A Capitalist Inferno

Unsurprisingly, and not unreasonably, many people are looking for heads to roll as a result of the terrible fire that destroyed Grenfell Tower in London. It killed as yet unknown numbers of people, at least seventy nine so far. It was a fire that should never have happened. An excellent documentary about the tragedy by Panorama revealed that for the last few years many warnings had been given to the owners of the building, Kensington and Chelsea Council, warnings that fire precautions were inadequate and a tragedy waiting to happen, warnings which were all but totally ignored. At this moment in time the only head to roll is that of Nicholas Holgate, the CEO at the council – an employee.

It would seem that the rapid spread of the fire was due to a type of cladding that was applied to the outside of the building about a year ago. Apparently the cladding is a type that’s banned in the USA and much of Europe because of its flammable properties and, according to Chancellor Phillip Hammond, it’s banned here too; but that didn’t stop the council using it, or failing to remove it. Presumably other suitable, fireproof, materials are available. Presumably they’re much more expensive.

A lot of the righteous anger has been directed at Theresa May, as the ultimate figurehead leader carrying the can. But the fact is that the tragedy had little to do with May, and that her resignation would be less than useless, because the real culprit would then escape scot-free.

The fire was obviously a terrible, avoidable, tragedy. Some may be saying it was just a horrible accident, and we should move on. But what was not an accident, and cannot possibly be dismissed, was the total lack of state support for the surviving residents. What support there was, and it was truly heart-warming to see, came entirely from a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy and goodwill from local residents, supplying food, water, clothing, comfort. This was multiracial, multicultural, humane, compassionate Britain at its very best. But if the state did anything at all to immediately help the survivors (apart from the heroic efforts of the emergency services) it was very difficult to see. Where was the army? Where was “COBRA”?

The real perpetrator of this tragedy is a thing called capitalism, the economic policy of all Tory politicians – and some misguided Labour MPs too. Capitalism has always placed profit before people, and it always will. It’s useless having token heads roll, whether they belong to Nicholas Holgate or Theresa May. These are just sacrificial lambs, distracting attention away from the real villain. Capitalism is to blame, with its murderous austerity, cost-cutting corners, and profiteering millionaires, together with the Tory MPS and mainstream media who defend and promote it. But in the end, there’s no escaping the fact that the responsibility for this manmade tragedy, and many others like it – like illegal wars and the closing of Accident and Emergency departments all over the country – ultimately lies with those who keep voting for capitalist politicians.

John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non-Fiction books by John are: The People's Constitution (2018 Edition); and The School of Kindness (2018 Edition); and his historical novel The Road to Emily Bay Read other articles by John.