I have been cautious writing this article, as it clearly involves ‘politicising a tragedy’. At least, that is the impression I get from all those demanding we completely separate the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy from the numerous political issues which surround it. Of course, what the phrase ‘don’t politicise a tragedy’ is usually used to do is to silence anyone trying to hold the government to any sense of responsibility for a tragedy.
Throught this blog post I aim to point to how the Tories sickening ideology of pandering to rich, private investors and their neglect towards investing in public safety played a large part in causing the Grenfell tragedy, and how unless we learn from such gross negligence, tragedies like this will happen again. To clarify, I am not saying that these were the only factors in causing the fire. A statement like that would be practically impossible to prove. However, it would also be completely unreasonable to refuse to hold anyone to account over this terrible tragedy.
The ignored Block Fire Safety report
The Block Fire Safety report was produced after the Lankanal House Fire in Camberwell cost the lives of six residents. It recommended the instillation of sprinklers in 4,000 tower blocks across the UK and was completed in 2013. Since then, a series of Conservative housing ministers, including the current chief of staff Gavin Barwell, as well as Brandon Lewis, Kris Hopkins, and Mark Barwell, have constantly sat on this report and ignored concerns, giving the pathetic excuse of ‘we are looking into it’ every time they are cornered on it. The Grenfell Tower fire is exactly the kind of tragedy the ignored report was intended to prevent.
Aside from this report into the measures the government could take to prevent tower block fires, there is also a heart-breaking blog post from the Grenfell Tower residents group warning about the lack of fire safety measures in the block and the fact that residents had actually been advised to remain inside their properties in the case of fire, which would have almost certainly cost residents their lives.
Fire Service Cuts
Since they first got in power in 2010, the Tory Party have been slashing the nation’s fire service. Between March 2010 and March 2016 the Tories axed 9,668 fire services jobs and the cuts have been going on since. The Tories have already slashed the fire service by 30% since the 2015 general election. By the time of that election, the Tories had closed 39 fire stations, including 10 in London that were shut down the same week that the taxpayer owned RBS announced an outrageous £607 million In bonuses for their staff despite having lost £5.2 billion that year.
The closure of fire stations and the significant reductions in staff and vehicles at remaining stations mean that response times have been soaring all over the country, the average response time now in cities has increased from 10 minutes to thirteen minutes. As is clear by the Grenfell tragedy, people are dying because of these cuts. It isn’t just Kensington. The government’s own statistics reveal that the number of fire related deaths soared by 17.4% in a single year between 2015/16.
Whatever benefit people think they are getting when they vote for a Tory government, must at least realise that people’s lives are more important. If the Tory’s again fail to learn from their mistakes we will see a repeat of Grenfell.
Making Homes unfit for Human Habitation
In January 2016 The Tories notoriously voted down a Labour Party Amendment to their bill that would have required landlords to ensure that the properties they rent out are ‘fit for human habitation’. 71 of the 319 Tory MP’s to shoot this requirement out of the water, are registered as landlords on the Parliamentary register for members interests. For a list of all the MPs who voted down this requirement I recommend taking a look at political scrapbook’s post on the issue.
In light of the Grenfell tower fire and the fact that a succession of Tory housing ministers sat on a report into Tower block fire safety, its abut time people woke up to the fact that the Tory party doesn’t give a damn about housing. They oversaw the lowest rate of housebuilding since the 1920sand the most unaffordable house prices in history, but to them that’s all good because the higher the demand for housing, the faster the inflation of their own personal property portfolios, and the higher rents they can charge. These people are far too removed from reality to give a damn.
The Sprinkler Question
It has emerged since the Grenfell Tower fire that a former Tory housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, warned MPs about beefing up fire safety regulations, because it could discourage housebuilding. This was despite the fact the Lewis openly admitted that introducing sprinklers could literally save thousands of lives, yet didn’t want the government to encourage sprinkler use because ‘that is the job of the fire services’.
So by Tory logic, the first duty of government should be to allow private housebuilders to build houses, rather than to ensure that some of the countries vulnerable and poorer residents don’t fry to death in a horrendous tragedy like Grenfell. All Lewis’ statement amounts to is that ‘I would like to save the lives of thousands of citizens, but I think some private housebuilders might be a bit put off if we tell them that they have got to make the buildings safe’. Classic case of the Tory’s putting their own interests, above the interests of the nation.
The Cladding Question
If you haven’t heard flammable cladding was stuck all over the surface of the Grenfell Tower block. This was manufactured by a company called Omnis Exteriors. In 2015/16 Omnis reported profits of £1.2 million. The kind of plastic filled cladding Omnis has profited from selling has been banned in countries like Germany and the US for years, and has been implicated in high rise fires all over the world, but somehow the British Government never saw fit to ban the practice of sticking highly flammable materials over high rise buildings.
What makes this more outrageous is that Omnis promises flammable cladding for just £2 extra, per square metre which rises some serious questions. These are 1) why did Omnis continue selling highly flammable cladding when they had the capacity to produce a non-flammable alternative? 2) Why was flammable, plastic filled cladding not banned in the UK, when it has been implicated in fires all around the world and banned in other countries with advanced economies 3) who signed off on the decision to save an estimated £5,000 in renovation costs by choosing the flammable cladding for Grenfell tower, rather than the fireproof version?
The answer to the first question is that there was nothing to stop them. The answer to the second question is that public safety is terribly incompatible with Tory Lazzeiz Faire ideology. The answer to the third will surely come out at some point during the criminal inquest.
If you can’t see how the Grenfell fire tragedy is tied to politics in so many ways, then you must be so wrapped up in the blanket of ‘don’t politicise a tragedy’ that you are blind to the reality around you. People have died because of apathy from the elites to the effects of their monstrous cost cutting exercises. Politicizing this tragedy isn’t a choice, but a necessity.