As Grenfell Tower Death Toll Reaches 79, Calls for an Urgent Public Inquiry in the Face of Systemic Failures of Government, Council and Management

Grenfell Tower in the afternoon of June 14, 2017, and tenants in a neighbouring block (Photo: Andy Worthington).After last week’s horrendous and entirely preventable loss of life at Grenfell Tower in west London, which I wrote about in Deaths Foretold at Grenfell Tower: Let This Be The Moment We The People Say “No More” to the Greed That Killed Residents, I am unable to turn my attention away from this bleak testament to greed and the disdain of the rich for the poor, and of the largely white establishment for ethnic minorities, immigrants and the white working class.

As the death toll officially rose to 79, Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan Police said this morning, “Sadly today, as of 8am the number of people has increased. I believe there are 79 people who are either dead or missing and, sadly, I have to presume are dead.” As the Guardian described it, he added that “it was ‘a truly awful reality that there may be some people who we may not be able to identify’ because of the intensity of the fire.”

The Guardian added, “His voice breaking, he said it was ‘incredibly emotional’ for those from the police, London fire brigade and London ambulance service who are working in the burnt-out skeleton of the 24-storey block,” which had housed between 400 and 600 people in 120 flats. Read the rest of this entry »

Deaths Foretold at Grenfell Tower: Let This Be The Moment We The People Say “No More” to the Greed That Killed Residents

Grenfell Tower in west London photographed on the afternoon of June 14, 2017 after being destroyed in an inferno (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Please sign the 38 Degrees petition to the government urging them to “improve fire safety in tower blocks to make sure the tragedy in Grenfell Tower is never repeated,” which, by Saturday morning, had over 155,000 signatures.

I’ve been preoccupied since Wednesday by the terrible loss of life in the inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London, by how it was preventable and should never have happened, and, most shockingly of all, by how was foretold, in explicit detail, by tenants who published their fears and warnings on a blog, but were ignored by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, and by the management company responsible for their homes, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

On November 20, 2016, under a photo of a tower block on fire and the heading, ‘KCTMO – Playing with fire!’, a representative of the Grenfell Action Group wrote, “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the  KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.”

The author of the post also stated, “Unfortunately, the Grenfell Action Group have reached the conclusion that only an incident that results in serious loss of life of KCTMO residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices that characterise the malign governance of this non-functioning organisation.” Read the rest of this entry »

On Eve of Election, Theresa May Returns to Her Default Position, That of a Grubby Racist Scaremonger with Contempt for the Law

A poster promoting Theresa May as a threat, an adaptation of a billboard campaign, via the Vox Political website.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator – and watch my band The Four Fathers playing ‘Stand Down Theresa’, a cover of The Beat’s classic protest song, ‘Stand Down Margaret.’

 

It was all going so well until Saturday. As I explained in my article, The Spectacular and Unforeseen Collapse of Theresa May and the Tories, Theresa May’s campaign was collapsing, after her arrogant belief that holding a General Election — despite repeatedly promising not to do so — would enable her to increase her majority and wipe out the Labour Party. She forgot, too, that although she spoke about securing a greater majority to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations, her Brexit position was one of total paralysis.

She refused — and still refuses — to discuss anything about Brexit with anyone, in an increasingly transparent effort to disguise the fact that her amateurish government of deluded Brexiteers has no idea what they are doing, has made no real effort to recruit the people necessary to deal with negotiations (for what will, if it goes ahead, be the biggest bureaucratic task in history), and knows that it will be an economic disaster the like of which has never been seen. (It’s also worth noting that her claim that securing an increased majority will assist in her negotiations was a lie in any case, as her electoral majority has no bearing whatsoever on EU negotiations).

With Brexit off the cards, people’s attention turned, instead, to domestic policies, and as the relentless negative reporting — or complete absence of reporting — about Jeremy Corbyn gave way to an election campaign in which he was allowed to speak and to get his message across, it began to resonate with the British people in significant numbers, as those brutally silenced by Theresa May after Brexit — an evidently large number of the 16.1 million people who voted Remain, but were told to shut up after the referendum result — were finally given back their voice. Read the rest of this entry »

London’s Horrendous Housing Crisis: Slums, Unfettered Greed and the Unacceptable Exploitation of Workers

Housing crisis: a photo from the 1970s, sadly as relevant today as it was then.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Regular readers will know that Britain’s housing crisis — and especially the crisis in London — is something that angers and depresses me on an almost permanent basis, and for one unassailable reason —  because housing is, essentially, a human right, and yet, during the course of the 21st century, it has become the key commodity in the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many. See my archive of articles about the housing crisis here, here, here and here.

