Grenfell One Year On: How Can We Feel Safe in a Country That Regards Everyone in Social Housing as Inferior?

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Exactly one year, ago, an inferno engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block in north Kensington, in west London, with such speed and ferocity that 71 people died, and a 72nd person died this January as a result of injuries sustained that night.

It was a disaster that should never have happened, and the fact that it did cuts to the heart of how Britain operates in the 21st century.

The tower block was built of essentially incombustible concrete, and the process known as compartmentalisation was meant to ensure that any fire that broke out would be contained within the flat in which it broke out, with every other flat supposed to be able to resist the spread of fire for an hour, giving the fire services time to arrive on the scene.

In fact, fire leapt up the tower like nothing anyone had seen before, clearly indicating that every safety measure that was supposed to prevent an inferno had drastically failed. At the heart of the disaster were measures taken that had fatally corrupted the structural integrity of the tower. In order to make the tower appear more attractive, new cladding had been applied to it, but the cladding was flammable, and had created the inferno that took so many lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Eddie Daffarn, Who Foresaw the Grenfell Tower Fire, Interviewed by Channel 4 News as the Official Inquiry Begins

Photos of 21 of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire on June 14, 2017, in which 71 people are acknowledged to have died - and a 72nd victim died of injuries sustained in January 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

This has been a significant week for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire last June, when 72 people died in a disaster that should never have happened. On Monday, the official inquiry began, with survivors’ testimony that has been taking place all week after the inquiry’s chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, called the fire “the single greatest tragedy to befall [London] since the second world war”, and “pledged that survivors’ testimony would be treated as ‘integral evidence’ in proceedings which could run into 2020”, as the Guardian described it.

The Guardian’s detailed coverage of the hearings this week is here — Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four and Day Five — and, from the beginning, the testimony was extraordinarily powerful.

As the Guardian described it, “Marcio Gomes, the father of Logan Gomes, the disaster’s youngest victim who was stillborn after his mother went into a coma, showed the several hundred gathered survivors, support workers, lawyers and journalists an ultrasound scan of his son and told them how he had been left ‘broken.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Britain’s Broken Democracy: Tories Become UKIP, Media Ignores Labour Gains, Labour Continues Estate Demolitions

An image of a voter and a polling station sign.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

What a generally dispiriting occasion Thursday’s council elections were. On housing, which is the most pressing issue in the lives of over half the population, there was almost no acknowledgement, from either of the main parties, that we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis of affordability and of security of tenure. Labour councils, even those that are actively engaged in demolishing council estates and replacing them with new developments with private developers, from which local people will largely be excluded, were largely undamaged at the polls, while the Tory heartlands generally held firm. 

Pundits observed that UKIP were almost wiped out, with establishment commentators suggesting that this was some sort of triumph of common sense in merrie olde England, whereas the truth is that the post-Brexit Conservative Party under Theresa May has actually become UKIP, and, as a result, the truth is considerably more alarming than lazy pundits suggest. As for Labour, the mainstream media furiously tried to portray their modest gains, and their considerable overall majority of councils and councillors, as some sort of sign of failure, which it very obviously isn’t. Some independent analysts suggested, plausibly, that Remain voters sent a powerful message to the Tories, and to Labour under the hazy, instinctively Eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn, that the EU was significant battleground in the elections, but in general the elections played out as a showdown between the two big dogs of English politics, Labour and the Tories, in which overall, there was little change, because, overall, little change is actually possible. In our wretched, complacent first-past-the-post system, very little is actually to play for, and while the damage this inflicts on a broad platform of viewpoints is always apparent in a general election, local elections somehow get far less scrutiny, even though their outcomes are often even more damaging for democracy.

In Lewisham, where I live, for example, 60% of those who voted cast their votes for the Labour Party, but Labour walked off with 100% of the council seats. 

How is that supposed to be fair? Read the rest of this entry »

A Defence of Social Housing in a Resolutely Hostile Political Environment

The destruction of Robin Hood Gardens Estate, in Poplar, east London, photographed on December 12, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Tomorrow, Londoners will go to the polls to vote in council elections in the capital’s 32 boroughs,and across the UK there will also be elections in 34 metropolitan boroughs, 67 district and borough councils and 17 unitary authorities.

Voting ought to be a simple matter. The Tories, under Theresa May, are spectacularly useless and, wherever possible, cruel. Engaged in an effort to implement Brexit that seems to be destroying them, they are also gasping from one scandal to another — the latest being the Windrush fiasco, initiated by Theresa May, who is, to be blunt, a racist, and this whole racist disaster demonstrates quite how unpleasant they are.

