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[personal profile] fpb
There is plenty of blame to go around. Nobody is innocent, although the guiltiest parties will no doubt turn out to be the local Tory administration who seem – to judge by the fact that the police say that they may never know how many people died – not to even have had an updated list of the residents. How could anyone not know who lived where? And the matter of the cladding – which now turns out to be illegal in America; always, after such disasters, it turns out that some other administration had banned the thing which caused the disaster; and the suggestion that it was only put in as cheap insulation to meet green targets.

Then there is the building itself. My American friends with the Ayn Rand addiction – direct or indirect – will of course be blaming the very idea that the public sector should see to the housing of the working classes, as if no private homes had ever gone on fire. I know the cant by heart.
. But the matter is by no means so simple. London, like most other European cities, is full of popular homes built over a century, mostly but not exclusively by local socialist administrations. In London you can clearly see that the vast housing estates built between the nineteen-tens and the nineteen-fifties, by architects driven mainly by a sense of need and purpose – build the best houses you can at the least price, but with dignity and duration – produced buildings that nobody complained about: modest but dignified blocks of flats surrounded by green areas. But around the sixties, the sense of purpose was lost and the architects decided that their own artistry was the most important thing. The result was oversized, immense buildings of bare concrete, surpassingly ugly and often monstrously tall, which everyone except the architects loathed. The materials used – bare concrete and metal – seemed custom made to last badly and become ugly in English weather, unlike the tile and brick facing of many older GLC and Peabody Trust estates, and mixed with desolating and constant precision with garbage and dirt. I lived in one of them for a few years, and I can tell you that whatever you did to dignify and clean your own living space in the flat, as soon as you stepped out the door and into one of the bare concrete outside walkways so beloved by seventies architects, the depression set in. Everything about them was wrong; and while nobody is thinking of knocking down any of the older popular housing, many of the concrete carbuncles (thanks, Prince Charles) of the sixties and seventies have been righteously knocked down and replaced with old-fashioned English houses. (Even though that is itself a backward development, since London is in fact building more and more blocks of flats, in an obvious reaction to the insane price of land. But the hateful and traumatic nature of the concrete-and-steel erections is obviously such that people prefered to go back to the past.)

Grenfell Tower was a survivor of the bare-concrete age, kept standing in order to house the least fortunate locals. One reason why Britain does not have the devastating homeless problem that blights the USA is that local administrations have a statutory duty to find housing for the homeless. This reduces the blight on the streets, but at the risk of turning certain areas into human dumping grounds – which it is quite clear that Grenfell Tower was. This has been exasperated by the criminal idiocy of successive British governments. Margaret Thatcher – or, as I prefer to call her, Meg Thug – forbade local councils from building any more housing. At once, the largest single source of building orders in Britain dried up; and, guess what, in a few years people were complaining about a housing shortage. They never stopped. This insane order, an absolute triumph of blind ideological prejudice over sense and experience, was aggravated by the otherwise unexceptionable law that enabled residents of council developments to purchase (or better, lease for several decades – the tricky English property status known as leasehold) their own homes, and, less admirably, to lease council housing for rent to third parties. This meant that, while pressures on public housing increased, the stock diminished. To increase it somehow, the local authorities were driven to make deals with private developers and dubious “housing associations”, in the name of the all-holy Private Sector, more expensively and less efficiently than they had been able to do in the past – but at least keeping the stock going somehow and finding places to send the homeless. When Tony Blair – or the Tory Blur, as I prefer to call him – came to power, he, in his eagerness to flatter Thugcherism and Thugcherites, would not even consider altering these senseless restrictions, and the housing crisis continued unabated. That is why Jeremy Corbyn blamed these Tory laws for the disaster, and he had a point. Incidentally, the reason for Corbyn's otherwise unaccountable popularity is his recovery of a simple and by no means extreme left-wing program full of the things that the Tory Blur had wiped from the slate, thus forcing the whole arc of British politics in a tight and Thugcherite stranglehold. Corbyn's own predilections for the likes of Hamas may be unlovely, but in general and especially domestic policy he has done nothing but recover the ordinary and not at all subversive policies of any left party before the Tory Blur blurred things.

One of the horrible things about tower blocks and skyscrapers in London – and while seventies tower blocks are thankfully going down, monstrous skyscrapers, much taller than the most pretentious of blocks, are going up all over the city in a phallic homage to the pretensions of international wealth – is that, whether or not it is at all possible for a fire department to fight a fire in one, it is not for the London fire brigade. Their equipment only reaches to the twentieth floor; a limit that doomed the miserable people, God rest their souls, seen calling for help, any help, from windows thirty and more floors above the ground. I know nothing about firefighting; I certainly do not know whether equipment that can deal with fires above twenty floors up even exists. But this I do know, because it has been clearly said as the horror was unfolding, that if such equipment exists, the London fire brigade don't have it. And this in a city whose politicians and developers seem hell-bent on turning its traditionally low-rise landscape into a forest of skyscrapers. Today it was the working-class and unemployed of Grenfell Tower who suffered; tomorrow it may be some absurd conglomeration of Russian and Arab expatriate millionaires, equally doomed to a horrible death in a heaven-reaching trap with no hope of escape. (Yes, I imagine their internal fire defences will be much better than those available to the poor Grenfell Tower victims. But I am talking of a worst-case scenario – sprinklers failing and such – and such scenarios have a nasty knack of materializing.)

Finally, and I am sad to have to say this, because it is about a body of men I admire and respect. But whoever wrote those instructions to the Grenfell Tower residents – in case of fire, stay put and wait for rescue – has blood on his hands. The point is clear: it is the usual dislike of specialists and bureaucrats for the messy, ignorant, loud public getting in their way. But in this case, the excuse for this idiotic order – that the fire service would take no more than an hour to reach the high floors – in a raging fire and among hundreds of terrified people to be evacuated somehow – is nothing more than a fantasy. A literally homicidal fantasy.

There is plenty of blame available for everyone, as you see. And I hope the promised public inquiry will deal it out in large doses.

Date: 2017-06-17 03:20 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] penta
Speaking as an American, the thing that stunned me and made me want to scream with rage...Actually, two things:

1. Major renovation recently completed, but no sprinklers installed internally or externally.
2. Only one staircase. This second point is something American buildings have been required to prevent for literally a century, and is precisely why in the US you are told to use the stairs in case of a fire - the staircase in an American building is built to survive almost any kind of fire scenario.


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