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 »

Photos: The Protest Against Theresa May Outside Downing Street, June 17, 2017

'Safe housing is a right not a privilege': a placard at the 'Protest Against Theresa May' outside Downing Street on June 17, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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The text below is adapted from the accompanying text for my photos on Flickr.

Yesterday, I cycled into central London to join a ‘Protest Against Theresa May’ that had been called by the journalist Owen Jones and the writer Sara Hanna-Black, and that was attended by thousands of people.

I hope you have time to check out my photos, as there was no shortage of witty and angry placards aimed at Theresa May, especially after her disastrously poor response to the terrible fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London on Wednesday. For my response to the Grenfell disaster, see Deaths Foretold at Grenfell Tower: Let This Be The Moment We The People Say “No More” to the Greed That Killed Residents.

What a difference two months can make in politics. When Theresa May called a snap election at the start of April, she was 20 points ahead of Labour in the polls, and presumed that she would win a landslide victory. Then, on the campaign trail, she was wooden, aloof and unsympathetic, and her manifesto was a disaster, containing a provision for care funding for older people that was instantly dubbed the “dementia tax”, and was vilified by many of her own supporters, and even by the media that generally supported her unconditionally. 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 »

Corbyn Rises, Theresa May Falls; Hard Brexit Now Looks Untenable

A Jeremy Corbyn 'Hope' poster by Posterrity.com on Deviant Art.

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What a great, great, great, great, great day for the fundamental decency of so many of the British people, after seven long years of cruelty, mean-mindedness and division.

Last night was, undoubtedly, Jeremy Corbyn’s night. Vilified by the media since winning the Labour leadership contest in September 2015, he nevertheless survived a cynical coup implemented, insanely, the day after the EU referendum by the Blairites in his own party, when Labour should have been focusing all their energies on discrediting the Tories, and two months ago, when Theresa May cynically called a General Election, he finally got to shine.

In complete contrast to the Prime Minister — shifty, aloof, paranoid, disdainful, dismissive, invisible — Corbyn staged an honest and heartfelt assault on the disgraceful and horrendously damaging “age of austerity” the Tories introduced in 2010 — pretending that the bankers’ 2008 crimes were the fault of Labour’s investment in public services, and using it as an excuse to try to destroy the state provision of services almost entirely, to remove the safety net of the welfare state, and, for good measure, to relentlessly kick those who then fell into abject poverty and misery; primarily, the disabled and the unemployed. 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 »

The Spectacular and Unforeseen Collapse of Theresa May and the Tories

An image that appeared on social media deriding Theresa May as "weak and wobbly" rather than the "strong and stable" leader she obsessively insisted she was. The "weak and wobbly" phrase was invented by Michael Crick of Channel 4 News.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.





 

Something extraordinary is happening in the UK, as Theresa May has turned a 20-point lead over the Labour Party into a three-point lead in the course of just one month, in what has been, without any advance warning, the most inept leadership performance by a Prime Minister in living memory.

Just two months ago, I was so thoroughly sickened by the relentless pro-Tory bias in the broadcast media — including most of the BBC’s output, and even Channel 4 News — that I stopped watching the news altogether. It has long been well-known to anyone paying attention that around 80% of Britain’s print media is implacably Tory, but it was a shock to see how, steadily, since the slavish coverage of Nigel Farage in 2014-15, the broadcast media had also become right-wing in what appeared to be a deeply entrenched manner, with a disgracefully high proportion of right-wing panellists and audience members on Question Time every week, with the transparent pro-Tory bias of Laura Kuennsberg on BBC News, and even Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News becoming notorious for most aggressively questioning anyone left-wing.

I didn’t stop reading the news online, particularly via the Guardian’s website, which I visit every day, and I continued to engage with the issues via social media, where, of  course, a vibrant left-leaning community exists, but I could no longer take the stress of watching and listening to a permanent biased media defend what ought to have been indefensible — Theresa May bullying everyone into silence regarding the self-inflicted madness of Brexit and also using it as a cover for the Tories continuing to lay waste to Britain’s essential services. Read the rest of this entry »

On Brexit, MPs Give Away Sovereignty, Vote to Allow Theresa May to Do Whatever She Wants

A cartoon (provenance unknown) depicting the dangers of the UK leaving the EU.Please support my work as a freelance investigative journalist and commentator.

 

What a disgrace the majority of MPs have shown themselves to be, as they have voted, by 494 votes to 122, to pass the government’s derisory little bill allowing Theresa May to “notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.”

