Saturday, 17 June 2017
It is a serious indictment of our society that amidst the disaster, grief and anger of the Grenfell Fire that the authorities continue to collude in lying to all of us. Who are the ‘authorities’? and why would they conspire to treat the public like we’re all too stupid to read between their lies? Mainstream media is an ‘authority.’ They are wealthy corporations with power to determine the extent of the propaganda they feed us to keep us trusting and believing in their assumed power over us. News channels, long discredited as objective, conspire to keep the population in a state of intellectual confusion, and literally unaware. The BBC is a state mouth piece that sanitizes anything that could implicate an elitist supporting government as the self-interested, profits over people party they are. Newspapers thwart public awareness with sensational headlines that colour our perspective, railroading our consciousness to try to convince us they are feeding us facts.
This collusion by the ‘authorities’ backfired on 8th June, with the massive support for Jeremy Corbyn at the Polls on Election day. To pepper us with insult, the Conservatives decided to make some kind of sickening power-sharing deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The intricacies of this decision will baffle most ordinary people. Not because we’re stupid, but because there’s a way the ‘authorities’ seem to make wanton decisions that stretch the limits of our basic political understanding. How can there be any suggestion that there could be any kind of ‘deal’ with the DUP? The mainstream papers report it with casualness, as though this is perfectly fine, but the DUP are one half of a peace agreement, negotiated by the British Government, who are supposed to be objective arbitrators of that process – the Good Friday Agreement. Again, how is there any suggestion that they could be making use of the seats gained by the DUP in the UK Parliament during the general election, to prop up conservative policies? Even the previous Tory Prime Minister, John Major, who was part of negotiating the Good Friday Agreement has warned Teresa May against it, based on the potential resurgence of violence in Northern Island. This is an affront to our electorate sensibilities. Thankfully, Gerry Adams’ party, Sinn Fein put it on the table that this decision by the Conservatives is outrageous and is challenging it.
The hung parliament outcome barely humbled the pug faced Teresa May. She was forced to fit her in party enemies around her Cabinet table so she could cling to power, with some fiendish warped smile for the cameras. It brought to mind the hashtag #whitehousesowhite when I saw them in the 1922 Committee room. It was disgusting to see May ducking and diving the people she was bidding to govern but prancing before cameras and reporters like these mattered more. They did – because they are the ‘authorities’ that buttress her flimsy position; why waste words on the people? Her power-mad arrogance is untenable for a leader of a so-called ‘democracy.’ Does she believe ordinary people, whether made more aware due to social media or an inevitable movement toward progressiveness, cannot see her pathetically staged and stiff interviews that speak to her lack of empathy and disregard for us?
So as I write, the ‘authorities’ are trying to tell us that 30 people are believed to be the victims of the Grenfell fire disaster. 30 people, though the numbers are believed to rise considerably – is the narrative they’re pushing when logic tells us differently. 78 people were said to have escaped, up to 30 said by the media to have died, which leaves over and above 400 people unaccounted for. If people were asked to ‘stay put’ in the event of fire, how can the ‘authorities’ really expect anyone to believe so few have died? How, when there were 120 flats – about 500-600 people are we expected to compute so few casualties? And what might that increased number be, when they have agreed their story? Why can’t we have a more realistic estimate – given all the experts called upon to assess the likely cause and outcomes of this horrendous tragedy? Why will it take several weeks for us to actually know how many people perished in this disaster?
But a question that made me conscious of a cover up: Teresa May, strong and stable in her ivory tower, rushed to call for a public inquiry – why this and not an inquest or criminal inquiry? There's actually a little confusion about which of these would likely best serve the residents. If a public inquiry would allow residents full participation, not be dragged out and also allow scope for independence, fair enough - but the people need to be clear which process or processes would be most effective. When not in her safe tower, unlike the ashed Grenfell mass grave, we see Teresa May posing like some mascot between the fire ‘authorities.’ She had no time to show compassion to the residents and families who have lost everything – who have lost their loved ones. By comparison empathy was easy for Jeremy Corbyn, who comforted the bereaved and grieving, reassuring them he would speak for them, he would find the truth. And, unlike the whimsical May we have no reason to think he’ll do any U-turn on what he says.