The saying “safe as houses” came into being because housing was traditionally regarded as stable, somewhere money would neither be gained nor lost, but since Margaret Thatcher’s assault on social housing in the 1980s, and the artificial housing bubble maintained by the government and the banks since the days of New Labour, it is now an unregulated cesspit of astonishing greed and the immoral exploitation of others.

Thatcher’s selling off of council houses, and her refusal to allow councils to build any new housing, started a slowdown in the rate of housebuilding that has never been reversed, and the greed that has grown to dominate the housing market in Britain has also been ramped up due to an increase in demand as the population has increased, and the cynicism of politicians and bankers, who worked out that an ever-growing housing bubble was a seemingly viable substitute for genuine economic growth, as well as delivering free money in extraordinary quantities to those — generally the baby boomers and my generation, those born between the end of the Second World War and the end of the 60s — who were fortunate enough to have got on the property ladder before the frenzy began. Read the rest of this entry »

Ismail Einashe, British Citizen of Somali Origin, Describes How The Status of Migrants is “Permanently Up for Review” in the New Intolerant UK

The journalist Ismail Einashe, in the header from his article about citizenship in the UK, firs published in the New Humanist magazine, and then in the Guardian.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

What strange, and almost unbelievably infuriating times we live in, as Donald Trump somehow remains president in the US, and Britain continues to be bludgeoned by a phoney demonstration of democracy. The latest example is the General Election on June 8, which follows a previous example just two years ago, despite the Tories introducing legislation to ensure that elections only take place every five years. In between, there was, of course, the lamentable EU referendum that is the reason for this General Election, as Theresa May struggles to provide endless distractions from the reality that leaving the EU will be an unmitigated disaster, the single greatest instance of a nation declaring economic suicide in most, if not all of our lifetimes.

For Theresa May, this is an election in which nothing must be discussed, just the endless repetition of soundbites about being “strong and stable,” and lies about how an increased Tory majority will improve our Brexit negotiations. In fact, the size of the government’s majority means nothing at all in the negotiations with the EU that the Tories want to avoid discussing because they have no idea what they are doing, and while this is ostensibly good for the opposition parties, the Brexit blanket, like a thick fog, is tending to obscure any serious discussion of the government’s many other failings — on the economy, on the NHS, on all manner of fronts — and this, of course, is being aided by the generally biased, right-wing media that is such a drag on anything resembling progressive politics in this country

What is also being forgotten, or overlooked, is how Theresa May, a soft Remainer who has, cynically, turned herself into the hardest of hard Brexiteers, is so dangerous not only because her actions reveal how she has no principles whatsoever that she will not sacrifice to stay in power, but also because, in her previous job, as the home secretary, she was dangerously racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic. I discussed her record in detail at the time of her leadership victory, in an article entitled, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration, and I was reminded of it a few months ago in a detailed article by the journalist Ismail Einashe, a British citizen of Somali origin, which he wrote for the spring 2017 edition of the New Humanist magazine, and which was then picked up by the Guardian. Read the rest of this entry »

Theresa May: An Unstoppable Undemocratic Disaster in a Dismal Brexit Britain Without Adequate Opposition

Protesters outside parliament in March 2017, as Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, beginning the two-year process of the UK leaving the EU.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Since Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty three weeks ago, starting the two-year process of the UK leaving the EU, based on a slim majority in a referendum whose outcome was not legally binding, I have withdrawn into a protective shell, unable to cope with her deluded dictatorial arrogance, the pointlessness of the MPs who have persistently refused to challenge her in any way, the spinelessness or corruption of most of the mainstream media, and the racism and xenophobia and pathetic Little Englander nationalism unleashed by Brexit.

