One-Month Anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire: Status Update

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

London’s Grenfell Tower went up in flames on June 14, killing an unknown number of people (certainly there were more casualties than the official toll of 80) and leaving a particularly ugly charred scar on the West London skyline (short photo essay at NC here). Since this is July 14, now seems like a good time to catch up with the story. Here’s a good photo timeline of the fire itself, with illustrations of the layout and construction of the building, from the BBC. Wikipedia summarizes:

The fire started in a fridge-freezer on the fourth floor. The growth of the fire is believed to have been accelerated by the building’s exterior cladding.

Emergency services received the first report of the fire at 00:54 local time. It burned for about 60 hours until finally extinguished. More than 200 firefighters and 70 fire engines from stations all over London were involved in efforts to control the fire. Many firefighters continued to fight pockets of fire on the higher floors after most of the rest of the building had been gutted. Residents of surrounding buildings were evacuated due to concerns that the tower could collapse, but the building was later determined to be structurally sound…

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, criticised safety protocol, in particular those telling people to stay in their flats until rescued. This advice presumed that the building’s structure could contain a fire within a single flat, but in this case the fire was spreading rapidly via the building’s exterior. Since 2013, the residents’ organisation Grenfell Action Group had repeatedly expressed concern about fire safety, saying in November 2016 that only a catastrophic fire would force the block’s management to adequately address fire precautions and maintenance of fire-related systems.

(Before we blame the tenant for the fridge, Grenfell Tower was subject to power surges, and other household appliances had already caught fire.) There’s a great deal of discussion at the safety code and fire-fighting protocol levels, but I’m going to skip over that to the big picture as presented by Bill Black, writing at NC here, focusing on deregulation and the cladding:

I do not focus on Tony Blair and Gordon Brown because they are uniquely culpable for the mass deaths in the fire. Their failures are important to explaining several points that are often unclear to Americans. First, Blair and Brown, as leaders of the Labor Party, were supposed to protect poorer citizens like those living in the tower blocks through effective health and safety regulation. Historically, that would have been a top priority of the Labor Party. Second, the reality is that Blair and Brown were aggressively hostile to health and safety regulation and that hostility exemplifies the radical transformation that “New Labor’s” leaders made to the party.

As weak as the building requirements were for cladding once Thatcher emasculated them, initial testing results are that the cladding at Grenfell and many of its counterpart tower blocks failed to meet even the UK’s rudimentary standards…. The lack of a sprinkler system and a single stairwell for evacuation again show the inadequacy of UK building standards compared to other modern nations. Those deficiencies were made worse by a lack of fire breaks, (reportedly) missing fire-resistant doors, and the failure to conduct required inspections.

Every UK leader from Thatcher to May is a part of this problem. The fact that the Tories emasculated vital building safety rules is consistent with their Party’s ideology. Blair came to power after Thatcher and was the leader of the Labor Party. His Party’s ideology had long supported effective safety rules. Blair, however, proudly led what he called “New Labor” – a Party that embraced Thatcher’s anti-regulatory zeal with its own special passion.

I agree with Black that the Grenfell Tower disaster is blowback from years of Thatcherite deregulation by Tory and “New Labour” mandarins working together. However, Grenfell Tower — and, it seems, British public housing generally, are also subject to a terrible neoliberal infestation, so the story is more complex than Black makes out. (Black also omits the agency of tenant organizations like the Grenfell Action Group, who fought on the complex, broken ground that neoliberalism creates.) In this post, I’ll look at some of the effects of that neoliberal infestatiion. Let me telegraph the question I’d like to have answered by including a photograph of the Guardian’s Grenfell FAQ at right. I’ll explain more about it later.)

Here are five characteristics of the official response to the Grenfell Tower Disaster, and to the management of Grenfell Tower generally:

(1) Inability to reassure the public that official actions were taken in good faith

(2) Opaque and complicated public-private governance structures

(3) Little prospect of redress from law enforcement

(4) Inabitility to generalize to larger systems issues.

(5) A system stacked against the public at every turn.