When the Guardian newspaper, refreshingly deciding to run with the social movement and support Jeremy Corby calls Grenfell May’s Hurricane Katrina, it’s true. But it was not from the Guardian I first heard this being said. My 85 year old mother said the same thing hours before I saw the article in the Guardian. She said more – that the lives lost in this horror were sacrificed. This came after she broke down in tears, with me joining her, trying to comfort her as she shook her head – questioning –‘why?’ ‘Why’ and ‘was it worth it?’ By this she meant for innocent, mostly and relatively poor people (considering the varying dynamics of how poverty is measured) to lose their lives in this way. How could such overwhelming and consistent cries by the Residents of Grenfell Tower about its safety be ignored? The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC), another ‘authority’ disrespected the residents for no other reason than because they were deemed undesirables, most of them minority ethnics. Poor people have no power to persuade and use privilege to get what they want. They have no money, since we learn that they were denied legal aid (as part of incessant Tory Cuts), to properly challenge the council’s recklessness. As for the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) they too are culpable of negligence. How well were they ‘managing’ the tenants and their grievances? Why didn’t they listen to them? The proactiveness of the tenants – forming an action group is commendable but their calls for action that would ensure the safety of residents were ignored. The TMO has to do more than offer ‘sincere condolences’ for a tragedy that they know could have been avoided.
But the Guardian too is still underplaying the numbers who died, and it’s not merely because, as Lilly Allen put it, the government is trying to ‘micromanage people’s grief,’ it is because they’re covering up the truth. The authorities have to come up with one story; one they think we the foolish public will accept. I’ve watched the various News Channels reporting on the fire, all are terrified of being responsible for telling us believable numbers. As soon as one of the locals try to go beyond a seemingly sanitized response to questions, they try to shut them down. One of those was Jon Snow’s interview with Lilly Allen who was doing her best to express a sense of what’s really going on. Another reporter apologised because a young man was swearing as she interviewed him, again trying to shut down what he was saying – that he didn’t believe that the fire was an accident. But is he wrong? Is he just hyping? If there were repeated calls to secure this building that were ignored, the Grenfell fire, claiming untold lives cannot be considered an accident. David Lammy, who sadly lost a friend in the fire, sounded the right note of Corporate Manslaughter. It would in fact be Corporate Mass Manslaughter, hence the need for a criminal investigation.
Another authority – a corporate Rydon Construction made profits off of a contract that ended in the deaths of hundreds of people. Called in to pretty up the building so that the rich residents would not be offended by what was considered an eye sore, what corners did they cut in order to improve the aesthetics of the tower? The cladding was one factor believed to impact the spread of the fire. But it is also being reported that there was a central heating installation in the building, which means that if fire stops and fire collars were not replaced this would also increase the rapidity with which a fire could spread. Again were corners cut or mismanaged in this process?
72 hours too late Teresa May turned up to ‘meet’ with residents, obviously shamed by Corbyn’s empathy and was rightfully booed by the people as the police – another ‘authority’ - shielded her drive through car. What could she say to them that she couldn’t before? That she was sorry her Tory government cut numbers of firefighters to threadbare; that MPs in that borough ignored the repeated calls by residents about the vulnerability of the building; that she regretted that many members in her party were against amendments to regulations, supported by Jeremy Corbyn, to make Tower Blocks like Grenfell safer; that wide scale gentrification is not pursued in the interest of poor people but the wealthy and powerful, favouring profits over people. I agree with all the calls for this woman to resign. She is an utter disgrace.
She thinks the government’s pledge of £5 million to help get families back on their feet can in any way compensate people for the horror that is now their lives? This is an insult. Again, this figure seemed plucked from air because how many families is this supposed to accommodate? They don’t know. Maybe the figure is accurate because I’ve yet to see numbers of survivors. Her subtle words that the government is committed to ensuring the dispossessed residents are rehoused in the borough, guaranteeing children will continue in their schools were said in the same sentence in which she says that ‘some residents might ‘wish’ to be relocated nearer to other relatives outside the area. What doubletalk is this? In an age of designed austerity, where tax payers bailout bankers who still retain big bonuses – and where the poor are also taxed to pay out shares in dividends, her £5 million pledge – supposedly to accommodate costs of equipment, food and clothing is beyond a joke. Money is not the issue – people also need resources. This out-of-the-air pledge is another of many PR exercises by the Prime Minister, another example of how out of touch she is with the people and our needs.
