the tower block’s second storey and spread rapidly through the building, which reportedly had only one exit. People did manage to escape, but many were either trapped or jumped out of their windows to escape the flames.

Firefighters arrived at the scene within six minutes of being called but were unable to reach the higher parts of the building where flames had already taken hold.

Members of the local Conservative-held Kensington and Chelsea Council, their officers, and government ministers all knew that the tower block was a danger to life – but did nothing about it.

Already concern has been raised that these public representatives were too keen to bury complaints – because they would have required expensive remedial action by landlords, both here and in 4,000 other blocks around the UK?

Here’s David Collins of the residents’ association:

According to the Evening Standard:

Residents had warned that the building – which has around 120 flats reportedly served by a single main entrance – was a fire hazard last year when rubbish piled up in a communal walkway.

The Grenfell Action Group raised their concerns in a blog post last January, saying: “The potential for a fire to break out in the communal area on the walkway does not bear thinking about as residents would be trapped in the building with no way out.”

It was given a £10 million refurbishment a year ago, with the installation of insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows and a communal heating system.

But it seems the cladding was, in fact, flammable. Here’s The Guardian:

Another man who fled from the 17th floor said he was alerted to the danger by the arrival of fire engines.

The man said he only saw fire when he stuck his head out of the window.

“I went back inside the house, looked out the window. I started looking down the window – I had to really pull myself out to look down the window, from the 17th floor, and I see the fire blazing, and coming up really fast, because of the cladding – the cladding was really flammable, and it just caught up like a matchstick.”

Here he is. See for yourself:

Some of us have already drawn the logical conclusion. Here’s journalist and broadcaster Sonia Poulton, on Facebook:

The Grenfell Tower fire is ‘unprecedented’ in scale according to a London fireman with almost 30 years experience.

“We have been shouting on social media for years about how unsafe it is,” say the action group who tried to get real support from the local council, Kensington and Chelsea.

I don’t need to tell many of my friends on here that it was going to inevitably end in catastrophe. And it did last night.

Huge fire. People dead. People in hospital. People changed for life.

That tower block is in one of the wealthiest areas in the UK and, in these increasingly gentrified times, it would’ve been earmarked for ‘development’ – almost certainly by private landlords – years ago.

Councils around the UK – cash-starved by Government – are, in turn, cash-starving local services, including social housing, and mostly until they fall apart. – In one way or another.

Here is the unpalatable truth: those casualties – mums, dads, baby bear, pets, etc. – are cheap to those who are running our public services. Truly, they are collateral damage. There is no sugar coating this. The wealth divide has never been bigger. Enough is enough.

My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives and with those who are detrimentally impacted by this inferno. Thank you our fire service, also cash starved, you are the salt of the earth.

It seems the concerns of Grenfell Tower residents were buried by a committee of Kensington and Chelsea Council that consists of eight Conservative members and two from the Labour Party:

Former London Mayor Boris Johnson (Conservative) spent his term buying pointless water cannons and cutting vital fire engines:

The de-funding of the Fire and Rescue Service has already been blamed for fire crews’ inability to reach the 27th floor of the building.

And Theresa May’s new chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, was the last in a string of Tory housing ministers who did nothing at all – for four years – about a report warning that high-rise blocks like Grenfell Tower were vulnerable to fire.

According to the Mirror:

Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until losing his seat in last week’s election, promised to review part B of the Building Regulations 2010, which relate to fire safety, but the review never materialised.

A coroner’s investigation into the blaze at Lakanal House in South London in 2009, which claimed six lives, found panels on the exterior of the block had not provided the required fire resistance and insufficient fire risk assessments had been made.

The coroner made a series of recommendation following the tragedy, but while some have been taken up, a full review of building regulations has yet to take place.

Ronnie King, honorary administrative secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue and a former Chief Fire Officer, told LBC Radio this morning they had “strongly recommended” installing fire suppression systems and sprinklers in 4,000 similar tower blocks across the country.

He said: “We were strongly recommending this because the fire at Lakanal House spread within four minutes and came into the flat above and then went on to kill six people, regrettably.”

Mr King said it was likely similar failings existed in West London’s Grenfell House.

Well, we know there was no communal sprinkler system, thanks to the testimony of the unnamed escaped resident (above).