Let’s take each of the of these in turn

(1) Inability to reassure the public that official actions were taken in good faith. The latest public meeting was held on July 13:

Pat Mason, a Labour councillor on Kensington and Chelsea Council, told Sam Delaney: “It was meant to update people on what was happening but it was a completely shambolic meeting because [officials] just couldn’t run a meeting.

“People are just so angry, they wanted straight answers which they didn’t believe they were getting. There’s too many people with too many stories about promises broken.

“The meeting eventually descended into a shambles because people decided they didn’t have any confidence in those people [in charge].

“Even the things [authorities] are doing which you would say are good, they seem unable to communicate it to the audience.”

And why would they? Because they live there, tenants know the quality of work done on the Tower — “Relations with [the contractor] broke down so completely that Grenfell residents pinned up posters to their doors warning workmen not to enter their homes” — and they know the costs, too. Grenfell Action Group:

For a number of years RBKC has spent £1.5 millon a year of our Council Tax on subsidising the Holland Park Opera while refusing to spend their massive reserves (currently in excess of £240 million) on providing decent housing for residents in North Kensington. This is something that we are determined to challenge through direct action in the future. The Council is now proposing to end the HPO subsidy by donating a £5m lump sum to create instead an independent opera charity.

I’ve got nothing against opera, but £5m vs. £300K is a little raw, no? Why would anybody trust the council, if those are their priorities? Even the new chair of the Council says it will take “a generation” for trust to be rebuilt. If it is at all.

(2) Opaque and complicated public-private governance structures. Grenfell Tower is governed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization (KCTMO). Wikipedia defines a Tenant Management Organization as follows:

A TMO is created when residents (tenants and leaseholders) in a defined area of council or housing association homes create a corporate body and, typically, elect a management committee to run the body. This body then enters into a formal legal contract with the landlord of the home, known as the management agreement.

The management agreement details precisely which services are managed by the TMO on behalf of the landlord. The extent of the devolution in service can vary enormously, particularly between small and large TMOs, but may typically include day-to-day repairs, allocations and lettings, tenancy management, cleaning and caretaking, and rent collection. The TMO’s operations are mainly funded by the management fees payable by the landlord under the agreement.

(Imagine trying to create a dataset from 4,000 of these.) You can already see the complexity, which I will illlustrate with a link to the brochure supplied to tenants after the Grenfell Tower refurbishment (“regeneration”) was complete. You see if you can figure out who to call if you have a problem, and how fast the response will come; it reminds me of ObamaCare.

(3) Little prospect of redress from law enforcement, as a happy by-product of this complexity. From the Guardian FAQ:

When is the trial starting?

The simple answer is not this year, maybe next, and maybe not at all.

The words used most often by police to describe the criminal investigation into the Grenfell Tower disaster are “unprecedented” and “complex”. Nothing in the modern history of the British criminal justice system compares….

There are many questions to answer. Which of the 60 companies involved in the refurbishments over the years at Grenfell Tower did what? Who is to blame? Are they a company or individuals? And how to prove beyond reasonable doubt to a jury that a certain company or person should be convicted? Did they break a law, and are the laws even that clear cut? Or did their actions or inactions just fly in the face of common sense? Four weeks on from the disaster, and the usual hallmarks of a criminal investigation are absent. There have been no arrests, no search warrant has been applied for, no one has been interviewed under criminal caution. The Met say they are content with the progress, with companies and individuals voluntarily handing volumes of material over. Police vow to use harder powers if they suspect evidence is being withheld.

Ah. “Voluntarily.” The Guardian describes police investigators at the shambolic meeting:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/12/anger-grenfell-residents-undimmed-one-month-on

DCI Matt Bonner, who is leading the police investigation, struggled to reassure more than 200 people present at St Clement’s church that he would bring those responsible to justice.

He told the meeting it was a highly complex investigation, one unprecedented outside terrorist attacks, only to be told the fire was indeed a terrorist attack or mass murder. “The investigation will hold people to account,” Bonner insisted almost inaudibly amid the commotion.

He was repeatedly asked why arrests had not already been made. “I can’t give you a commentary. It would risk jeopardising the investigation and losing prosecutions down the line,” he responded. “Every single question you ask will be answered.”