The experts are right of course that any time you hear the words ‘public inquiry’ it conjures ‘a long drawn out process that whitewashes any serious attempt to investigate real causes and bring to justice those responsible – one case that seems to have been left under the radar is the Chilcot Inquiry. Defence Lawyer Aamer Anwar condemned the push for a government led inquiry, meaning the parameters would be set by Teresa May, the outcome too. At least he was given air time on RT (Russia Television) News, not the Mainstream. And he said he wouldn’t trust Teresa May with any inquiry; that would clearly give her control of determining an outcome suitable for her land grabbing, property developing friends in high places. A Criminal Inquiry is what we need to allow an independent process to investigate this catastrophe. If a jury can serve as part of a public inquiry and if residents and families are able of have their voices heard as part of this process, so be it. Any thing that denies them this would be add further injury.
After grief, when hope of there being any more survivors was lost came anger. I only hope that the protestors will organise and strengthen their/our collective power to challenge this monster machine of power and authority. Organising means strategizing:
• Demand the best investigative process (Inquest, Judicial Inquiry, Public Inquiry) so that residents’ voices can be heard in the process of investigation. Whether inquest, Public or Judicial Public Inquiry culpability, prosecution where necessary and adequate compensation need to be assured as part of the outcome. Ensure as part of the investigation that Rydon Construction reveals how they made the decision about what panels were used in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower and what were the exact costs and cost saving with regard to the panels? In other words, full disclosure of their feasibility study.
• Insist on legal representation, particularly to enable residents to continue challenging any proposals for regeneration by which they will be disenfranchised.
• Demand a complete list of residents, accessible from the Council’s electoral register, so we can know the official number of who was usually in the building. We can likely assume a percentage above that number due to human movement.
• Get a confirmed list together from the hospitals; figures of how many died, are still in critical condition and were discharged.
• Get the fire services to provide figures of how many people they evacuated, and accurate figures of how many bodies were recovered.
• Get written agreement by the Council/government that residents would be adequately rehoused within the Borough/area; that children will indeed continue attending schools in the area.
• Insist on provision for assistance with grief and trauma for short and long term.
• Demand a Memorial to those lives lost. As part of this consideration it must be remembered that the many lives lost in the fire were contributing and adding value to the lives of others. They were part of a community, participating in human development, a process that has ceased as a consequence of their tragic and unnecessary deaths.
• Demand that this site is bequeathed to the residents as a memorial to the victims instead of awarded to property developers who wish to profit from the disaster.
• As part of the process of investigation, there must be transparency about the materials used – were they supported by the British Board of Agrément (BBA) – a body that tests materials to ensure that they are manufactured and installed within certain codes of practice, British Standards and Building Regulations? Demand answers to these questions.
• Who were the manufacturers? As this is not publically known. Were the panels tested in accordance with British Standards? Did they have a BBA certificate? Were they accepted by Building Control? What were the other issues involved in the refurbishment work carried on that could have exaggerated the unhindered spread of the fire?
This ultimately is a tragic human story. It has touched all our lives – as the Guyanese Poet Martin Carter writes, made us ‘all involved.’ To shake up the warped mainstream narrative, we must acknowledge that among the heroes running into the fire, were a number of Muslim men of all nationalities. The human response by people from all ages, classes, backgrounds, religions and so on coming together in solidarity has been powerful. It is an expression of a real social movement in action and also reflective of appeal and support of Jeremy Corbyn. Now comes the time to reinforce our resolve to challenge those in power, those with authority to do better by all of us, to recognise and respect our human value. If no other lesson is learnt by this, it should be that in unity and with one voice we, the people have agency to stand firm against any authority.