Socialist Worker

Blame Tories’ system not firefighters for Grenfell

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2607

Grenfell Tower

Grenfell Tower (Pic: Guy Smallman)


It is almost impossible for anyone to deny the failures that led to the Grenfell Tower fire and at least 71 deaths. But there is now a battle over who is responsible.

The latest stage of the inquiry into the blaze at the west London tower block heard opening statements from central figures and organisations on Monday.

Five “expert” reports into the causes of the fire were released at the same time. The reports slam decisions made during the refurbishment of the tower, but also raise problems with the safety of the tower which pre-date the refurbishment.

Doors meant to “self-close” failed to do so. Windows with gaps and faults aided the spread of the fire. There was a “culture of non-compliance” in relation to the tower’s maintenance.

The cladding was “substantially to blame”. A video shot at 1.08am showed the fire coming from one flat.

Four minutes later the fire had begun to engulf the whole building.

The reports are a damning indictment of the consequences of decades of deregulation of the building and safety industries.

It meant the number of firms such as Harley Facades grew. It was the “building envelope subcontractor for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project”. Its opening statement said, “We offer our sincere condolences to all those concerned.”

That will come as little comfort to those who lost relatives and friends in the fire as a result of the firm’s actions.

Why, in the words of one member of survivors’ group Grenfell United, was “a petrochemical blanket wrapped around the building”?

FBU firefighters’ union general secretary Matt Wrack last week said that Grenfell Tower was “effectively coated in petrol”.

He was responding to attempts by politicians and the media to scapegoat firefighters for the deaths.

Dr Andrew O’Hagan, an editor at the London Review of Books, wrote a lengthy piece describing events on the night of the fire and in the aftermath.

“The firefighting effort wasn’t all that it could have been,” wrote O’Hagan.

Safety

And Sarah Baxter at the Sunday Times newspaper wrote that firefighters are in thrall to “the bureaucratic gods of health and safety”.

But it was a lack of health and safety regulations, not too many, that caused the horror.

Firefighters are not responsible for political choices to loosen building safety requirements.

Elsewhere in his piece O’Hagan sympathetically interviewed Rock Feilding-Mellen, the Tory councillor who was in charge of housing at Kensington and Chelsea council.

He also defends the council’s “pretty good record of protecting social housing”.

“It’s unreasonable and unjust to accuse people of knowing things they were never expected to know,” wrote O’Hagan.

He doesn’t mention that Feilding-Mellen called Grenfell survivor Edward Daffarn a “fantasist”.

Edward had raised fire safety concerns six years before the fire.

Speaking about the inquiry, Edward said he hoped the process to reveal the “rotten and cancerous” decisions at a local level which led to the fire. “I can’t begin to express the level of contempt they had for us residents,” said Edward.

What’s missing from the reporting on the inquiry, and the inquiry itself, is the political context.

Fire

Then London mayor—now foreign secretary—Boris Johnson axed dozens of London fire engines.

Former Tory housing minister Brandon Lewis described the promotion of fire sprinklers as the “responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the government”.

At every opportunity we must point to the people who made the Grenfell Tower fire inevitable—the Tories and others who did not care about safety.

The right wing media and politicians want the inquiry to focus on individual responsibility. They want to prevent scrutiny of a system which allows working class people to die.

But the inquiry chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, has already been forced to make concessions to survivors and the families of the people killed.

That means campaigners have to keep up protests and other forms of pressure to in order to get justice.

The monthly Silent Walk is set to take place on Thursday 14 June at 6.30pm outside the Notting Hill Methodist Church, W11 4AH. A solidarity march is set to take place at Downing Street on Saturday 16 June. bit.ly/GrenfellSolidarity

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