London Grenfell Tower disaster and after

This 9 August 2017 video is about a member of the British Socialist Equality Party addressing a meeting on the London Grenfell Tower fire inferno.

By Paul Mitchell in London, England:

Survivors, SEP member denounce police inaction over Grenfell Tower fire at latest community public meeting

11 August 2017

The fifth Grenfell Tower fire “community public meeting” was held Wednesday evening at Notting Hill Methodist Church.

It was convened by the Grenfell Response Unit, set up by Theresa May’s Conservative government to supposedly keep survivors and local residents informed of the measures being taken by the Metropolitan Police and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) in the aftermath of the inferno.

Instead, the meeting confirmed that, eight weeks after the fire, few of the promised measures have materialised and that survivors and local residents continue to be treated with contempt. One after another, those in attendance spoke of the lack of help given to those with health problems and the failure to provide decent housing.

One survivor described the appalling impact of having seen “dead bodies, people jumping for their lives and children screaming.”

A local resident close to the tower explained, “I’m traumatised, my kids are traumatised. The Red Cross is a disgrace. I’ve emailed for help twice and got my MP [member of parliament] too, but still there is no response.”

Another said, “I live 40 yards from the tower and have been suffering chest problems from the air pollution since. Knowing that there was asbestos and cyanide, why was no one evacuated?”

A survivor said, “Before this fire, I was working, supporting myself, looking after my sick uncle who has mental health problems and physical health problems, as well as working… But since the fire I haven’t been eating properly, I haven’t been sleeping properly. I have mental health problems now.”

Another member of the audience related how so many people had been complaining to local general practitioners about breathing problems that it had become known as the “Grenfell cough.”

A woman stood up to apologise for not coming to previous meetings, explaining that she had been “burying my two dead lost relatives.”

The meeting in Notting Hill Methodist Church

“I was lucky to get my relatives back. But there are many who haven’t got them back. The police one-to-one [sessions] are just not working,” she concluded.

Another resident asked, regarding the “assistance” being offered, “Is Reiki an adequate substitute for having decent housing for children living in hotel rooms? Why is it taking so long to rehouse them? Forget about Reiki! Forget about yoga! Why aren’t the council providing housing and decent, adequate services?

“You talk about a tragedy. It is an avoidable disaster. You have blood on your hands. You’re an absolute disgrace,” she told the panel.

Judy Bolton, a local resident who lost her uncle, told RBKC leader Elizabeth Campbell, “You should be so ashamed of yourself. You have no understanding or respect for these people in this tower and this community.

“Let me explain why: You say it’s a tragedy, it’s a disaster. This is an atrocity and it’s an atrocity that all of these people here today have said ‘We’re not getting help… our children are in one bedroom.’ This is two months on.

“My daughter goes to school and she comes home and says ‘Mum, there are empty desks in my classroom.’ We’re living with this every day. If you’re coming to this meeting, come prepared, come with a strategy, come with answers. Do not fob us off.”

Another speaker described the support provided for young people by the Grenfell Assistance Centre at the local Curve building as “disgraceful.” The Centre, according to the website, is supposed be providing “housing needs, emergency funds, health, social care services, experienced volunteers from the Red Cross and other organisations, food and above all, a kind and sympathetic team of people ready to provide advice on anything.”

The speaker described how young people are “broken, grieving, hurt and want answers.”

Campbell’s condescending and supercilious response to questions about the failure to provide homes—“We’re starting viewings again next week… It’s a slower process than you would have wished for… We’re getting there… We have a timeline… We have a strategy”—were shouted down.

Kensington Conservative leader Elizabeth Campbell

Survivors of the fire replied, “This is a humanitarian crisis and you don’t have any plan;” “You’re not helping anyone and blame the survivors for not accepting the first thing they are given;” “It’s two months and you can’t give a simple answer. You can’t even be prepared for this meeting;” “You keep coming back saying ‘I do not know, I cannot give any guarantees.’”

This reporter addressed the meeting. Introducing myself as a member of the Socialist Equality Party, I noted, “Just like Theresa May’s Public Inquiry these meetings are a cynical damage limit exercise. They are a fraud…

“Those who have attended in good faith have time and again heard representatives of the police insist that nothing can be revealed about the investigation and refuse to explain why no one has yet been questioned under caution, let alone arrested.