The investigation was recovering vast troves of data and had identified 60 companies and organisations involved in the construction, refurbishment or management of the building. “The scale of this investigation is why it will take so long. Give me the space to conduct an effective investigation and judge me at the end of it.”

Bonner said a team of about 250 officers was working on the criminal investigation. Attempting to illustrate its scale, he said the team would interview about 650 firefighters, 300 police officers, 255 Grenfell fire survivors and residents of the Lancaster West estate where the tower is sited.

Hmm. I’m not seeing any members of the Grenfell Towers governance structure on that interview list. Surely an accidental omission?

(4) Inabitility to generalize to larger systems issues, again(I’m guessing) a happy by-product of the complexity. From The Independent:

Shadow housing secretary John Healey criticised the Government for being “too slow to reassure residents”, claiming the safety check process is “in chaos”.

He also condemned the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) failure to list buildings that failed the combustibility testing carried out in the wake of the North Kensington blaze that killed at least 80 people.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Mr Healey said: “It is totally unacceptable that four weeks on from the Grenfell Tower fire ministers still don’t know and can’t say how many other tower blocks are unsafe… “Too slow to grasp the complexity of the help survivors need and too slow to reassure residents in 4,000 other tower blocks across the country.”

(5) A system stacked against the public, by a process called “regeneration” by its advocates (and “social cleansing” by those it affects. The Financial Times explains:

London’s ‘regeneration’: the backdrop to Grenfell rage

Regeneration sounds like a sensible concept: knocking down old and tired housing estates and replacing them with larger, denser developments that feature a mixture of affordable and luxury flats. The latter carry the cost of the former, which is particularly appealing at a time when government budgets are tight.

The idea has been championed in various forms by both Labour and Conservative governments as a way to fund new homes in a city that is desperate for them.

It has gained particular momentum in recent years as property prices have surged across the capital and austerity has strained public finances. Last year, David Cameron, then prime minister, pledged to demolish nearly 100 so-called “sink” estates as part of an anti-poverty blitz.

The concept is seductive to councils, she argues, because they can cash in on the property boom by selling land to developers while, at the same time, washing their hands of the responsibility of maintaining ageing estates.

But as developers run into higher costs and delays, they often petition to reduce the affordable component of their projects.

In 2015, members of the London Assembly found that the regeneration of 50 estates over the preceding 10 years had led to a net loss of 8,000 socially rented homes. This depletion took place even as the total number of homes on the sites almost doubled.

So many property investors have flooded in that “regen” has become its own asset class

So it’s entirely rational for tenants to think they’ll be displaced by “regeneration,” and that their “own” local governments are siding with property developers against them:

Along the way, social housing has increasingly become the refuge of society’s poorest and most vulnerable. That tends to make such properties even more of a burden to manage, giving local councils greater incentive to let them run down and then sell them to developers.

The temptation is particularly great in Kensington and Chelsea, where an influx of foreign buyers has helped make property among the most expensive on the planet.

And that brings me back to the image I placed at the beginning of this post: “Where is the money going?” The image comes from a “question wall” posted under the Westway, presumably by an activist, and the Guardian FAQ answers many of those questions. But the Guardian doesn’t answer “Where is the money going?”. That strikes me as odd, especially given that “regen,” including regeneration at Grenfell Tower, is an asset class. One would think that relationships between KCTMO, the Council, and any potential future investors in Grenfell Tower would be a topic for investigation. I can’t find any material on it. UK readers?

Where is the money going? Do the many Councillors who resigned have any ideas?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

34 comments

  1. paul

    If there is one neologism I hate more than ‘blowback’, someone will have to help me.

    The consequences of which, our depraved managers have never experienced it.

    The idea that, in some karmic contemporary way, the creators of carnage meet their just ends, is ridiculous.

    semper chaos!

    Reply
  2. Jim A.

    1.) The complete inadequacy of fire safety regulations. One stairwell in a highrise building is like something out of the 3rd world or the 19th century. Allowing flamable cladding WITHOUT firebreaks every floor is a similar level of bad idea.
    2.) To the extant that there were any standards at all, it seems to have been solely the job of the builders to design, review, install, and inspect the work to make sure that it conformed.

    Combined, the surprise is that we haven’t had more of these disasters.

