Collective tears shed as the whole world witnessed what is suspected to be 100’s of people being burned alive in a tower block in North Kensington from all the cultural backgrounds that make up London’s population. The 24 storey 120 home Grenfell Tower block on Lancaster West estate, a devolved tenant controlled (TMO) council owned housing estate in The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) with around 900 housing units overall…..
The Grenfell Tower fire, the worst conflagration since WW2 has been followed by the unfolding story of corporate insensitivity, ineptitude and the subsequent political fallout of Kensington and Chelsea Conservative Council Members, a PR disaster for Prime Minister Theresa May while a nation grieved after being traumatised seeing the fire burning live on television screens. In its aftermath the ongoing succession of failures in the resulting rescue and victim relief effort demonstrated by the impotent response from RBKC, are being judged on the ground as beyond farcical.
The absence of the necessary decisive leadership to meet the immediate and short term needs of the survivors and local community, has led to justified questioning of a local authority apparatus and leadership philosophy whose track record for decades has sought to place growth, profit and self promotion before the welfare of ordinary people. Galvanising a reflection nationwide about the wisdom of the contracting out and commissioning model adopted by this tier of government.
Adjacent to Lancaster West housing estate are the surrounding areas of Ladbroke Grove, Portobello Rd, Notting Hill and Holland Park home to the most expensive properties in the world, insidethe London Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea who up until this catastrophe, were seen as model local authority with £millions in reserve. Grenfell has brought into focus these pockets of deprivation that live next door to neighbourhoods of immense wealth that scatter London into focus, highlighting the democracy deficit, and how far neoliberalism has taken the management of the wellbeing of all members of society, towards the non caring images of a pending potential dystopian fallout that Hollywood has has been so good at presenting to us as entertainment.
The community living in the flats on this estate the majority of whom are categorised as Black and MinorityEthnic (BME) are emblematic of the typical hybrid of the cultural communities within different generations of indigenous and migrant communities that now inhabit London. The irony of this, if any irony can be extracted from this horror, is that the exercise framed as regeneration to improve lives, the design and aesthetic’s, is now a central theme in the form of the questioning of sub-standard cladding materials used, and the lack of scrutiny building regulation processes in the UK construction industry which is becoming more evident as a main contributor to the speed of the blazing inferno.
This all, against the background of the community campaign by Grenfell Action Tenants Group who had the bit between their teeth to campaign stretching back several years for their rights to have a say as key participations of any development plans in their local area, about the conditions they were living in, expressing their concerns and dissatisfaction about fire safety and restricted fire access. On their blog they reported that they were seen as troublemaker tenants who hadn’t nothing better to do, and didn’t know how well they had it. If you had access to the internet, before the fire was out, most people knew that Grenfell Action Group like deja’vu predicted on the blog the serious fatalities and catastrophic consequences that would happen if their concerns were not addressed, over 18 months before what happened in the early hours of Wednesday 14th June 2017 morning.
The Justice for Grenfell local protest movement has since organised itself amongst the groundswell of public support against the shamed character of UK political system, with protest marches to Downing St. immediately questioning the appropriateness of the appointment of commercial law judge Martin Moore-Bick in a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May signed by BME Lawyers 4 Grenfell, President of the Muslim Lawyers Association, Chair of The Society of Black Lawyers, A Grenfell Community Representative. This group is already seeing a backlash from the broadsheet press, with reports in The Telegraph and The Times are already suggesting that the Justice for Grenfell organisers are individuals not connected with the local community and being described as agitators. These views have been refuted on social media by the coordinating group who have said they are the port of call for survivors and a organising group committed to working at a local and grassroots level to support community action to obtain justice.
This community action has manifested in numerous impromptu gatherings, meetings, and marches that has applied enough pressure to see through the two faced apology given by the leadership at RBKC. Nigel Paget-Brown, Conservative Council Leader, Rock Fielding-Mellon Deputy Leader, having to resign after the last minute cancellation of their fateful council cabinet non meeting, once journalists obtain a court order to attend the meeting they tried to conduct in private. With the Chief Executive Nicholas Holgate also having resigned, that same community action is asking questions about corporate negligence, inquests and what satisfaction can answers to a narrow inquiry just to the actual cause of the fire bring. Questions it seems that the mainstream media are failing to continually ask.
So where does this leave the victims, their families, the survivors, the community of Lancaster West estate, surrounding neighbourhoods, the volunteers, the community agencies on the ground. This remains to be seen. Social media has enabled us to see a different story from that shown in the media. Questions almost three weeks later questions are still being asked about, victims not receiving adequate support, not being fed, offered appropriate temporary housing. Nor receiving the donations meant for them, or what has happened to the funds that have been raised. Then there is central governments promises of support. How is this being administered?, and who is coordinating the relief effort. Three weeks after the tragedy, no one can answer these questions, let alone get to grips with the political and media circus that is about to begin around the public inquiry.