And yet, if you care about fairness and social justice — in the specific context of housing, the biggest issue facing Londoners today, as well as many, many other people around the country — then voting for the Labour Party is not, in general, to be recommended, leaving a giant hole where participation in the democratic process ought to be. Read the rest of this entry »

My Gratitude to the NHS, Seven Years After I Developed A Rare Blood Disease and Nearly Lost Two Toes

Andy Worthington in St. Thomas's Hospital, March 23, 2011 (Photo: Dot Young).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Seven years ago yesterday, I was admitted to hospital after suffering for two months with severe pain in two toes on my right foot. As a human rights campaigner, it was, I thought, somewhat ironic that I was in such pain that I was suffering from sleep deprivation, unable to sleep for more than a few minutes before being jolted awake in excruciating pain, a situation that lasted for at least a month, if I recall correctly after all this time.

Eventually, doctors worked out that I had a blood clot, which was what was turning my toes black, but it wasn’t until I was admitted to hospital — and, specifically, St. Thomas’s, where I was taken on March 20, that specialists worked out what to do for me — or, rather, what they would try, to see if it worked — which involved me, for five days, having what felt like liquid cement pumped into me, in an effort to widen the artery that fed my toes and, ultimately, to save them. (I wrote about my experience at the time, in an article entitled, Intimations of Mortality — And Why This Is the View From My Bedroom).

Their endeavours, I’m very glad to say, were successful. After 12 days in hospital, thoroughly marinaded in morphine (a miraculous pain-killer that doctors work hard to prevent mere mortals from having access to on a regular basis, presumably to prevent the world from being overrun with morphine addicts), I returned home, to resume my life, to allow my toes to fully heal, and, eventually, to start a new life. Read the rest of this entry »

Finally! Theresa May and the Tories Suffer a Major Defeat on Brexit as MPs Secure a Meaningful Vote on the Final Deal

The Theresa May Brexit float, set up by campaigners for the UK to remain in the EU.

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Congratulations to MPs, who, yesterday evening (December 13), voted by 309 votes to 305 to give themselves a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal that Theresa May and her small clique of dangerous and deluded Brexit fantasists were planning to pass without including MPs at all.

In the end, the Labour leadership persuaded all but two of its MPs (Frank Field and Kate Hoey) to vote for the amendment, in a move that was obviously difficult for those from constituencies that voted Leave. The amendment was tabled by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, and its supporters in the Labour Party, and all the smaller parties except the DUP, were joined by eleven Tory rebels — as well as Dominic Grieve, Heidi Allen, Ken Clarke, Jonathan Djanogly, Stephen Hammond, Sir Oliver Heald, Nicky Morgan, Robert Neill, Antointette Sandbach, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston. Hammond, a vice chairman of the party, was almost immediately sacked, and the Daily Mail proceeded to damn the rebels on its front page, causing Keir Starmer to comment, in a tweet, “When judges uphold the law, they are branded enemies of the people. When MPs uphold democracy, they are branded traitors. Never has it been more important to reassert our values.”

In a day of passionate debating in Parliament, which often saw the Tory right attacking their colleagues, as tends to be the way with Brexiteers, who are prone to threats and hysteria, Dominic Grieve gave a passionate half-hour speech regarding his amendment. He “warned that the bill as it stood would unleash ‘a form of constitutional chaos’”, as the Guardian described it. He “said he had sought to engage with ministers to find a compromise, but without success: ‘The blunt reality is, and I’m sorry to have to say this to the house, I’ve been left in the lurch, as a backbench member trying to improve this legislation.'” Labour’s Yvette Cooper said, “This is an important moment. The House of Commons has tonight voted against the government’s attempt to concentrate power and against letting a small group of ministers take crucial decisions on the details of Brexit without Parliament having a meaningful vote.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Crime of Destroying Social Housing in London – and the Significance (Or Not) of Jeremy Corbyn’s Response

A photo of the first stage of demolition on the Heygate Estate in Southwark, south east London, in April 2011 (Photo: Lotte Sheedy for the Architects Journal).This is my 2900th article since I began writing here on a full-time basis in May 2007. If you like what I do, please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

A great crime is taking place in London — the destruction of social housing estates by councils, who, squeezed of cash by central government, and, for decades, prevented from spending money on social housing, have entered into deals with private developers, in which housing — primarily estates — that the councils claim they have no money to refurbish are demolished, and replaced by new developments that offer huge profits for the developers, but that provide no social housing, or a risibly small amount.