“To add insult to injury the Met’s ‘Gold Command’ are joined by representatives of the very organisation they should be investigating!”

I urged those in the meeting, “All the excuses being handed down as to why the guilty have not been arrested, we should reject them. Anyone who reads the national newspapers and watches the news knows that there is a cast-iron case for the prosecution. Indeed, if this level of evidence existed for the likes of us accused of the pettiest crime, we would already be sitting in jail…

“The central lesson of events since the Grenfell fire is that nothing genuine and lasting can be accomplished through the good graces of the Conservative government, the council, the Met … ”

To applause I concluded, “Everything depends on the survivors, local residents and the entire working class taking an independent stand.”

Grenfell Tower: How the warnings of cladding dangers were ignored: here.

Grenfell fire: “It’s like Victorian days, where we have nothing and they have everything”: here.

Four 13-storey blocks in Ledbury estate in Peckham, south-east London, at risk of collapse in the event of a gas explosion. Hundreds of people have been told they will have to leave their homes on an estate of tower blocks in London after safety checks carried out following the Grenfell Tower fire found the buildings had been at risk of collapse for decades: here.

7 thoughts on “London Grenfell Tower disaster and after

  1. Friday 11th August 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    It’s great that the wider left recognises the need for a massive wave of council house building but we mustn’t forget New Labour’s role in our current situation, writes SOLOMON HUGHES

    THERE is a growing consensus on the left that we need a new wave of council house building, though there seems less understanding that this is only close to possible because of Labour’s move left.

    Building 100,000 new council houses a year is now central to Labour’s manifesto.

    But previous Labour leaderships — from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown to Ed Miliband — were against building more council houses. They wanted private developers to lead on housebuilding, which meant they contributed to the crisis in housing.

    This crisis has been building over decades — or rather not building. Britain doesn’t build enough houses and so prices are way too high. More and more young people are stuck in the private rented sector, paying more for less.

    In truth the private sector never built enough volume housing in Britain. If the state hadn’t stepped in, building millions of council houses in the 20th century, we would be in an even worse state now.

    The long running housing crisis shows why we need more council houses. The recent, violent shock of the Grenfell fire adds urgency.

    First, 80 or so people killed for cost-cutting in council flats shows we need investment to make good, safe social housing.

    Second, stuffing the survivors of Grenfell into hotels shows just how bad the shortage of social housing has become. Our social housing stock can’t deal with an emergency like Grenfell.

    Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour had put council house building at the centre of its manifesto even before Grenfell.

    I was pleased to see Polly Toynbee and other Guardian columnists supporting this call for more council houses. However, they do so without giving Corbyn much credit.

    But if you want to see where the rest of Labour stands, consider Yvette Cooper, still an occasional hero for Guardian columnists and “moderate” Labour MPs.

    Cooper was Labour’s housing minister from 2005-8. Back then, under Blair and Brown, Labour did put money into existing housing stock. The party brought existing council houses and flats to what was called the “decency standard,” improving kitchens, windows and heating.

    But while it spent money, it also made structural changes that created long-term problems. This was a key “New Labour” failure. It increased social spending, but did so through privatised structures that caused long-term damage.

    Cooper promoted the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) — a form of privatisation — for council housing. Under PFI, a business consortium borrows money from the bank to do repairs and maintenance, which the council pays back over time. These can be long, 15-year maintenance contracts during which time the private consortium takes over maintenance of the council estate.
    In June 2005 Yvette Cooper announced: “There can be no doubt that PFI helps redevelop areas in great need and to provide new housing.”

    However, Cooper’s PFI was not good for housing. In 2010 the official spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, examined the schemes Cooper launched and found “most projects have suffered significant cost increases and delays” and that “early programme management was weak.”

    As with other PFI schemes, the private consortia exploited the public sector, taking big payments for poor work.

    The Chalcots Estate in Camden was one of the schemes listed in Cooper’s 2005 announcement.
    The Chalcots PFI was launched in 2006, while Cooper was housing minister. The National Audit Office found that there was a 52-month delay on getting work started on this deal.

