Grenfell Tower — let the workers judge
When a tragedy like the fire at Grenfell Tower happens people instinctively know why it happened.
We can pore over the detail. We can set up public enquiries. We can dissect the fire regulations, and the relationship between the government, the local authority and the KCTMO (an NGO set up to allow the council to keep the day-to-day management of the housing stock at arm’s length).
But we know the reason.
And you do not have to be a revolutionary to say it out loud. A headline in one of today’s newspapers sums it up in the words of Sadiq Kahn, the Labour Mayor of London. The headline reads:
COMMUNITY’S ANGER IS ROOTED IN ‘COUNCIL AND GOVERNMENT NEGLECT’
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (to give it it’s full bombastic title) has long been a bastion of right-wing Tory thinking. The Council has been a breeding ground for ambitious Tories trying to climb their way up the slippery pole to parliament. Career politicians sucking their way towards a cosy ministerial post with its in-office perks and its cosy non-contributory pension would do well to start here.
The types who run this council do not think they have to pander to the hoi-polloi who live in the tower blocks at the northern edge of their borough. Upgrading and improving their living conditions and prioritising their safety is not at the top of their agendas. RBKC and their close neighbours, Westminster City Council have, for many years, vied with each other to charge the lowest possible council tax. For years these two Tory boroughs, together with their Tory colleagues south of the river in Wandsworth, enthusiastically cut and slashed their own budgets. Before cuts had been rebranded as ‘austerity’ these pioneers of slashing budgets and picking statistics that ‘prove’ services are getting better while the resources to deliver them are being cut, were doing their work. Burrowing under the foundations of the support mechanism that protect the weakest and most vulnerable.
A cynic might think that they were trying to impress their political masters at the head of the Tory Party. Look at me! See how efficient a council can be, when it is run by Tories. Efficiency, in this context, meaning cheap.
The anger felt by residents and their supporters in the locality has been fuelled by a sense, over many years, that this council was not for me. It was for the posh Tories with their multi-million-pound houses and their weekend homes in the country.
There are estate agents you go to in RBKC when you are looking for a flat to rent, where a resident of `Grenfell Tower could not get through the front door. The agencies that deal with the “top” end of the market have high street offices more spacious than the flat allocated to a family of six. The agencies that deal with people most like the residents of Grenfell Tower are far less salubrious.
The difference in social status is palpable and obvious as you traverse the borough.
We do not need a public enquiry to know why sprinkler systems were not retro-fitted to tower blocks after the Camberwell fire in 1979. We know why. It was too expensive. It was too inconvenient. It was too difficult.
Theresa May tries to kick the problem into the long grass with her judge-led public enquiry. We do not need a judge to tell us the truth. If we are going to have an enquiry, it should be carried out by the FBU (Fire Brigades Union). The union that represents the workers at the sharp end of the catastrophe are the best people to make these judgements. They know that if and when it all goes wrong, it is their members whose lives will also be put at risk dealing with the fire.
Let the FBU be the judge. Every day they walk into shops and office blocks, and if they see a significant fire hazard they close it down. They have no truck with the ‘economics’ argument. Economics should play no part in decisions about life and death.
I doubt even of the LFEPA (the organisation for which they work) have the strength to withstand the political pressure that will be put on whoever runs the enquiry. So give it to the FBU. If we are going to get answers that we believe, the enquiry cannot be carried out by a judge.
Judges are good at getting to the facts. They are trained to drill down through the evidence and get to the truth. But you can bet your life they cannot be relied on to speak truth to power when the chips are down.