Wednesday, 21 June 2017

A Tale of Two Cities

Numerous people have noted the contrast between Grenfell Tower, and its inhabitants, and the multi million pound properties within a short distance from it, and their inhabitants.  A tale of two cities in many ways.

One wonders just how much the decisions about cladding the outside of the tower, for example, were governed by a desire that those in the multi-million pound properties did not have to look out on the brutalist concrete architecture of the tower that previously existed.  Brutalist, and perhaps less aesthetic, but at least concrete is flammable (in the correct usage, meaning that you can apply a flame to it without it burning, as opposed to inflammable meaning you can't apply a flame to it without it burning), as one of the nearby residents noted having seen a fire in one of the apartments some years ago, which failed to spread.

In Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities the activity is spread between London and Paris, with characters moving between the two.  Some of the residents of Grenfell Tower are themselves migrants and refugees from other countries.  In contrast, many of those who own the multi-million pound properties nearby are far from refugees, many are foreign millionaires, who own the property in London, not as somewhere needed to live, but as merely somewhere to stash some of their money, in an asset that government and Bank of England policies over the years have deliberately inflated, and kept inflated so as to protect the private wealth of such individuals whilst simultaneously pricing millions of workers out of being able to buy a house, and at the same time thereby causing rents to rise, and private landlords to massively subsidised to the tune of around £11 billion a year in Housing Benefit payments.

When Jeremy Corbyn, quite rightly proposed, last week, that the immediate housing needs of Grenfell Tower residents should be addressed by sequestering some of those empty properties, it brought howls of anguish from the ranks of Tories and their supporters in the media.  Their empathy towards people made homeless by such an event obviously only goes so far, as far as pretty empty words, in the aftermath, but not as far as dipping into their pockets or seeing the rights of property infringed, even unused, empty property!

Sophy Ridge, on Sunday complained that the suggestion to sequester the empty property was ridiculous because of the cost for the government to compulsory purchase these multi-million pound properties.  Absolute nonsense.  If the property is empty, and earning no rent currently, the owners are losing nothing from allowing a homeless family to live in it, and they should be compensated by the payment of nothing for it, accordingly.  Indeed, a systematic programme of occupying and squatting empty properties across the country, would be a good immediate way of dealing with homelessness, and of encouraging property speculators to get their properties occupied or sell them, and thereby would act to bring property prices down, by getting some of the 1.5 million empty properties in the country on to the market.

The fire also showed the schizophrenic nature of the government in another way.  In the London Bridge terrorist attack, 8 people were killed and 48 injured.  Within 24 hours, the troops were on the streets, in support of the police and across the country, police were knocking down doors, and hauling dozens of people in for questioning or under arrest.  A similar response came with the Westminster Bridge attack, and the Manchester attack.

But, when Grenfell Tower burned, the response of the state seems to have been completely different.  The firefighters and paramedics did the best they could to save lives, and prevent injuries way beyond the call of duty.  But, already the official estimate of deaths runs to around 80, and the residents know the real figure is likely to be more like 150.  Yet, where were the troops to help with dealing with the fire?

When there are large forest fires, Hercules transport aircraft and helicopters are used to drop fire retardant or even just water from nearby sources on to the fire.  Yet, no such help was provided in this instance.  If the £100 billion being wasted on Trident were instead used on resources for real civil defence and security, then a more effective response would have been possible.  Indeed, the £100 billion wasted on Trident would have been much better used on providing adequate fire and other safety measures in these buildings.

But, also where have been the dawn raids by police, and the arrests of those responsible for the cladding on these buildings and so on.  It may turn out that many of the people who might be so arrested, or brought in for questioning are released without charge, but so have been many of those arrested and brought in for questioning following the terror attacks.  The point is that it shows a completely different approach when it comes to businesses when such events occur.  Its much the same with Health and Safety.  Never do you see police going into firms to investigate breaches of Health and Safety Law, even while they are being sent out to break up strikes against such bad employers.

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