Britain’s 9/11 and Cannibalistic Capitalism: The Grenfell Tower Fire, Seven Years On

Remembering the 72 children, women and men who died in the Grenfell Tower fire on June 14, 2017: a graphic produced by Grenfell United and posted on X.

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You might be thinking that’s an outrageous analogy. Apart from the visual similarities between burning towers, how can I compare an attack by a foreign entity on the tallest buildings in New York’s banking centre with an unfortunate accident that befell the inhabitants of a tower block of social housing in a historically deprived area of west London?

The reason I make the analogy is because the Grenfell Tower fire, on June 14, 2017, wasn’t an accident, as such; it was the inevitable result of a system of deliberate neglect, and the deliberate erosion of safety standards, for those living in high-rise housing, which came about because of the deliberate creation of what I believe we’re entitled to call cannibalistic capitalism; or, if you prefer, economic terrorism, knowingly inflicted on civilians by politicians and almost the entire building industry.

Terrorism is the deliberate targeting of civilians for political or ideological aims, and at Grenfell, seven years ago, 72 people died because, over the previous four decades, a system of providing safe and secure rented housing was eroded and largely erased, replaced with a new ideology that, under Margaret Thatcher, sought to eliminate the state provision of housing, selling it off via the notorious ‘Right to Buy’ policy, demonising those who still lived in social housing, portraying them as shirkers and scroungers and reclassifying them as inferior, or second-class citizens, cutting funding for maintenance and repairs, and transferring as much of the remaining social housing as possible to less accountable, or, seemingly, completely unaccountable public-private entities.

Read the rest of this entry »

WORLD PREMIERE: ‘The Battle for Deptford’ – New Documentary Film Tells the Story of the Struggle to Save the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden

A shot from the new documentary film ‘The Battle for Deptford’, directed by Hat Vickers.

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This Thursday, April 28, sees the world premiere of ‘The Battle for Deptford’, a new documentary film, directed by Hat Vickers, about the long struggle to save the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a community garden in Deptford, in south east London, and Reginald House, a block of council flats next door, from destruction for a new housing development.

The struggle, which involved campaigners fighting for years to get the council and the developers (Peabody and Sherrygreen Homes) to change the plans, sparing the garden and Reginald House from destruction, culminated in the occupation of the garden for two months, from August to October 2018, until its violent eviction by bailiffs hired by Lewisham Council.

After many months in which the council, at exorbitant cost, paid bailiffs to guard the empty garden, the last of the trees were torn down in February 2019, but building work didn’t begin until October 2020. 18 months on, it’s an ugly building site, with dense blocks of housing rising up, and little sign of any significant green space materialising, let alone anything to rival the beautiful lost garden.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Four Fathers Release New Existential Song ‘The Wheel of Life’, As Bandcamp Waives Its Revenue Share to Help Musicians

The cover of ‘The Wheel of Life’ by The Four Fathers, designed by drummer Bren Horstead.

My band The Four Fathers have just released the last of three songs we recorded before the coronavirus hit, with the multi-talented musician and producer Charlie Hart, whose illustrious career involves playing with Ian Dury in Kilburn and the High Roads, many years with Ronnie Lane, after he left the Faces, in Slim Chance, and several occasions spent working with the wonderful Congolese singer Samba Mapangala.

The release is ‘The Wheel of Life’, a meditation on aging, and on the importance of living in the moment, which I hope has some resonance right now, as we all try to cope with the impact of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which brought our thoughtlessly excessive lifestyles to an abrupt halt three months ago, but which has also precipitated a forthcoming recession of possibly terrifying proportions, as well as silencing all forms of culture that involves live interaction at close quarters.

Live music is just one the casualties of this strange new world, and while we try to work out how to resume entertaining one another in a live context, creative people are suffering. In an attempt to help, Bandcamp, the US online music service, which we use in preference to streaming companies, has been waiving its fees on specific days throughout the coronavirus lockdowns, starting on March 20, when music fans spent “$4.3 million on music and merch — 15x the amount of a normal Friday — helping artists cover rents, mortgages, groceries, medications, and so much more”, and followed by May 1, when fans paid artists $7.1 million, and June 5, when fans paid artists $4.8 million.

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The Four Fathers Release New Song ‘Affordable’, Marking the Anniversary of the Destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden’s Trees

The cover of the Four Fathers’ new online single, ‘Affordable’, released on March 3, 2020.

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Last Thursday, February 27, marked a sad anniversary for environmental activists and housing campaigners, as it was the first anniversary of the destruction of the 74 mature and semi-mature trees that made up the magical tree cover of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, in south east London, which provided an autonomous green space in a built-up urban area, and also mitigated the worst effects of pollution generated by traffic on nearby Deptford Church Street, where particulate levels have been measured at six times the safety levels recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Unfortunately, the struggle to save the trees, which had been ongoing since 2012, largely took place before environmental activism went mainstream, via the actions of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, although this was not just an environmental issue. The destruction of the garden was also part of a proposal by Lewisham Council and housing developers to build a new housing development on the site, one that desperate, dissembling councillors sought to sell to the public as providing much-needed new social homes, when the reality, as with almost all current housing developments, is that a significant number of the new homes are for private sale, existing council housing is to be destroyed, and its replacement will be homes that are described as “affordable”, when they are no such thing.

Instead, the allegedly “affordable” component of the development is a mixture of properties at ‘London Affordable Rent’, which, in Lewisham, is 63% higher for a two-bedroom flat than traditional social rents, and ‘shared ownership’, a notorious scam, whereby, in exchange for a hefty upfront payment, occupants are made to believe that they own a share of the property (typically 25%), whereas, in reality, they are only assured tenants unless they find a way to own the property outright, and, along the way, have to pay rent on the share of the property that they don’t, even nominally, own, and are also often subjected to massive — and unregulated — service charges.

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Violent and Unforgivable: The Destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford

The destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden on February 27, 2019 (photo by David Aylward).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

Today is my birthday, and I find myself in a reflective place, looking, at one side, on death and destruction, and, on the other, at life and love and solidarity.

Perhaps this is appropriate at the age of 56, when I am neither young nor truly old — and, believe me, I reflect on aging, and mortality, and what it means, with some regularity, as my restless brain refuses to settle, endlessly asking questions and seeking new perspectives and insights into the human condition. But that is not why I’m in this reflective place today.

Yesterday, in the hallucinatory light and heat of one of the hottest February days in London’s history, I stood on a small triangle of grass by the horrendously polluted Deptford Church Street in south east London, and watched as a small group of tree-killers, SDL Solutions, brought in from Gloucestershire, tore down almost all the trees in a beautiful community garden, the Old Tidemill Garden, whose tree canopy, which would imminently have returned as spring arrives, had, over 20 years, become an increasingly efficient absorber of that horrendous pollution. 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 »

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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