Forget the B word. Let’s have an election about something much more important.
Posted on October 29, 2019
As I tap away, the general election hasn’t been confirmed and, would you believe it, there has been no magical and immediate resolution to the Brexit calamity. You can relax; that’s not the subject of this piece. When this election does come along to enthral us all, I’d replace the Labour logo on every leaflet, social media page and TV broadcast with a better alternative image – a picture of Grenfell Tower.
The main headline on this morning’s news was framed in the following way. First, London Fire Brigade has been identified as a major contributor to the deaths and injuries of Grenfell residents. That particular finding has been placed in the public domain before the report had been seen by the survivors and those who have campaigned and organised support for those affected by this appalling tragedy. It’s hard to know where to start.
Perhaps the best place would be to look at the front of the Daily Telegraph. In an act of glaring editorial ineptitude – since removed from its online version – next to a headline which splutters about systemic failures and remarkable insensitivity in the Fire Brigade, there is a picture of Boris Johnson displaying his studied serious-and-determined expression. Boris Johnson. Remember? Mayor of London for eight years until just about a year before Grenfell.
During his tenure, Johnson presided over the closure of ten fire stations in London (yes, you did read that right) and the loss of 552 firefighters’ jobs (and that too). As in all public services, the time allocated to do anything approaching a decent job was ‘rationalised’ and a wave of ‘restructurings’ – anyone in work will experience a shudder down the spine at that particular term – pared everything to the bone. So, instead of the report telling us that a Tory mayor, gladly implementing the austerity measures of his Tory chums, contributed to the degradation of a service dedicated to saving the lives of ordinary people, it is that very service that gets it in the neck.
And why on earth should those people who lived in Grenfell have first sight of these weighty and considered judgements? You know – those people who formed a residents’ group years before the fire to voice safety concerns? Who wanted to pursue their claims and concerns in the courts but who couldn’t afford to do so because of the way in which the Tories systematically slashed access to legal aid the moment they resumed power in 2010 (step forward their chums in the Fib Dems for a dishonourable mention here, too). Who let the hapless Theresa May know that they had no need of her stiff, regal visit – but who physically embraced Corbyn when he came along?
The side-lining of the residents in this episode speaks volumes and stands as further proof of the complete contempt for working people that has been the hallmark of the Tories’ behaviour for decades. The borough in which the tower still stands as a daily reminder of this catastrophe is one of the richest on the globe. Houses are priced in millions; celebrities abound and, in a savagely ironic twist for those made homeless by the fire, grand properties lie empty as their owners use them as collateral and investment opportunities. In 2016, 312 Conservative MPs voted against a Labour bill which required landlords to make homes fit for human habitation. 72 of those MPS are private landlords.
It looks as though we’re in for a few weeks of bluff, bluster and baloney – particularly given the current Prime Minister’s penchant for treating the democratic process as if it were a cross between a rather poor sixth-form debating society and the prefects’ supper club where a fag is beaten and teased for the sheer jollity of it all. We’ll probably have Churchill invoked at regular intervals along with much flag-waving and the summoning of wartime spirit and going it alone – this from people for whom any sort of military service is entirely unknown.
When the election happens, those of us who want to be on the right side of history will talk about Grenfell. About a society where those who don’t – who can’t – own a house, count as much as those who do. A society that looks after the poor, the weak, the confused and the isolated. A society that doesn’t regard a job with a contract as a filthy relic of a bygone age. A society that says to the chums of the Tories in big-business and the corporations that you will have to put the planet before profit. A society that won’t sell its health services and its control of the distribution of medicines – because, make no mistake, that’s first on the sell-off list.
What’s that you say? Brexit? If we make that focus of the election, all sanity will evaporate. Let’s campaign for a society that doesn’t burn people to death and then blame those who try to rescue them. It might just be worth fighting for.