Grenfell is Political

I just couldn’t get down to writing yesterday morning. I woke to hear the terrible news of the fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, and couldn’t stop thinking about the people who were trapped inside as it burned. News was coming through at a great rate on Facebook, and it was soon evident that this had been a disaster waiting to happen, a result of the managed neglect of social housing over the years under many governments, and in particular of the lack of effective and updated regulations about building safety. I could write more, and already at least one MP has described what happened as murder and called for prosecutions for corporate manslaughter. There are certainly calls for justice, and it will be hard to see it done unless people end up in prison for their deliberate actions in failing to properly address the concerns clearly made by residents of the tower, failing to ensure that their homes were safe.

RCG with their impressive housing banner at the entrance to the London Real Estate Forum

Of course the agencies I send pictures to would have liked pictures, but I decided not to go. Other photographers closer than me to the area were already covering it, and there would be little I could add, and already it was the centre of a huge media storm which certainly would not make life easier for those affected. I don’t criticise individuals who went to report – and some certainly several friends did a fine job – but we do have a problem with far too many people covering major events such as this, while the news media neglect the lies and policies that are behind such tragedies.

Sid Skill of Class War with a poster ‘Regeneration is Killing People’

If I had a particular connection with the area I would have gone, but I don’t. One friend is a former resident of the tower, but now lives miles away, and I used years ago to visit another who had a studio half a mile away, and would sometimes walk around if I had some time to spare. Otherwise, I’ve sometimes walked along the street on my way to Carnival – its only a short distance west of Ladbroke Grove, and in an area many would think of as Notting Hill rather than North Kensington. But later in the day I was attending a protest which had a strong connection with the events there.

What was he doing in the London Real Estate Forum?

Notting Hill is of course one of the wealthiest areas of London – and I’ve been in one or two houses not far from here that are probably now worth £5m or £10m or more. It’s an area that has suffered from gentrification though some individuals have benefited greatly, and there is little doubt that Kensington & Chelsea Council would like to see estates like that containing Grenfell House demolished and sold off for private development, a process they would call ‘regeneration’.

Tory MPs – 39% of them landlords – voted down a proposal to ensure properties are “fit for human habitation”

And I suspect that councillors from K&C where present at the London Real Estate Forum along with those from Southwark, Lambeth, Newham, Barking & Dagenham, Croydon, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey, Enfield, Waltham Forest, Ealing, Westminster and elsewhere, all keen to sell off public land for private development, destroying in the process the homes of many Londoners, and building private flats for the wealthy, including many overseas investors who largely don’t even want to live in them, just watch their value increasing and then sell on to make a profit.

Letting them know what people think of them

Although these councils being in London are largely Labour councils, it is hard to see this event – backed Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and sponsored by Labour’s real estate advisors Savills – as anything other than a class war, part of a wholesale policy of social cleansing of London, making it impossible for those in low paid jobs – and even key workers like teachers and nurses to afford housing in the capital. As one New Labour Mayor told people being evicted who complained about being offered private rented properties in Manchester or Wales rather than housing in his borough “if you can’t afford to live in Newham – you can’t afford to live in Newham!“.  Now that Labour is finally getting behind it’s elected leader, housing is one area where policy needs a total rethink and a new direction. Unfortunately Shadow Housing Minister John Healey’s recent report Housing Innovations inspires little confidence that they are capable of doing so.

London Co-operative Housing Group’s new report ‘Co-operate Not Speculate’

It isn’t surprising that people are angry about this – and about the Grenfell Tower fire – and that Class War and the Revolutionary Communist Group outside the Mayfair venue were calling the architects, developers and councillors going into the event ‘Scum’ and ‘Parasites’ and sometimes worse. There are people making polite and reasonable arguments – including the London Co-operative Housing Group who were there too with their new report ‘Co-operate Not Speculate‘ and others putting forward closely argued rebuttals of the rush for profit at the expense of people – and detailed plans for the real regeneration of council estates – such as Architects for Social Housing, but on the morning of London’s most disastrous fire since the Blitz and with almost certainly more deaths than the 1666 Great Fire of London, anger seemed entirely justifiable.


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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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