In recent years, the purely private developers have been joined by housing associations, the preferred choice of governments, since the time of Margaret Thatcher, for managing social housing. However, with their central funding completely cut by the Tories since 2010, they have also been obliged to embark upon more and more developments featuring a large component of private housing to subsidise their properties for rent.

A further complication is that, in one of the most cynically breathtaking acts of spin in modern British history, the social housing provided is generally what is officially termed “affordable,” but which, in reality, is not affordable at all for most Londoners. Boris Johnson, during his eight destructive years as London’s Mayor, set “affordable” rents at 80% of market rents, and in most of London — if not all — market rents are so out of control that those on the median income in London (the level at which 50% of workers earn more, and 50% earn less) are paying up to 70% of their wages on rent, when the acceptable model — in pre-Thatcher days — used to be that no one should pay more than a third of their income, just as, before the insane bubble that has more or less existed since New Labour took office in 1997, the acceptable cost of a house was no more than three and a half times a worker’s income. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Play Anti-Austerity Song ‘Riot’, Released on Sixth Anniversary of UK Riots

Listen to ‘Riot’ hereA photo of the London riots in August 2011., and watch the live video here.

Exactly six years ago, on August 6, 2011, riots erupted across the UK. The trigger had been the killing, by police, of Mark Duggan in Tottenham in north London the day before, and for the next three days there were riots across the country — the largest riots in modern British history, as 14,000 people took to the streets.

As I wrote back in May, when my band The Four Fathers released our song, ‘Riot’, which was partly inspired by the 2011 riots, “Buildings and vehicles were set on fire, there was widespread looting, and, afterwards, the police systematically hunted down everyone they could find that was involved — particularly through an analysis of CCTV records — and the courts duly delivered punitive sentences as a heavy-handed deterrent.”

I wrote about the riots at the time, in an article entitled, The UK “Riots” and Why the Vile and Disproportionate Response to It Made Me Ashamed to be British, and my song ‘Riot’ followed up on my inability to accept that the British establishment’s response to the riots had been either proportionate or appropriate. Read the rest of this entry »

Message to Jeremy Corbyn: You Represent Hope Not Just Because You Oppose Austerity, But Because You Must Save Us From Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU prior to last June's EU referendum.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

It’s over a month since the General Election, which destroyed Theresa May as any sort of credible leader. Having called an election, despite repeatedly promising not to, she then showed a startling inability to meet ordinary people and to connect with them, in complete contrast to Jeremy Corbyn, and ended up losing her majority, instead of increasingly it massively, as was forecast, forcing her into a humiliating deal with the backwards religious fundamentalists of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party just to keep her government in power.

Corbyn, meanwhile, thrived on the campaign trail. Finally freed from the liberal media’s shameful negative portrayal of him (which had been pretty relentless for two years), because of the liberal establishment’s accepted need for something more closely resembling objectivity on the campaign trail, he was revealed as a leader with the common touch, able to connect with and empathise with ordinary people effortlessly. His supporters always knew this about him, but it had been suppressed by the media — and by Labour rebels — since his election as leader two years ago.

Some of Corbyn’s success came about because of Theresa May’s uselessness. She scored a huge own goal by refusing to debate with him on live TV, and she made colossal errors of her own beyond her woodenness and her apparently very real fear of actually meeting people: the so-called “dementia tax”, for example, an effort to address the costs of care for elderly people that was immediately seized upon — by Conservative voters and the right-wing media, as well as almost everyone else — as a classic “nasty party” attack on the security, savings and assets of the elderly. Read the rest of this entry »

After Grenfell, Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release New Single, ‘London’, A Savage Portrait of the UK Capital Hollowed Out By Greed

The cover of The Four Fathers' new single 'London', released on June 23, 2017.In the wake of last week’s entirely preventable inferno at Grenfell Tower in west London, in which, officially, 79 people died (although the real total may well be over 300), the horrendous loss of life — and the fact that it was entirely preventable — has forced London’s housing crisis to the top of the political agenda, although to be honest, that is where it should have been for the whole of the 21st century.

The latest online single released by my band The Four Fathers (also on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), ‘London’ deals largely with the housing crisis, as part of a love song to the city going back to the 1980s. I moved to Brixton in 1985, and in the song I provide my personal take on how the wild and chaotic capital of the 1980s and 1990s has been overtaken by a focus on greed and the dull, soul-sapping, materialistic values of “gentrification,” and how, in this dysfunctional new world, the vibrant dissent of the 80s and 90s has largely been silenced, and those in charge of housing — endlessly putting profit before the needs of people — have razed neighbourhoods to the ground and given the capital city a lobotomy.

Listen to the single below — and buy it as a download if you wish: 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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