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The Grenfell tragedy is class war

The victims of yesterday’s fire at the Grenfell tower in north Kensington are casualties of the class war. There is no other frame, no other explanation that can convincingly thread together the answers to questions about how this unnecessary and entirely avoidable tragedy happened, and why it was allowed to happen.

Consider the circumstances:

Grenfell residents had repeatedly complained to the council (coincidentally, Conservative-run) about fire safety issues and were brushed off by councillors and officers.

Residents had also complained about their treatment at the hands of the contractors placed in charge of the two-year £10m block refurbishment. These complaints included allegations of physical intimidation on the part of the contractors.

The external refurbishment of the tower was added ostensibly to deal with water ingress into the building, but residents have suggested that cladding was added to make it look more agreeable to the eyes of nearby tenants and owners of luxury properties.

The fire happened in the context of the closure of ten fire stations in London at the behest of Boris Johnson during his time as London mayor. This is part of a nationwide package of measures aimed at reducing the numbers of firefighters and creating markets in the fire service through the outsourcing of calls, administration, and provision of equipment.

It comes after years of warnings and recommendations from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fire Safety and Rescue that have routinely been ignored by successive governments. Their latest recommendations pertaining to high-rises were sat on for four years by the government.

It comes in the context of a government utterly beholden to the ridiculous view that regulation, and particularly health and safety regulations, are so much red tape. This was taken to its extreme by the Tories who ran on a platform pledging to scrap two regulations for every one introduced: an intellectually bankrupt and profoundly stupid approach that risks lives for the sake of core vote grubbing.

Though the Grenfell tower would not have been affected by it, the government benches voted down proposed legislation requiring landlords to guarantee a basic minimum standard of housing fit for human habitation.

And, in the aftermath, following the media attention and the outpouring of sympathy and grief, the Prime Minister was at the scene for a “private visit”. She decided against meeting surviving residents.

Today the media is overflowing with hot takes about how it is a very political tragedy. But it is more than that. This has been a gross episode, a massacre, in the class struggle. It is a moment where local and national politics, the economics of housing, the snobby cultures of the H-band classes, and the managerial arrogance attuned to tuning out poor and working class voices all came together and have robbed dozens – hopefully not hundreds – of people of their lives. It’s a consequence of markets run rampant, of the gutting of public service provision to squeeze more cash into private coffers. That cash now comes dipped in blood.

We’ve seen what class politics in the 21st century can look like. This, however, is what’s going on on the other side. They still have the whip hand, they are responsible for this state of affairs, and these are the consequences when the war on the housing front has gone their way unimpeded for so long.


  1. Bill says:

    I want also to know if ,as reported by Labour Councillor, the Labour Group colluded with the Conservatives and she was told not to cause trouble? The NEC should investigate this urgently. But I bet they won’t.

    1. Matty says:

      Got a source for this report?

  2. Bazza says:

    The author is right – I see the burnt out flat and think of a Diverse Working Class Hiroshima though on a much smaller scale.
    When it is eventually knocked down the community should design a city park on its site with statues to remember the diverse working class citizens who lost their lives due to Tory negligence and cuts!
    A typicalyl safe Labour MP (a ‘great woman of history’ got it wrong saying it was a “man made disaster” it was a Tory made disaster with all the Tory cuts and cheap sub-contracting and ignoring the concerns of the residents!
    The horror is with only one available stairwell people were trapped high up and couldn’t get down (I wondered with hindsight could we have used things like Air Sea Rescue helicopters if practical?) but the question is as the working class have more and restricted urban space (and under the Tories poorer quality public and private rented housing) IS DIVERSE WORKING CLASS LIFE CHEAP TO THE RICH AND POWERFUL AND THEIR TORY LACKIES?
    Then of course the powerful try to diffuse the diverse working class anger – send in the Queen, make a charity record, get the churches to talk of love until it dissipates.
    But perhaps to adapt what Pablo Neruda once wrote: ‘Rise up with JC (peacefully and democratically) against the organisation of misery!’

  3. Imran Khan says:

    Ridiculous headline. There are thousands of new builds for sale equally unsafe. The former Olympic Village for a start.