    Reply
      1. Clive

        I follow the commercial refrigeration industry and am sickened by the number of fatalities (at least one every couple of months) and injuries (several per month) from ammonia leaks. Enforcement is a joke. Penalties for managers operating unsafe plant are a joke. Some repeat offenders get slap-on-the-wrist fines then do absolutely nothing. Then they kill a worker. Or two. These are preventable fatalities. They are entirely preventable through good maintenance practices and leak detection equipment being installed along with effective evacuation drills.

        The reaction? “Film at 11”. Everyone shrugs and moves on.

        Sorry to rant on your thread flora! It’s just it makes me so angry …

        Reply
        1. flora

          This happened in my state yet your link is the first I’ve heard about it. ! Thanks for the information.

          Reply
        2. Huey Long

          Yikes!

          I also follow the commercial refrigeration business although I work primarily with large centrifugal equipment using R-113 and R-134A refrigerants.

          I’m not at all surprised that R-717 (ammonia) is causing injuries and fatalities as its primary use in the US is in the food industry which is notorious for cutting corners and operating unsafe slaughter operations.

          Ammonia Refrigeration FAQ: http://www.ammonia21.com/knowledge/faq

          Just be thankful that R-22 and R-502 haven’t been replaced by R-290 (propane) yet. 22 and 502 are extensively used in commercial kitchen refrigeration and in packaged A/C units throughout the US and both refrigerants are on their way out due to their ozone depleting effects.

          Paper on Substituting R-22 & R-502 with R-290: http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2086&context=icec

          Reply
          1. Clive

            I agree. R-290 is a menace in that sort of application and I think the same of R-600a, too. I bought a side-by-side (they get called “American style” here, if you find that amusing!) fridge freezer and it has 2lbs of it. My kitchen isn’t that big, the bulk of the space is in the breakfast nook which has a fairly narrow connecting space leading to it so I suspect in the event of a total leak, the concentration could get on the verge of flammability. Right next to my stove… but it was all I could buy here due to R-134a restrictions.

            I’m not much keener on R-32 in VRF comfort installations either. 20 to 30 lb charges are not uncommon and while installers are supposed to put in leak detection and automatic pump down if charge loss could occur in a small area (e.g. a small office space) from a DX fan coil, inspection from building control and enforcement is going to be very difficult. And even if it’s all done properly at design and build stage, it is so common for building owners and tenants to reconfigure space (moving partitions around) without checking, sooner or later there’s going to be a leak into a space where the concentration reaches flammable levels.

            But hey. “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone”.

            Reply
            1. pat b

              And I sublet office space from a research thermal company…

              They do all sorts of work with Propane, Iso-Butane, and ammonia…

              fortunately lots of venting and safety gear.

              Reply
      2. animalogic

        “Because markets.”
        Absolutely correct.
        But, just in case there’s still someone whose not sure what “market” actually means:
        “Market” is an economic term, which enables human transactional behaviour to be presented as a (pseudo) law of nature. That law is never, ever spelled out, but essentially it says that the strong will/should prey on the weak. All neoliberalism reduces to this “law”.

        Reply
    1. Clive

      Amen. To which I was also going to add, the complete inadequacy of training and assessment. An industry report from earlier in the year is damning — pass every candidate, pay-to-play “colleges” dispensing qualifications like confetti, no regulations (because the market will do the job just fine, of course). Rich or poor, if you boiler (furnace) leaks gas or has incomplete combustion and kills you with CO poisoning, you’re just as dead if you’re in social housing in Kensington and Chelsea or in your £10M townhouse.

      I can’t do better than to quote form one of the interviewees in the report:

      “Everyone on my course passed it…I think two or three of them should have failed. There was about eighteen of us on the course but not everyone on my course was going out getting the onsite experience which they probably should have been to be able to pass the apps.”

      “I’ve not been in touch with them since so I don’t know but what I do know or the feeling I’ve got is that at the end of it…if they did pass, I wouldn’t like them tinkering on my gas.”

      “I think there were a lot of people doing the bare minimum. At the end of the day they’ve just got to pass the exam and get the ticket…my only concern is you’ve got a lot of people that get the ticket but don’t actually know anything about or remember it or retain the information.”