Although numerous amendments were tabled — seven by Labour, others by other parties — all failed to be passed. On Tuesday, an amendment by Labour’s Chris Leslie, stating that “the government should not be allowed to agree a Brexit deal until it has been passed by both Houses of Parliament,” was defeated by 326 votes to 293 — a majority of 33 — including seven Tory rebels: as well as serial Brexit rebel Ken Clarke, the rebels were Heidi Allen, Bob Neill, Claire Perry, Antoinette Sandbach, Anna Soubry and Andrew Tyrie.

And last night, before the final vote, there was another blow — this one not to the hard-won sovereignty of Parliament, given away by MPs as though it was nothing, but to the three million EU nationals who live and work in the UK, when the amendment by Labour’s Harriet Harman, in her capacity as the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, guaranteeing EU nationals the right to stay in the UK, was defeated by 332 votes to 290 — a majority of 42. On this amendment, there were three Tory rebels — Ken Clarke, Tania Mathias and Andrew Tyrie. Read the rest of this entry »

On Brexit, What a Pathetic, Leaderless Country We Have Become

A Brexit illustration for the Guardian by Nate Kitch.Please support my work as a freelance investigative journalist and commentator.

 

In America and around the world, the apocalyptic nightmare of Donald Trump and his administration is provoking widespread protest. In the UK, meanwhile, as deluded nationalists led by the Prime Minister Theresa May forge ahead with pushing for our departure from the EU as a result of last June’s narrow victory for the Leave campaign in an advisory referendum in which 27.9% of the electorate couldn’t even be bothered to vote, almost no one is standing up for the 16.1 million people — myself included — who voted for Remain.

It is as if, at a general election, the party that wins gets the right to prevent the opposition from criticising them at all, and also gets to completely ignore everything that those who voted for the opposition believes, when it contradicts what the winning party thinks.

How is this possible? The wretched referendum, whose outcome was not legally binding, was so blunt and inadequate a tool that it failed to specify what leaving the EU would entail, or, indeed, whether that would be acceptable to voters. And yet, under Theresa May and her three Brexiteers — David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox — no questions about the form Brexit might take — let alone whether it might not be a good idea to accept the result of an advisory referendum that might end up being economically suicidal — was allowed. Read the rest of this entry »

Britain’s Ongoing Brexit Woes: Nero Had Nothing on Deluded Theresa May and Her Inadequate Ministers

Theresa May flanked by police - a fitting image for the fundamental lack of openness and trust exhibited by our unelected leader.Nearly four months on from the EU referendum, and Britain is in meltdown — and yet the Tory government and its unelected leader, Theresa May, continue to behave as though nothing is wrong, while what springs to my mind is the Emperor Nero, fiddling while Rome burned.

You can see how delusional the Tory leadership’s state of mind is from a few facts from last week: the pound slumping in value to a 168-year low, and the Treasury — yes, the economic heart of the government itself — pointing out that “Britain will lose up to £66 billion a year if it pursues the so-called ‘hard Brexit’ option of leaving the single market and EU customs union,” as the Independent described it, adding, “Government figures suggest the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) could fall by as much as 9.5 per cent if it leaves the EU and reverts to World Trade Organisation rules.”

I examined the folly of the “hard Brexit” option — and the alarming racism evident at the Conservative Party conference — in an article last week, Theresa May and the Conservative Party’s Alarming White Fascist Aspirations. Read the rest of this entry »

On Brexit, the Labour Party, With Its Blundering and Pointless Coup, Lost Its Best Opportunity Ever to Attack the Tories

A placard on the huge march in support of refugees in London on September 12, 2015, the same day that Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party (Photo: Andy Worthington).I find it hard to express sufficiently my contempt for the Labour MPs who, on the day the EU referendum result was announced, squandered one of the greatest opportunities in the Labour Party’s history for attacking the Tories by, instead, launching a pathetic coup against their democratically elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

With half the country reeling in shock, the economy in freefall, and David Cameron announcing his resignation, it should have been child’s play to point out that Cameron had called a referendum he didn’t want for the most narrow and cowardly of political reasons (to appease Eurosceptic members of his own party, and UKIP), and that Boris Johnson, who had won it, had also done so for narrow political reasons, to advance his own career, and, moreover, didn’t even believe in the cause for which he had been campaigning.

Instead, a coup that had been planned for months, but that was not initially intended to take place straight after the referendum, was brought forward, and enacted with a drip-feed of resignations that focused the media’s attention almost exclusively on Labour’s meltdown. As a result, criticism of the referendum, and of its result, evaporated. 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 (The State of London).
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