  4. I think we could be missing an important part of the story which concerns the history of the Conservative Party.

    After the war and prior to the takeover of the party by Thatcher and Keith Joseph the Tories were very much still run by the old grandees. Ted Heath and Harold Macmillan were of a generation that had supported Churchill in his fight against appeasement and as ‘One Nation’ Tories at least recognized that inequality would hold Britain back.

    After the Thatcher premiership we see a new type of Tory in both local and national government. To be kind we could say they were more entrepreneurial. To be honest we would say it was a flood of spivery.

    To me, perhaps unfairly, Grant Shapps has been the poster boy of Tory spivs. His online business practices seemed to have at least a smell of scam about them. Shapps made it as far as Chairman of the Conservative Party, and perhaps more suspect, Minister of State for Housing and Local Government in 2010 to 2012.

    The problem when we talk about spivs is we hold that comedic idea of Private Walker in Dad’s Army, the spiv with the pencil thin moustache. In real life they are the people who sell the dangerous goods in the market, people who rip off pensioners with telephone scams, and people who care nothing about the results of their turning a tidy profit. These people are the backbone of the Conservative Party nowadays.

    That isn’t to say this disease didn’t also infect the Labour Party with cabinet ministers building up property investments and such. The expense scandal gave us an indication of how far this spivery had infiltrated our political class.

    If we are looking for an answer to tragedies like this latest one we could start with the spivs.

    1. JohnP says:

      Your comment on the corrupt “spivvery” endemic in the modern Tory Party (and of course equally in New Labour) is a point very well made. But this observation needs to be broadened out to the entire structure and practice of neoliberalism . The now endemic profound systemic corruption and deeply entrenched nepotism of contemporary neoliberal capitalism, the consequences of which the Kensington disaster graphically illustrates, is something worth examining in itself.
      On the Left we tend to dismiss corruption and nepotism as “just a normal part of capitalism” . And of course it is. But its prevalence in particular societies , and damage done to the overall system in each society, is a matter of degree. Even that neoliberal icon, Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations was at pains to explain that , left entirely to the market, corruption and cartels and monopoly would INEVITABLY destroy the very basis of capitalist functionality and growth. Hence the need for the Capitalist State to maintain a “level playing field” for capitalist competition – through “rational” structures of contract law and bourgeois universal legalism.
      Today, certainly in the two states which were once exemplars of the “rule of rational bourgeois law” during the early development of global capitalism, the USA and Britain, the last 30 years of buccaneering neoliberalism has increasingly replaced the dominance of bourgeois legality with a deregulated system of corrupt cronyism, with the nominally (bourgeois) democratic polity crudely ”bought “ by the superrich . In this “façade democracy” oligarchic system” the capitalist state and its judiciary can no longer enforce rule-based (capitalist) rationality and long term level playing field restrictions on the unlimited greed of the ruling elite. Such a dysfunctional set up cannot, in the long term, as Adam Smith warned, be other than yet another nail in the coffin of a collapsing capitalist order– as the utter failure to achieve sustained economic development of resource rich but utterly corrupt kleptocracies , like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Nigeria, to name but a few, graphically illustrate.
      The spiv ruled UK today, with the two main parties, Tory and Labour completely eaten away by “special interest co-option “ (despite the victory of “Corbynism” at Leadership level, and our new mass Left-oriented membership) ever closer mirrors the dysfunctional systemic corruption of “third world” kleptocratic states like Nigeria, complete with a globalised “comprador” bourgeois ruling class, uninterested in the long term safeguarding of the viability of the UK as a political and economic entity.

      1. takethat says:

        “this observation needs to be broadened out to the entire structure and practice of neoliberalism”

        Exactly right. The doctrinaire, moralistic tone of Thatcherism that is made to seem “hypocritical” by spivery — great term! — actually conceals a growing desperation over the uncertainty of profit opportunities. Spivery and wholesale privatization are just two sides of the same coin, a merciless search for profit when other options, like profiting from the production of nonpublic goods with some genuine use value, have been lost.

        This is an important historical moment, and I hope we can take advantage of it. The Right, including that within the Labor party, has lost theoretical justification and a wave of calamities ruin them morally. They have lost all legitimacy. Bring them down.

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