      Reply
  3. TedHunter

    “London’s Grenfell Tower went up in flames on June 14, killing an unknown number of people (certainly there were more casualties than the official toll of 80).”

    And that is just the first sentence in an otherwise equally depressing enumeration of facts.

    What other casualty numbers have been circulating?

    Reply
    1. hemeantwell

      Apparently the fire was so intense that the number of dead cannot be calculated from the remains. There are reports that some rooms were overcrowded due to move-ins by friends and relatives having problems at other council housing, so there were likely some ‘transients’ who died. I saw a report a few days ago about a guy who was trying to estimate by asking people in the area who they haven’t seen since the fire. I believe he thinks the number is around 120.

      Great job, Lambert. One of the best pieces on the fire I’ve seen.

      Reply
      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Another data point is the number of residents seen wandering around outside the building, having escaped. Not nearly as large a number as would have been expected, say the residents.

        Thanks, but I feel I barely did justice to the topic (to which I will return; it was so strange to see places I’d photographed appear in other stories).

        Still, I wish I could see somebody else following the money!!!!!

        Reply
    2. begob

      I read one rumour that up to 40 people were found in one room by firefighters. Terrible stuff, but who knows?

      Reply
      1. hemeantwell

        I think I saw that, too. They’d fled upstairs, right?

        Here’s one Brit site that’s on the story
        http://www.redpepper.org.uk/the-grenfell-public-inquiry-must-listen-to-the-residents-who-have-been-ignored-for-so-long/
        “Across the community there is huge distrust of the authorities, as a result of the ongoing lack of accountability and now over suspicions that there has been a cover up over the real numbers of dead, with many community leaders claiming that the figure is more likely to be in the hundreds rather than the official death toll which has remained for weeks now at 79.”

        I wonder if the possibility of a Labour win in the relatively near future may be putting a stronger reaction on hold. ?

        Reply
    3. Huey Long

      I addressed this in a prior water cooler back in June:

      http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/06/200pm-water-cooler-6212017.html

      …it seems the UK propaganda outlets are suppressing the death toll numbers and denying it.

      The Mirror is busy trying to explain why the death toll is stuck at 79:
      http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/official-death-toll-grenfell-fire-10641711

      The Independent is busy trying to address Grenfell “conspiracy theories”:
      http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/grenfell-tower-fire-conspiracy-theories-media-d-notice-msm-death-toll-cover-up-truth-a7798861.html

      Both of these links were in the top 10 when I googled “grenfell death toll.” All the other links stated the ambiguous party line dead/missing total of “79 and expected to rise.”

      Foreign media outlets and interviews with folks on the ground in and around Grenfell are reporting that the death toll is north of 300 people.

      The Iranians are claiming that 500-600 people perished:
      http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2017/06/17/525600/500-residents-died-in-London-tower-fire-

      iNews is reporting a death toll closer to 300:
      https://inews.co.uk/opinion/grenfell-survivors-tell-death-toll-far-higher-police-say-i-believe/

      This woman states on camera that she cannot contact any her 20 friends who lived in Grenfell:
      http://metro.co.uk/2017/06/21/theyre-not-missing-theyre-dead-says-local-who-claims-grenfell-death-toll-is-in-the-hundreds-6725972/

      My take on the Grenfell death toll is that HM Gov’t and it’s propaganda outlets are waiting to reveal the actual death toll until the story is replaced on the front pages by something different. I won’t speculate as to the motive, but I see no reason why HM Gov’t can’t update the Grenfell butcher’s bill with a daily press release as crews clear the floors of corpses.

      They’re not fooling anybody with their obfuscation and are only eroding the public’s trust in the UK’s media and gov’t institutions at this point.

      Reply
      1. bhagwhan

        There is no cover up here. Consider this, it is reported that temperatures inside the building hit a maximum of 1000 degrees celsius, that is way in excess of the level that crematoria operate it the UK (around 850 degrees celsius). In each flat itself, the police have said they are having to sift their way through about 15 tonnes of ash. So you can imagine if the bodies were burnt at those temperatures how hard it is going to be to recover human remains out of it. If you want the police to mount a successful prosecution, they must retain their credibility and that will not be maintained if they just issue a guesstimate, rather than add to a count incrementally as they recover each set of remains

        Reply
        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Again I’m too lazy to provide a link, but upthread there is the theory that people would have rushed upward and outward to escape, hence crowding rooms near the edge of the building, which were turned (in effect) into charnel houses. In other words, the remains, or I suppose “cremains,” might not be evenly distributed, which would be another reason for the body count discrepancies.