    These delays happened because the banks and building contractors haggled over price and work.

    The Audit Office found the price of the “capital costs” — the initial work — on the Chalcots scheme went up from £30.6 million to £65m. The PFI Contractor, called “Partners for Improvement in Camden,” is still in charge of maintenance until 2021, and will earn around £150m over the whole period.

    There is worse news. The PFI contractors on the Chalcots estate got a firm called Rydon to do the external cladding of the tower blocks.

    That is the same firm which did the cladding at Grenfell Tower — this was likely a major cause of the disaster.

    The tenants of the Chalcots towers were evacuated overnight last June because of worries their cladding was also dangerous.

    The Chalcots towers were also evacuated because other fire protection, like fire doors, were inadequate. Tenants were allowed to return after remedial works.

    But a BBC investigation found the repairs, carried out under Cooper’s PFI scheme, were still inadequate.

    Cooper had other plans beyond PFI. According to her press notice: “PFI was identified as one of the three options for delivering decent homes along with the setting up of an Arms Length Management Organisation (Almo) and stock transfer.”

    Under Cooper, councils handed controls of their flats to “arm’s length” bodies, as in Islington or Sheffield. However, these councils have now started taking the estates back under direct control.

    The “arms length” bodies were undemocratic and inefficient. The “stock transfer” handed millions of council flats to housing associations. However, this led to a reduction in the available housing stock — housing associations sold more houses than they built — and another loss of democratic control and council influence.

    Under Cooper and the rest of “New Labour,” the government would only go with the three options for council housing — PFI, Almo and “stock transfer.” New Labour firmly resisted what was called the “fourth option” of council house building, even though its members voted for it at Labour conference. Consequently, social housebuilding ground to a halt under “New Labour.” The Tories followed suit.

    When Ed Miliband became Labour leader in 2010, the party acknowledged more new social homes must be built. But even under Ed’s small shift left, the party still resisted just letting councils build these homes.

    Instead it based policy on the “Lyons review,” which was run by a mix of housing developers, financiers and consultants.

    The Lyons review, which became the manifesto commitment, proposed “the creation of a generation of new homes corporations to act as delivery agencies working across housing market areas.”

    These corporations would be a “partnership” with “private developers, Housing Associations and investment partners.”

    These kinds of “partnerships” are already “redeveloping” some council estates — they tend to kick out social tenants in favour of money making house sales.

    Building mass council housing was once a mainstream Labour programme. While some estates were built too cheaply, without mass social housing we would be in an even bigger crisis now.

    Building more, good social housing is now a key Labour promise, but is only possible thanks to Corbyn’s leadership.


  2. Saturday 12th August 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Britain

    VICTIMS of the Grenfell Tower disaster have branded relief efforts “terrible,” with their concerns remaining unaddressed two months on.

    At a meeting for residents on Wednesday night, Kensington and Chelsea council leader Elizabeth Campbell was repeatedly heckled, booed and accused of failing to give straight answers.

    One resident said offers of “unsuitable housing” remained a problem, a complaint which was echoed by several residents, including one woman who demanded to know when social housing would be made available for families with children.

    She also told of residents living in fear, having received racist abuse online.

    Another branded it “unacceptable” that some people have still not been assigned a key worker, asking: “How much longer do people have to suffer in order to get it right?”

    Ms Campbell at one point simply mentioned “plans to improve the estate hugely.”

    But one woman told councillors: “If you’re coming to this meeting, come prepared, with a strategy. Don’t fob us off. We’re a community of integrity.”

    Residents accused Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation at the meeting of “hiding.”

    Several residents reported suffering respiratory problems and said that local GPs had talked of a “Grenfell cough.” They accused the council of ignoring the issue and living behind “filters.”

    Steven Pretty, who lives 40 yards from the burnt-out tower, said he has suffered significant chest pain ever since the blaze on June 14.

    Executive manager of the site Michael Lockwood told residents that scaffolding and protective wrap is due to be applied to the shell in the next few weeks.

    Labour MP Kate Osamor said: “It is totally unacceptable that, eight weeks since the Grenfell Tower fire, only 14 families have been permanently rehoused.”


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