Grenfell Tower - should it be allowed to stand as a monument to the greed and selfishness of recent times?
The best piece I've read on the Grenfell Tower disaster, via social media, from prominent English writer and academic Phil Smith.
The Grenfell Tower disaster is no accident. Whether it be inflammable cladding, or the failure to replace fire-retardant sections after the replacement of the heating pipes, or the failure of the Government to enact the proposals of some all-party Parliamentary committee or of an inquest on a previous catastrophe in 2009.... let’s not delude ourselves when it comes to cause and effect. This is the 21st century’s ‘Herald of Free Enterprise’ – the equivalent of the moment when, in 1987, the practise of saving time (and increasing profits) by embarking with the bay doors open led to the sinking of a ferry and the deaths of 193 people. The good people of Grenfell Tower like the passengers of the ‘Herald of Free Enterprise’ were killed by an idea. The idea that profit is not just good, but god; that all will be well so long as all is geared to the making of profit. That so long as profit is worshipped, openly or surreptitiously, boldly or embarrassedly, and all constraints upon that worship – planning regulation, safety provisions, building standards, courtesy, even the right to life – are put aside, all will, as a side effect of profit-making, be well. That even where there is not a profit to be made directly, still the values and priorities of the unfettered market must prevail over safety and the right to life. This is an idea fired by indifference to others as a kind of altruism, by contempt for others as a kind of pragmatic concern; by obscene disparities of comfort and wealth not just as the given reality but as marks of the virtues of some and the worthlessness of others. A shrug of the shoulders; ‘that’s life!’
Well, now we can see – everyone can see – in the shadow of a smoking gravestone in the middle of our capital city, that that is not life. That that idea is death. The pursuit of profit is morbid. It does not make the world go around, it brings lives to a halt (sometimes bodily, more often soulfully). And yet that idea, in its mostly unrestricted form – from the stark privatisations of Thatcher through the war-mongering of Blair on behalf of the giant US weapons corporations to the sneaky watering down of the remnants of public service and control under Cameron and May – has been the dominant force for two generations, unpicking the gains of the moderate, but efficacious reforms after the Second World War. The privations and the shared suffering of that war was partly responsible for creating the rising idea of solidarity that gave us the welfare state, the National Health Service and the nationalisation of many services and industries in 1945. The last few weeks are, in a small way, comparable – every week seems to bring a fresh horror, bodies are mutilated and blood is spilled in familiar streets – made all the more bitter by knowing that this carnage is magnified a hundred or many hundreds of times elsewhere. All lives are precious, and all lives – disproportionately – are at risk when morbidity, exploitation and war are the driving principles of a society; and in the face of the blood-spilling and the mutilation and given the opportunity to vote on such things, there has been an enormous swell and current towards social solidarity.
The UK general election a few days ago surprised many people. It did not surprise me. As a rare non-Labour Party member in our household I was the one who remained confident when Labour was 20 points behind in the polls. Why? Because of the idea: the Labour Party manifesto, for whatever the weaknesses of its detail, articulated to people an idea at odds with unbridled profit-making, and in support of a redistribution of wealth and power. I was always confident that if the alternative could be spoken, the response would come. Because it was, unlike the previous 35 years of Labour politics, a rejection of The Idea. The Idea to which that smoking horror in Kensington is the tomb.
As, over the next few days, the nexus of indifference, profiteering, tokenism and deathliness is unpeeled and unveiled and defrocked, nothing that happens can make up for the deaths of people who died without need or justification. Yet, equally so, nothing would be more obscene than to allow the death-idea to prevail when they have perished. And nothing could be so heinous as to allow the usual procedure of the ‘shock doctrine’ to continue; for if you think my politicising of the deaths of so many so soon is in bad taste, it is nothing to the rubbing of hands of those who are already enthused by the prospect of wiping the slate clean, starting from scratch, and erecting a block of luxury flats (with some provision of ‘affordable’ housing, that unfortunately is less than had been hoped for...) on the site of Grenfell Tower. Far better – than that – to never demolish the skeleton of Grenfell Tower but rather to let it stand as a gravestone to the deathly idea of lonely profit over generous togetherness, of division over solidarity, of exploitation over the philosophy of those who offer a mattress and a bag of clothes. In the next few days, there are due to be protests against the May government for persisting in pursuit of power and self-interest despite its failure to secure a democratic majority; I hope these protests will be now swelled and transformed, given how much is at stake, into a living indictment of what this country has become and a prefiguring of how much better it could so quickly and so gracefully be.