          Reply
        2. pat b

          The fire ran for over a day, there may be some hard parts of the body ( Bone chunks,
          implants) and jewelry, but this fire happened at 2 AM, people would only wear
          rings and maybe the occasional necklace…

          it’s going to be hard to find anything.

          Reply
  4. Dead Dog

    Thank you, Lambert. A thoughtful, insightful and considered read. And, a subject which we need to keep some light on.

    In time, the media and public interest will wane and, as you suggest, it seems like the criminal investigation will drag on, evade talking to the people and companies that should be held to account. Starting to look a bit like the Hillsborough whitewash (God bless)…

    Given that we are talking about the acute consequences of Austerity (on the poorest people in our communities), I think an acute dose of austerity should be the solution for any person or company that has benefited from the mess that is Grenfell. Take all their money and assets and toss the bastards out into the street without a warm coat. Be a much more effective deterrent than long, drawn out trials and some token convictions.

    But shit, that list of people is pretty, bloody long. All the politicians for the last 40 years that have supported austerity and moneyed interests – all the councillors, MPs and Lords.

    So, the real perpetrators will get off scot-free, albeit, I think some of the contractors will be scape-goated, you know,to ensure justice is seen to be done.

    I wonder how Corbyn would tackle things if he were PM??

    Well done, mate.

    Reply
    1. rfdawn

      Yes, thank you Lambert. I did like that image of “the complex, broken ground that neoliberalism creates” as a barrier to assigning responsibility. My prior was “public-private abdication” but yours is better!

      Reply
  5. Jim Haygood

    All quiet on the Chesapeake Bay:

    (July 11) The company that made the combustible panels used on the London housing tower where a fast-moving fire killed at least 80 people says the same type wraps one of Baltimore’s most prominent hotels: the 32-story Marriott Waterfront overlooking the city’s Inner Harbor.

    http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2017/07/10/baltimore-doesnt-know-if-hotel-uses-combustible-panels.html

    Great time to score a cheap weekend package! No smoking, of course.

    Reply
  6. Larry

    Shambolic decay into morass we all go. Is there a place on earth where the safety and well being of the proles has any standing?

    Reply
    1. rfdawn

      If we are talking about proles-at-work, the UK claims the world’s-lowest rate of workplace fatalities (page 10 of this report). Proles-at-home must be different somehow.

      Reply
  7. The Rev Kev

    It is simply not true that there have been no major consequences over this murderous fire or that people have not been held accountable. Why, just this morning, I read that the shareholders of the company that installed the cladding were suing the company because of a major drop in share prices for that company because of the fire!
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4697938/Grenfell-cladding-firm-legal-action-shareholders.html
    You see, market justice always works!

    Reply
  8. skk

    I lived in the UK as a child onwards 1966-1992. Council Housing, which I’d call Section-8 here in the US – was always an ugly duckling – unless you compared it with private rentals housing – “bedsit”-land- if you didn’t have the “points” ( of need ) to qualify for council housing all you could get was squalid, Rachmanite landlord housing ( the celebrated L.I. Rubin in Liverpool ) well captured in the sitcom “Rising Damp” – compared to that council housing was a luxury. Yet it was all done in a “brutalist” design and attitude style – even those who lived there would get out if they could..

    That’s the cultural and psyche background to the neglect, penny-pinching, “they are lucky to get THIS” idea – so pervasive, its there, unseen, unsaid but informs all thought.. And the result is this.

