When you look upon Grenfell Tower peering over North Kensington, it’s hard to believe that only a week ago it housed a vibrant, sprawling community of people. Grenfell was once a familiar backdrop to the people of Ladbroke Grove – mundane even – but what is left now is certainly not that. The thing that remains is so terrifying it almost mesmerises – you can’t help but stare. How can something exist that is so soulless, so unholy, and be so monstrous, and yet so silent? You almost expect it to roar, to screech, but there’s nothing.
The symbolism is not hard to find; Grenfell is truly a hell on earth that represents our failed capitalist system and is a painful harbinger of the future if things don’t change. The plastic that continues to fall to the ground is throwing up a lot of questions – but where are the answers? The atmosphere is full of anger and sorrow, but one emotion that is universal here is bemusement: How on earth was this allowed to happen in *this* city, in the year 2017? And more pressingly, why is there a looming feeling that we are being lied to – like the coverup has already happened, even before the first square metre of flammable cladding ignited? The sums aren’t adding up.
Days later, victims are still not being looked after. Where is the money, the donations? The voluntary relief effort has been overwhelming, but many swear that those affected are still without necessities – food, water, clothes, money. Which brings us on to the next question – where are the government and the council now, and why has a community been left to fend for itself? Theresa May has promised the families £5,500. But that is only Five-thousand-five-hundred pounds… to start a new life from scratch. This is not just an insult, it’s reprehensible.
The scale of the corruption, greed, and neglect that led to this crime must come out immediately – because if it doesn’t, what happened at Grenfell could become the next Orgreave or Hillsborough. A public inquiry controlled by the Tory government doesn’t scratch the surface of the kind of scrutiny that is required. Not only do the culpable need to be imprisoned, the victims supported, and the buildings at risk made safe – but the social and economic order of this society must be toppled. For this tragedy has unearthed, certainly not for the first time, that this country is run in the interests of a ruthless and hegemonic corporate elite. Never has it been so obvious that the value of sterling is worth more than the value of human lives. And the value drops even further when that human is poor and brown. For years the people of Grenfell pleaded with authorities to make their home safer. But they were ignored and paid the price because of it. Many are now highlighting that this is something that would never have happened in a rich, predominantly white neighbourhood – precautions would have been taken, warnings headed. But the people at Grenfell weren’t afforded such humanity and somehow the I-told-you-so moment isn’t very satisfying.
The Conservative Party laud austerity as a difficult but necessary way for us to ‘live within our means’ – they don’t mention however that it is also a sure-fire way to bring misery to the most vulnerable people in this country, with a few deaths to boot. Cuts to our health, housing and the emergency services not only diminishes our quality of life, but risks it; the conservative party are therefore an overwhelming security risk, and can no longer be trusted to run this country.
With the slow but sure, managed destruction of the NHS, the Tories are often able to spin a story that doesn’t link cuts to the crises we face – instead, they blame an ageing population, immigrants, and a misuse of resources. With Grenfell, however, the picture is a whole lot clearer: Last year, a safety audit of tower blocks in Kensington was cancelled due to a firefighter shortage caused by job cuts. Earlier on, back in 2009, a report showed that panels on the outside of Lakanal House had failed to be fire-resistant. The commission later recommended that similar tower blocks be made safer and fitted with sprinklers but subsequent Tory housing ministers ignored these warnings. It is no wonder why; In 2016, an overwhelming 128 Conservative MPs were landlords – and in the same year, 72 of them voted down a bill to make private landlords make homes ‘fit for human habitation’. Undercutting the safety of tenants for a cheque is a simple no-brainer for this tiny elite who see cash cows instead of human beings.
And it is this mentality that we are truly facing when it comes to Grenfell: A complete and utter disregard – disdain even – for those at the bottom of society. For too long we have allowed neo-liberalism to reign over us, prioritising corporations ahead of those who depend on the state for survival. For too long we have allowed essential public services to be outsourced to parasitic, greedy private companies who care not for the people they serve, but the profits they make. And for too long have we elected governments into power which will gladly uphold all of this. No more. The anger that is resonating is not going to dissipate anytime soon – and those residing in the upper echelons of society who benefit from the turmoil at the bottom should rightfully be scared. Because something is shifting in this country, and people are no longer being tempered with the lies spun by out-of-touch politicians or power-hungry media barons; the control is waning, and the wheels about to fall off. Something is awakening. And If there could be one thing I could wish for right now – it would be for that tower, that awful wicked thing, to become an emblem for resounding change – the beginning of the end to this era, and the start of a new one which finally puts people first.