Don’t ignore the politics behind the Grenfell Tower Fire

Grenfell Tower engulfed in flames.
Grenfell Tower engulfed in flames.

The Grenfell Tower fire was not a simple accident but the result of the ‘ineptitude and incompetence of the tower’s landlord,’ as well as the Government’s refusal to protect tenants.

We know that at least six people are dead after a fire at a the 24-storey Tower block in north Kensington, though that number is expected to rise.

It is common nowadays that whenever we hear of a tragedy we are expected to simply express our sorrow. That’s not good enough. We need to understand why it happened.

We need to understand why it happened so it doesn’t happen again and again.

The Grenfell Action Group, which was setup in 2010 to defend the rights of the residents of the tower, wrote on their blog in the clearest way that the company who run the building, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), were putting the tenants’ lives at risk.

In November their blog post included this chilling warning:

“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.”

For years this group, as well as others defending the rights of tenants and leaseholders, have been begging local councils to respect peoples’ rights, but they have been treated like dirt and ignored by the mainstream media.

The sad fact is, all across the country, poorer people are living in housing that is not fit for human habitation despite paying huge amounts of money in rent every month.

On a daily basis lives are being made a misery thanks to the behaviour of landlords while the Government stands by and does nothing.

I personally have lived in houses which have had rats running through the kitchen and mass cockroach infestations. Other friends of mine have experienced even worse conditions. Again, this is in spite of the exorbitant rents we pay.

Our rent-money is not used to improve the quality of the houses we live in, rather it goes straight into the landlord’s pocket, to estate agents and to other private businesses, while those properties are allowed to deteriorate.

It’s like something from a Dickens novel. A tiny minority are making a fortune from the housing crisis while tenants have to live in conditions that are not fit for human habitation.

The Grenfell Tower was built in 1973. The tragedy of the fire is not simply an accident. The refusal of the tower’s landlord (KCTMO) to use a reasonable portion of the funds it gains from rent to invest in proper safety for the building is a direct cause.

Tory policy & the Grenfell Tower Fire.
Tory policy & the Grenfell Tower Fire.

How were KCTMO able to get away with this?

The blame falls squarely with the Tory Government.

Last year, Conservative MPs voted against a proposed new rule requiring private sector landlords to ensure their properties are fit for human habitation. Bear in mind that one third of all Tory MPs are themselves private landlords.

A Labour amendment to the government’s housing and planning bill, designed to ensure that all rented accommodation was safe for people to live in, was defeated by 312 votes to 219 on Tuesday, a majority of 93.

While this legislation did not directly affect the Grenfell tower, it is indicative of the priorities of this Government — to protect the interests of the rich landlords profiting from the housing crisis, not to protect the rights and safety of tenants.

The people responsible for the deaths at Grenfell tower need to be held to account and there must be a proper investigation. Furthermore, we must demand that the Government bring in strict legislation that will force landlords to invest properly in the homes that they rent out.

Unless these changes takes place, the lives of tenants will continue to be ones of misery and, inevitably, further tragedies will occur.

We recommend you visit the Grenfell Action Group page here.

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Shlomo Anker

Shlomo is regular contributor and co-founder at the Pileus. He was previously involved in the Labour-supporting media group, Jewish Voice, and in an ongoing project to revive the Yiddish language. He is a fan of Leyton Orient & Hapoel Tel Aviv and a keen cyclist. It is while cycling that he often does his thinking for what to write in his articles.