Andrew O’Hagan’s Grenfell ‘novella’: truly a class act

The Tower: London Review of Books, 7 June 2018

The Tower: London Review of Books, 7 June 2018

The 60,000+-word essay published by the London Review of Books just one week before the anniversary of the Grenfell fire, by novelist and reporter Andrew O’Hagan, shows the kind of establishment backlash we can now expect against those fighting for justice for the 72 people who died. O’Hagan’s ‘novella’ does a hatchet job on activists and campaigners – ‘agitators’, in his words -  patronises survivors and absolves the local council and Kensington and Chelsea Tenants’ Management Organisation that oversaw the lethal recladding of the tower of blame. In O’Hagan’s through-the-looking-glass world, the council leaders are in fact the misunderstood heroes of the hour; the villains of the piece become, instead, the firefighters, campaign groups like Grenfell Housing Action and Grenfell United and,  crucially, any survivor or bereaved relative with the temerity to complain or demand adequate redress, rather than being grateful for everything that’s been done for them and their luck to have even had the opportunity to live in the richest borough in the country. Make no mistake, this appalling, dishonest, self-indulgent extravaganza is an opening sally by the ruling class to roll back the wave of popular sympathy for the victims of Grenfell and rehabilitate the council, no doubt with an eye to the public inquiry and ensuring they do not face criminal charges for their role in the murder of 72 working class people.

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Fighting racism in housing for asylum seekers

The government is currently in the process of retendering its contracts to manage the housing of asylum seekers. The previous COMPASS contracts, worth £1.6bn, have been replaced by the even more valuable £4bn Asylum Accommodation and Support Transformation (AAST) contracts. Massive private security company G4S has already registered an interest and submitted a tender, despite its being fined £5.6m in 2016 for the standard of the housing it provided. In November 2016 the government responded to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report on the service provided by G4S, Serco and Clearel. The report contained damning evidence proving the inhumane conditions that these companies were providing, citing vermin infestation, lack of health care for pregnant women and inadequate support for victims of rape and torture. The government’s response to these findings was that ‘The standard of accommodation provided to asylum seekers has improved since 2012’.

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Grenfell one year on: a litany of failures

One year on from Grenfell, community groups are still organising and continuing the demand for justice

‘We are having an inquiry to find out what most of us already know. We are here because nobody listened and those in authority were convinced they knew better. You can’t sweep this under the carpet…Materials that are clearly dangerous are still there on buildings up and down the country… Not good enough is not the word. This is how our families are being remembered. They are being remembered by a culture of neglect.’ - Karim Mussily, addressing the Grenfell Inquiry on 21 May.

A year after the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London killed 72 people, survivors and the bereaved continue to be failed by both the local council and the British state. Of 210 households made homeless by the fire, just 75 have been housed in permanent accommodation. Many are living in cramped emergency accommodation, including hostels and hotels. No criminal charges have been brought against any of those responsible for the fire: indeed, staff from Grenfell’s criminal and now disbanded landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO), have been re-employed by Kensington and Chelsea’s housing department. The council itself – which oversaw the lethal recladding of the tower – has seen many of the same councillors re-elected in May, in an expression of callous indifference to working class lives by the wealthy voters of Kensington and Chelsea. Meanwhile, the police say their investigations will take more than a year. The public inquiry set up in August 2017 is only just beginning to hear evidence. It is a charade set up to shield the guilty and postpone any chance of justice for those whose lives were devastated by the fire last year.

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Castles in the air: Labour’s social housing policy review

Protesters march against Labour social cleansing

The housing crisis is one of the biggest issues facing the working class in Britain today. Social housing has been decimated over the last 50 years by the policies of Conservative and Labour governments alike. The dearth of affordable and secure housing has driven millions of people into the private rented sector, where one in five homes is unfit for human habitation and soaring rents force those on low incomes into ever-deeper poverty. Private rents average 35% of take-home pay. Evictions and homelessness are on the rise.

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Fight social cleansing by Manchester City Council

Labour-controlled Manchester City Council is actively promoting a city-wide policy of social cleansing. Its complicity in allowing developers to shrug off affordable and social housing commitments was recently profiled by The Guardian (‘The 0% city: how Manchester developers dodge affordable housing’, 6 March 2018). The article details how between 2016 and 2017, of 61 housing developments approved by the council – totalling 14,667 flats, apartments and houses – none will contain any social housing or even any units available at the more expensive ‘affordable’ level. Just 62 properties will fall under the ‘shared-ownership’ scheme – but these will be well away from the city centre. Twenty-seven will be in Openshaw – Manchester’s most deprived ward and in the top 1% of deprived areas in England, with others located in Gorton (where the Channel 4 series Shameless was filmed) and Moss Side. Meanwhile, the council itself is developing nearly 700 apartments in partnership with the wealthy Abu Dhabi United Group: all will be for sale or rent at market rates.

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