We may conclude that the Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy waiting to happen, in which everybody responsible for ensuring the safety of residents failed in that duty.

But there is the even worse aspect of this – that it might have been politically expedient for this to happen now that the Kensington constituency has a Labour MP. After all, what better way to smear a people’s representative than to present them as someone who cannot protect the people?

I know. It’s just a thought – but a disturbing one.

Remember the words of Ms Poulton, above: ” Those casualties… are cheap to those who are running our public services.

“Truly, they are collateral damage.”

ADDITIONAL: I’m told officials have now stated that six people have died.

And it seems Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tried to pass a law to make homes safe – last year – and the Conservatives rejected it.


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8 thoughts on “The ugly politics of the Grenfell Tower fire

  1. Martin Odoni

    There were some terrifying stories about Grenfell Tower on Radio 5 Live this morning from someone who used to live there. I don’t know whether they’re true or not, or how responsible he’s being telling them, but they suggest the Tower’s recent refurbishment was one of the most negligent projects I’ve ever heard of. Water inlets were apparently fitted directly above fuseboxes, the outer cladding was apparently partly wood-based, unmaintained electrical wiring etc.

    I stress again, I can’t say whether it’s true or if someone’s just making mischief. But if it *is* true….

  2. Joan Edington

    “After all, what better way to smear a people’s representative than to present them as someone who cannot protect the people?”

    Surely nobody would try to use such a tragedy for political purposes? I know the Tories would stoop to anything but it would do them no good. What member of the public, in their right mind, could possibly blame someone, who has held the seat for less than a week, for the state of this building and the ignoring of all the warnings.

  3. Dez

    So much of local council services have been outsourced to god knows who… usually the cheapest where profit is paramount to make the contract worth doing. Then you get the contractors and the sub contractors etc etc. Making ends meed and making a buck becomes so much harder. Even procurement of building materials are a nightmare as much imported material might be stated as conforming to regs. the actual situation especially from far east producers is that is does not conform even though the price may reflect higher standards. Unfortunately wholesalers do not carry out proper analytical investigations on purchased material and unfortunately the EU are the first to find out substandard and dangerous materials are being imported. The postmorten of this huge debacle will flush out the dark places that have taken place behind this incident and in this neck of the woods the Cons far outweigh the Labours councillors etc. The death toll looking at that huge inferno looks to be horrific ……terrible RIP all Once again cut back on specialist fire fighting kit and crews along with ambulance will also have played a part in this destruction…..I hope some butts get kicked hard and heads actually roll for once instead of rapping knuckles and the usual mantra lessons must be learnt.

  4. NMac

    There needs to be an independent public inquiry into this appalling tragedy. Not only are there disturbing reports that May’s so called Chief of Staff sat on a report calling for better fire protection for four years, but also into the nasty cuts to the Fire Service in London. There are reports that three fire stations in the area of Grenfell Tower were closed and also vital equipment was not purchased. As the new Labour MP has only been in office for five days he/she can hardly be blamed, but the actions (or inaction) of the previous MP, the character Barwell who allegedly advises May, and the odious Boris Johnson all need to be closely scrutinised. The evil austerity chickens are coming home to roost and the British public are paying dearly with their lives for nasty Tory policies.

  5. Stu

    Youe conclusions were the same as mine but I thought “surely not” until Theresa May got involved, exploiting it to her own ends as usual.
    Then I realised that if the tower block is demolished, 200+ potential Labour voters in a marginal seat will be “deported” out of the area due to the lack of available replacement accomodation.

    But that’s just a “loony left” conspiracy theory as it will be reported.

  6. Christine Cullen

    What a damning report from Mike. I don’t think this will get swept under the carpet. Kensington now has a Labour MP who will raise this in the H of C and hopefully keep raising it. The Tory council ignored numerous serious concerns and the Tory government sat on reports and did nothing about the dangerous situation in many of our tower blocks. The worm has turned as far as Tory culpability goes, both local and national. My LD MP, who is not popular, still got back in here at Carshalton/Wallington and beat the even more unpopular Tories in the GE. People really have had enough! If there is political blame, it should be allocated and these people held to account as well as contractors. Residents have died in this fire for goodness sake!!!

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