In these three weeks, I’ve been interested to note, I’ve met many other people who have felt the same, and who, like me, are refusing to watch the news any more — not just because it’s depressing to have to keep watching May and her fellow pro-Brexit ministers attempting to justify their idiocy, but also because of the bias of those bringing the news to us — the horribly corrupt BBC above all, with right-wing mouthpieces like the dreadful Laura Kuennsberg pretending to be journalists rather than stenographers for those in power, and with programmes like Question Time persistently giving far too much airtime to right-wing panel members and audiences.

Those of us who are so sickened that we’ve switched off are, of course, all Remainers, and we all know — not believe, know — that Brexit is an unprecedented disaster, that racism and xenophobia are out in the open now, poisoning our streets, and, along with our now-broken reputation for tolerance, we also know that far too many of our fellow citizens are flag-waving fantasists, longing for a golden age that never was, but that, in their minds, actually existed and, crucially, involved no foreigners. We also know that our economy is already in a self-inflicted decline, as the everyday cost of living is already noticeably more expensive than it was last June, a situation that can only get worse. We also despair that May and the Tories are so popular, and despair of the plight that Labour has dug itself into, with an unelectable leader, however worthy he is. Read the rest of this entry »

After Four-Year Legal Struggle, Judges Support Government Claims That Videotapes of Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Must Remain Secret

A restraint chair at Guantanamo, used to force-feed prisoners (Photo by Jason Leopold).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

On Friday, in the appeals court in Washington, D.C., judges appear to have brought to an unsatisfactory end a four-year struggle to make public videotapes of prisoners at Guantánamo — and specifically Jihad Dhiab (aka Diyab), a Syrian, also known as Abu Wa’el Dhiab — being force-fed and violently extracted from their cells.

The case, as explained in a detailed timeline on the website of Reprieve, began in June 2013, during the prison-wide hunger strike that year, which attracted international opposition to President Obama’s lack of activity in releasing prisoners and working towards fulfilling the promise to close the prison that he made on his second day in office in January 2009.

I also covered the case extensively at the time — see my archive here, here, here and here (which included Dhiab’s release to Uruguay and subsequent struggle to adapt to his new life), ending with an appeal court ruling in May 2015, when the D.C. Circuit Court refused to accept an appeal by the government arguing against the release of the videotapes, and a rebuke to the government in July 2015, by Judge Gladys Kessler in the federal court, who had initially ordered the release of the tapes, and who “ordered the government to stop wasting time with ‘frivolous’ appeals against her rulings,” and to release the tapes. Read the rest of this entry »

London Terror Attack: I Endorse Simon Jenkins’ Mature and Responsible Assessment of the Media’s Dangerous and Irresponsible Coverage

Screenshots of journalist Simon Jenkins criticising the BBC - and by extensions, the whole of the UK mainstream media - for its irresponsible and overblown response to the terrorist attack in central London on March 22.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Note: This article is largely derived from comments I made on Facebook yesterday — but I realise not everyone who reads my work is necessarily on Facebook, hence my reworked posting here.

In what I intend to be my only comment on Wednesday’s attack in London, which was terrible because people lost their lives or were horribly wounded, I recommend the clip below of Simon Jenkins talking sense on Newsnight about how the media irresponsibly creates frenzies of publicity around incidents of terrorism.

It feeds racism and Islamophobia, it feeds a climate of relentless fear, when there is no justification for such fears, and it gives the terrorists what they want — the oxygen of publicity, the very climate of fear the media stirs up, and, they hope, the disruption of normal, everyday life.

I recall, growing up, when there was a deadly terrorist attack, it was considered inappropriate to indulge in wall-to-wall coverage for days, but now it is the norm, and the more it continues the more I fear subsequently hearing about peaceful, law-abiding Muslims up and down the country being subjected to harassment and abuse as through there is any connection between themselves and the mentally troubled individuals who undertook these kinds of attacks, when no such analogy whatsoever can be legitimately drawn. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump’s New Immigration Ban Is Still Unconstitutional, Barring Muslims From Six Countries Despite No Evidence That They Pose a Security Threat

"We are all immigrants": a protestor in Boston's Copley Square on January 29, 2017, after Donald Trump issued his first Muslim ban (Photo: NBC Boston).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

Donald Trump’s alarming presidency began with a blizzard of disgraceful executive orders, of which the most prominent was the immigration ban preventing visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from coming to the US for a 90-day period. Refugees from these countries were banned for 120 days, and refugees from Syria were banned permanently. The ban was so chaotic that legal US residents — who had left the US for a vacation, for example, or on business —  were also banned, as were dual nationals, and, of course, it was unconstitutional because it was effectively a ban on Muslims, and, as David Cole, National Legal Director of the ACLU and professor at Georgetown University Law Center, has explained, as such it “violates the first principle of the Establishment Clause, which forbids the government from singling out particular religions for favor or disfavor (Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228, 247 (1982)).”

