16 June 2017

A fire in London

Around 1:00 AM on Wednesday, a fire broke out in the Grenfell Tower, a 24-story apartment building (some might say "tenement") in London housing about 500 people.  Partly due to flammable cladding on the outside of the building, the fire spread rapidly.  The building had only a single stairwell and fire alarms did not work.  The BBC has pictures of the results here.  45 fire trucks and hundreds of firefighters struggled for hours to defeat the fire.  The battle was marked by dramatic events such as a woman trapped on the ninth floor throwing her baby to a man on the ground (he caught it successfully).  So far 30 people are confirmed dead, and the final number will certainly be much higher.

Though near an affluent area, Grenfell Tower was public housing and a high proportion of the residents were immigrants and minorities.  Residents and even the fire department had long complained that the building was dangerous, with its flammable cladding and nonexistent or ill-maintained safety systems, but nothing was done.  Similar accusations have been made about other low-income housing in the area.

Last week's shock national election result in the UK, in which the Conservative party barely clung to power while the opposition Labour party made dramatic gains, was largely a verdict on the Conservative agenda of austerity and deregulation (some American blogs took it as a rejection of Brexit, but the only significant national party that repudiated Brexit, the Liberal Democrats, lost big).  In the popular vote, the Conservatives beat Labour by only 42% to 40%.

And now, the Grenfell Tower fire is rapidly becoming a symbol of the fruits of the Conservatives' agenda.  Regulations had been loosened, money to local authorities for enforcement and maintenance had been cut, and politicians had vented punitive and contemptuous attitudes toward the poor (sounds depressingly familiar).  Guardian writer Polly Toynbee sums up the harsh indictment, and this collection of stories shows how anger over the disaster is developing.  If the fire had happened a week before the election rather than a week after, the Conservatives might well have lost.

It could yet happen, too.  The Conservatives, eight seats short of a majority in Parliament, have had to form a coalition with a reactionary Northern Ireland splinter party which looks steadily nastier the more closely it's scrutinized.  If the coalition doesn't hold, one possible result would be a new national election.  If so, I won't be surprised if the Conservatives are kicked out of office.  Austerity and small government sound harmless enough in the abstract, but a 230-foot smouldering tomb full of charred corpses makes the reality inescapable.


Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Man! that was a Hell of a blaze, eh? I question also the materials they use in these housing places too, such as type of drywall and other cheap materials. It will take some time to go through all that too, as far as finding bodies I guess ... a job I wouldnt want to have.

17 June, 2017 05:12  
Blogger W. Hackwhacker said...

The cliche "I hope some good comes out of this tragedy" would apply only if 1) a serious, sustained effort is made to reverse the laissez-faire, afflict the afflicted Conservative political culture, which can really only be achieved by 2) kicking their asses out of office at the soonest possible time. What an awful way to learn (?) some lessons, though.

17 June, 2017 07:14  
Anonymous NickM said...

The Brexit issue was a big deal wrt to the election though in a complicated way. A lot of people who voted for Brexit simply did not appreciate the epic complexities. Neither were the parties who expected a remain vote prepared for the inevitable horse trading. This has annoyed a lot of people who naively (in my view) thought the referendum was the finish line and not the start. That is a large part of why the Tories got a kicking. That and May ran a dreadfully smug campaign.

The Tories are not quite as laissez-faire as you might think and the cladding seems to have been a case of mismanagement and graft at a local level which could easily have happened under Labour or anyone else. That sort of thing happened all the time in Newcastle (the city of my birth) which has been Red (Labour) since Harold Wilson wore short trousers. Yes, there is a lot wrong structurally in terms of the blurring of public/private. There isn't the space here (or the time) to go into that right now. I can do at a later date.

17 June, 2017 23:56  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: There seem to have been a whole series of failures here, not only the cladding but bad fire-safety advice to tenants, alarms that didn't work, etc. It's shocking, the kind of thing you expect to happen in some Third World country with no proper regulations or enforcement at all.

Hackwhacker: It could happen. There are various circumstances that could force another national election. Too bad we have no such mechanisms here.

18 June, 2017 11:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: I know the British Conservative party is a lot less radical than the US Republicans. However, there is a similar problem of local authorities deciding (often correctly) that they can get away with things if there is inadequate oversight from the central government. When, after several years of rule by a party ideologically dedicated to deregulation and spending cuts, we see a disaster which looks like a textbook case of the results of deregulation and spending cuts, it strains credulity to imagine that there's no connection.

18 June, 2017 11:13  
Anonymous NickM said...

There has not been spending cuts per-se. There has been gross mismanagement and yeah I'll accept that is partially top-down. There are many cases and Grenfell is an example par excellence of spoiling the ship for a ha"peth of tar. Utterly insanely carried-out privatisations and PPI spring to mind. Labour are just as guilty over many years as the Tories. But spending has increased but in idiotic ways, Essentially we are achieving less with more, That is the nub of the problem. For example the RN has more admirals than ships!

19 June, 2017 13:16  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

There has not been spending cuts per-se.

The Guardian cites "40% cuts to local councils".

Labour are just as guilty over many years as the Tories.

Don't be ridiculous. Deregulation and spending cuts are specifically Conservative policies which the Conservatives have been carrying out for years, since they've actually been in power. This disaster is the direct and foreseeable result of the small-government ideology which the Conservatives and only the Conservatives have been pushing.

20 June, 2017 09:33  

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