Imagine my horror at defending Theresa May, back bencher in waiting, but the Grenfell fire is not her fault. It is the fault of us all. The tragedy of the Grenfell fire didn’t just come out of nowhere. It began 30 years ago when Brits elected Mrs Thatcher. The country then started down the path of Neoliberalism. An ideology founded in Nazi Germany which recasts inequality as a virtue. It promotes privatisation, deregulation, and austerity. The Tories embrace Neoliberalism, and the population follows. Neoliberalism is at the root of most of the catastrophes of the 21st century including the Grenfell fire. We are at the crossroads here is our chance to reevaluate.
Neoliberalism & Privatisation
The Grenfell fire is the culmination of neoliberalism. It has all its hallmarks; privatisation, austerity and deregulation. It is inequality at its most brutal.
Mrs Thatcher introduced compulsory competitive tendering. It morphed into Best Value. As grand as it sounds it means buying public services cheaply.
So, the Knowsley Heights fire in 1991 made the housing sector aware that cladding is a fire accelerant. Therefore fire-resistant cladding should have been a priority at Grenfell. The Times reports that it would have cost around £5,000. But KCTMO, the company managing Grenfell on behalf of the council, must have thought it too expensive. Yet it is not half of the director’s £11,000 monthly salary.
It is also notable that David Cameron swore to ‘Kill health and safety culture for good’ as it is bad for business. So, the Tories are dismantling health & safety regulation as policy.
Unfortunately, social housing has become a business and not a public service. Private companies, Arms-length management (ALMO) manage council housing. It also puts accountability at arms-length.
Neoliberalism & Austerity
Many residents will tell the story of how ALMOs cut corners. It is a pincer movement between austerity and buying cheaply. Complaining seldom yields satisfaction.
Local authorities blame the ALMO. The ALMO blames the contractor, who invariably subcontracts the work. And so the buck passes. Added to which staff cuts has reduced in-house expertise. So councils and ALMOs are reliant on the contractor. It is a vicious circle.
As the public, we are taught not to care. The corporate media portrays tenants and immigrants, as benefit scroungers. Despite many being working households. So, people buy into the idea that tenants should be grateful for what they get. However bad.
So although councils have not followed recommendations to fit sprinklers to tower blocks, it has not been a national scandal until now.
Grenfell Fire & Inequality
The Grenfell fire stands as a marker to our unequal society. Affluent residents saw Grenfell as a concrete (but fire safe) eyesore. So it was turned into an attractive fire trap. Grenfell was preventable.
KCTMO did not take into account the objections of the tenants. Tenant’s voices count for less than the average person because of who they are not what they say. As a society, we are guilty of buying into that.
The politics of inequality can only work by making some people less than human. Their lives disposable So, now we have a chance to pause and reflect on what we stand for.
Is it the philosophy Ubuntu? Human Kindness and a belief in society. Such as we have witnessed in the wake of the Grenfell Fire, everyday acts of compassion. Or do we continue to follow neoliberalism which puts business above people? Your call, your vote.
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