Trump’s original executive order, which I wrote about in my article Trump’s Dystopian America: The Unforgivable First Ten Days, was almost immediately subjected to successful legal challenges, as I explained in my articles, Heroes of the Resistance: Judge James Robart, Who Has Suspended Donald Trump’s Unacceptable Immigration Ban, and Washington State AG Bob Ferguson (on February 5), As 9th Circuit Judges Uphold Stay on Donald Trump’s Disgraceful Immigration Ban, 29 Experts from The Constitution Project Condemn Spate of Executive Orders (on February 10) and Court Rules That Donald Trump’s Disgraceful Immigration Ban Discriminates Against Muslims (on February 14).

With some thought having gone into this revised executive order, some of the worst aspects of the original have been removed — an exception has been made for legal residents and dual nationals, and the ban on Iraq has also been lifted, because, as Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Institute from 1993-2012 and a founder of Human Rights Watch, explained in a Guardian column, “Apparently, officials of the administration persuaded the president that it is not a good idea to stigmatize Iraqis as terrorists at a time when Iraqi forces, with American assistance, are fighting to expel the Islamic State from Mosul.” Neier added, “Also, some of the most damaging publicity resulting from the previous version of the order involved the exclusion of Iraqis. Those detained by federal agents as they tried to enter the United States included Iraqis who had assisted US forces when they occupied the country after the 2003 invasion by acting as translators.” Read the rest of this entry »

House of Lords Defends Right of EU Nationals to Stay in the UK Post-Brexit, as the Tyrant Theresa May Vows to Overturn Amendment

Campaigners for a new initiative, Stop the Silence, launch a new nationwide poster campaign urging the Lords to vote for amendments to the Article 50 bill, and for the public to resist the "hard Brexit" aggressively promoted by Theresa May (Photo: EPA).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

The image above is of campaigners for a new initiative, Stop the Silence (also on Twitter), launching a nationwide poster campaign outside Parliament calling for the Lords to make amendments to the Article 50 bill and for the public to speak out over the government’s “hard Brexit” policy. Check out the video here, and see here for ‘I’m voting against Theresa May’s hard Brexit in the House of Lords this week – go ahead and call me an enemy of the people’, an article by Liberal Democrat peer William Wallace.

Congratulations to the House of Lords for doing what MPs in the House of Commons so dismally failed to do three weeks ago — guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK to stay in the country as Theresa May prepares to trigger Article 50, beginning two years of negotiations that will, apparently, end up with us no longer a member of the EU.

For May, the would-be tyrant who inherited Brexit as the unelected leader of the Tories after every other senior Tory resigned or was discredited after the EU referendum last June, the 3.3m EU citizens living and working in the UK are to be treated as “bargaining chips” in negotiations with the EU, allegedly to protect the rights of the 1.2m UK citizens living and working in other EU countries, but in reality because of the tendencies of May and her advisers towards xenophobia and unprovoked belligerence towards our fellow citizens in Europe.

A decent leader would, immediately after the referendum, have guaranteed EU nationals’ right to stay here, taking the moral high ground and exerting pressure on the EU to do the same for UK nationals in other EU countries, but decency no longer exists, I am ashamed to say, and is one of many reasons that the Britain I live in today is turning into a blinkered, inward-looking, self-pitying, isolationist little nation, hopelessly deluded about Britain’s significance in the world, aggressive towards everyone that disagrees with the alleged “will of the people” expressed last June in what was legally nothing more than an advisory referendum, and ruthlessly dedicated to cutting all ties with the EU, even though that will be the single most insane act of economic suicide in the lifetimes of anyone born after the end of the Second World War. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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