    So.. people in the UK have to make their mind up. Is council housing worth having and taking pride in – with a mental attitude that it’s quite a valid and laudable alternative to private rentals and “mortgaged to the hilt suburbia”.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > the sitcom “Rising Damp”

      I love British humor… I didn’t manage to work this information in. From Overland:

      Grenfell Tower shows that to understand class and power, we have to understand housing, because the question of how and where people live is right at the heart of modern capitalism. Not, as racists would argue, because there is pressure on the housing stock due to people like Grenfell Tower victim and Syrian refugee Mohammed Alhajali, who came to the UK needing and deserving to be housed – but because of the tension between a finite supply of land on which homes can be built, and the fact that the priority is always to use that land to create expensive homes for the super-rich instead of ordinary Londoners of any and all nationalities. As the geographer Danny Dorling has shown, ‘the majority of children who live above the fourth floor of tower blocks, in England, are black or Asian’. Where people live, and how much control they have over their housing when officialdom regularly makes working-class people feel they should be grateful to be housed at all, in however precarious and unsafe a home, is not just a question of class, but of race and ethnicity too. And, as with everything about Grenfell Tower, it is deeply and unavoidably political.

      I’ve just finished Mary Beard’s SPQR, and a similar dynamic applied to the Roman insulae, with similar results in case of fire: The poorer lived higher up.

      Reply
  9. Matt Platte

    I’ve been binge-watching Adam Curtis videos today as it’s too darn hot outside to load scrap metal for recycling, mow the dang grass, pick up trash or anything else that doesn’t involve gin and tonic.

    Why was cladding needed in the first place? Probably to keep rain from flooding all the flats.

    Curtis made a documentary film about the era of Tower Block construction. “I think people were swept along by the euphoria of the time,” according to one of the usual suspects, and that is possibly the least damning admission of the whole film. When was that documentary made? 1984.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ch5VorymiL4

    It’s shocking to this aging American that a) such shamefully slapdash construction was ever allowed to stand and b) people are still living (and dying) in those Jenga towers today, five decades on. Shameful is an inadequate word but I can’t think of a better one right now (gin and tonic, remember?).

    As for Blair and Brown, “…one of the guests asked [Thatcher] what was her greatest achievement. She replied, ‘Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.'”

    Reply
    1. Berit

      Matt Platte, thank you so much for the information and the link to Adam Curtis exemplary documentary from 1984 on the British Housing Crisis, which I’ve just now been watching inside – in spite of a glorious summer morning here. Watching and learning the tricks applied by self-appointed experts, self-serving industries and self-promoting politicians a la Blair is ever more important in this day and age. The charade is ongoing. We need to relearn to trust our own instincts, experiences and actively seek relevant knowledge in order not to be exploited by so-called experts from any Big Business, be it healthcare, military, academia, Big Pharma, construction and corrupted big party politicians like Thatcher, Blair, Brown, Bush, Clinton, Obama, Cameron, NATO-Stoltenberg etc etc etc. The very wise man calling himself an amateur (lover) at the end of the documentary nailed the truth, plain to see for anyone willing. He cared about the tenants, not money, not power. Living beings!

      Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Why was cladding needed in the first place?

      Too lazy to find the link, but what the tenants believe — and about the building qua building, they don’t seem ever have been wrong — the cladding was chosen for its visual appeal to the property owners surrounding the building. In other words, to boost real estate values.

      Follow the money, as I said.

      Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        “CLADDING on tower blocks is being ripped down across Britain amid fears it could contribute towards another deadly Grenfell-like fire. [Which might be somewhat embarrassing to important people if it were to happen before Grenfell has disappeared into the news cycle.]

        Councils across the country have been testing materials on their own buildings – here’s what you need to know about the controversial building decor dubbed a “silent killer”.

        What is cladding and why is it used?

        Cladding is a material which is wrapped around the outside of a building to improve appearance and energy efficiency.

        Colourful green and blue panels designed to improve insulation and soften the look of the brutalist concrete block were fitted to Grenfell Tower in Kensington, West London, as part of a £10million refurb that finished in May 2017.https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3804113/cladding-grenfell-london-tower-fire-chalcots-estate-camden-combustible-investigation-latest/

        And another source: “Grenfell Tower cladding that may have led to fire was chosen to improve appearance of Kensington block of flats

        Material would help make the flats look better from outside, planners noted

        http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/grenfell-tower-cladding-fire-cause-improve-kensington-block-flats-appearance-blaze-24-storey-west-a7789951.html

        Reply

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