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.

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Grenfell Six Years On: Still Crying Out for Justice

Posters on Bramley Road in North Kensington, close to Grenfell Tower, June 14, 2023 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Six years ago today, on June 14, 2017, I watched in horror on the news as an inferno engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey block of council flats in North Kensington, in west London.

London — and the UK as a whole — would never be the same again.

Compelled to visit, as a photo-journalist covering London for my project ‘The State of London’, I cycled from my home in south east London on what was, objectively, a radiant sunny day, through a city that was going about its everyday business as though nothing had happened. It was only as I got closer and the charred, still smouldering skeleton of the tower finally rose up, make me feel slightly queasy and, disturbingly, rather ghoulish, that the enormity of what had occurred struck home.

On the ground, the local community had gone into overdrive to help the survivors, donating vast amounts of food and clothing, and seeking to do all they could to help, but, throughout this heartfelt humanitarian effort, it was clear that they were alone; no one in a position of authority was anywhere to be seen.

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Five Years Since the Grenfell Tower Fire, No Justice for Survivors, and No Safety For Hundreds of Thousands of People Trapped in Unsafe Flats

A tree decorated in memory of the 72 people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire, located close to the tower itself, on June 14, 2022, the fifth anniversary of the disaster (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Today marks five years since the Grenfell Tower fire, a disaster that led to the deaths of 72 people, when an inferno engulfed the 24-storey tower block in North Kensington that was their home.

The disaster was foretold by those who lived in Grenfell Tower, who had found themselves ignored until it was too late by the organisation responsible for their safety — the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), which had been given control, by Kensington and Chelsea Council, of all of its social housing.

In post after post on the website of the Grenfell Action Group, residents had repeatedly warned that the KCTMO was “an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of looking after the everyday management of large scale social housing estates.”

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Four Years After the Grenfell Tower Fire, It’s All About Profit and No Accountability As Millions Still Live in Buildings With Similarly Flammable Cladding

Grenfell Tower illuminated on the morning of June 14, 2021, the fourth anniversary of the fire that engulfed it, leading to the loss of 72 lives (Photo: Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard).

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Four years ago, when Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block in west London was engulfed in an inferno, leading to the deaths of 72 people, it became apparent that everyone with responsibility for the safety of the block’s residents had failed to fulfil their obligations.

Those with blood on their hands included the Tory government, obsessed with cutting “red tape”, and failing to implement the lessons learned from previous tower block fires, and the local council, Kensington and Chelsea, which, in common with councils across the capital and the country as a whole, have largely neglected the maintenance of their social housing, content to subject it to “managed decline”, despite receiving millions of pounds in rent, in a manner that resembles nothing less than the behaviour of slum landlords.

The process of “managed decline” eventually enables councils to claim that estates need to be demolished, even though they are responsible for their dilapidation in the first place, at which point developers magically appear with proposals to ”regenerate” the estates with a mix of private properties for sale (generally at least half of the new housing), along with other forms of housing described as “social housing” or “affordable housing”, even though, in reality, they tend to be dubious “shared ownership” deals, or rented properties that are much more expensive than those that have been demolished.

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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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