Since I last wrote, we’ve had the Manchester bombing, the London and Westminster Bridge killings, a general election and most recently the fatal attack on Muslims in Finsbury Park and the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower.
There has been much soul-searching over the murderous terrorist atrocities which killed and permanently disabled so many innocent people in London and Manchester. Were they preventable? Could more have been done to avert them? Sadly the conclusion seems to be that it is almost impossible to stop murderous individuals from blowing themselves up, running people over after hiring a truck or running amuck with knives. Nevertheless, the government will speedily invest millions of pounds in anti-terrorism measures and rapidly deploy new legislation to counter the perceived threat.
But what about the response to the tragedy of Grenfell Tower and the needless loss of so many innocent lives? It is beginning to look like this horror was largely preventable, and the warnings were ignored or dismissed as alarmist.
Grenfell Tower residents had repeatedly raised concerns regarding the safety of their building; the local authority chose to ignore the warnings. A refurbishment programme primarily designed to “beautify” the tower block to make it less of “an eyesore” for the wealthy homeowners living nearby used cheaper cladding which it now seems clear did not meet fire safety standards. A Coroners report based on a similar fire in a tower block in Southwark made a number of fire protection recommendations none of which have seen the light of day, despite repeated calls from an all-party parliamentary committee on fire safety. As if the devastating consequences of the fire itself weren’t enough Kensington and Chelsea’s response to the disaster was utterly shambolic and dismissive. Local people had to rally round and provide for each other, and days after the fire there was still a lack of leadership, coordination and organisation. Even the Prime Minister chose to meet exhausted fire crews rather than mingle with the devastated survivors of the fire.
One of the conclusions I draw from this terrible, preventable tragedy is that if you’re poor, or an immigrant, an ethnic minority, disabled or old, your life is worth less when compared to those who are not from those groups.
One commentator put it rather well; “The Shard is a tower block if it caught fire would there be such catastrophic consequences”. I think we know the answer to that question.
Another commentator remarked when discussing the Grenfell Tower fire that “housing for the poor will always be poor housing”. Buildings constructed for people who are more comfortably off tend not compromise on safety standards; whereas penny-pinching, shoddy maintenance, avoidance or enforcement of building regulations and delay are the name of the game for those dependent on social housing.
A fitting epitaph for all those who died would surely be that lessons are learned. The government should act swiftly to strengthen fire safety regulations just as they would have done if this had been an act of terrorism. The public enquiry needs to publish its findings as quickly as possible, and if required the government should bring forward new legislation without delay just as it would have done if this disaster had been caused by a terrorist act. The government should spend whatever is required to ensure that people are kept safe just as they do when we are threatened by terrorism. If these things come to pass then those who died will not have died in vain.