Following the fire at Grenfell tower there exists a palpable, simmering outrage amongst the British public towards our sitting government. Calls for inquiries, for inquests, for justice and for change have rung out across the country. In response to the condemnation of the elected government tasked with protecting its citizens a handful of outlets have asked that this tragedy, in respect to the victims, whether those that perished or their families, is not politicised. The same request was made after the attacks in London and Manchester a few weeks ago, and so too after fires swept through Fort McMurray in 2016.
Those that referenced climate change and the need to alter our trajectory or else suffer further in the wake of the forest fires in Canada were deemed to be coldly furthering an agenda built on the bodies of the dead. As UKIP and the Tories reneged on their commitment to cease electioneering after the attack on London Bridge and Borough Market the same accusations were made.
Yet to depoliticise, to detach the fire in Kensington, the attacks in England or the fires in Canada from the environment in which they were fostered, the political, economic, social and cultural state in which they were stoked is not only impossible, but irresponsible, disingenuous and disrespectful. This is not to focus solely on any one party or individual but the ideology to which they subscribe, remembering that advocates of the status quo have also been shaped by its structure, its virtues and its talents just as anybody else. This ideology is neoliberalism, the damning creed to which we are bent crosses party lines, fits and oils the revolving door between big business, the press and the state that maintains and drives this narrative. Its political clientele boasts an impressive roster that includes every Head of State in the US since Reagan and every sitting party in the UK since Thatcher. Neoliberalism takes no issue in skirting from one party to the next, it has enveloped the entirety of our democratic process, the boxes that we have ‘freely’ elected to tick for almost forty years are engulfed in its principles.
In the world that subscribes to these neoliberal principles, the residents of Grenfell Tower and their lives are measured and valued by the capital they produce, these principles are both binding and explicitly stated by its architects. The lives of those that lived in the tower and the lives of their children are worth less than those of their neighbours and as a result it was not deemed fitting for those people to be protected by the same standards that the wealthy enjoy. Such disparity exists not only in our homes, but in opportunities of education, health and prosperity.
The deaths of the dozens that passed in the royal borough were accidental, but they were preventable and nothing but a symptom of the neoliberal doctrine that propagates extremes of inequality, the normalisation and acceptance of destitution and the demonization of the poor.
This doctrine shapes our perceptions and draws the boundaries within which we live. Where people are monetised and conditions crafted not for people, but for shareholders, adequate fire safety fell beyond the boundaries drawn for the residents of Grenfell, the kindling in which the tower was wrapped fell within. It is the same principles that poison the citizens of Flint Michigan and those of the Niger Delta, it is the same principles that exploit the ancestral homes of the poor in North Dakota and those of Lancaster, England.
These are accepted by-products of the ideology to which the dominant narrative subscribes, whilst the flame retardant panels that covered the building, reported to cost £5,000 more than those fitted might seem a small price to pay to prevent the deaths of hundreds of people, such costs are entirely incompatible with the neoliberal free market ideology that demands, inherently, that the primary duty of the firms tasked with constructing the façade in Kensington, the water systems in Flint, the oil wells in Niger, the pipelines in North Dakota and the hydraulics in Lancaster are to their shareholders and not to the suffering citizens impacted by these structures. The safety of these inhabitants are explicitly, dogmatically at odds with the premise of our economic atmosphere, the internalised rewards (financial gain) and the externalised costs (loss of life, environmental costs, loss of livelihood and state support to victims) are an innate facet of this ideology. Neither the reverence nor the respect of the poor fits with the free market. It is to this worldview, this economic and political model to which we must lay assault after every tragedy it facilitates, without exception, the tragedies are many, and often more insidious than the stark disaster in West London this week:
In propagating vast inequality and the hoarding of wealth to an elite, we see those without, (the poor, the destitute) exposed to greater prevalence of obesity, to poor illiteracy and poor health. A stark relationship exists between poverty and the impacts of climate change, of air pollution, access to education and access to nutrition. All of these damnations are dealt to the unlucky by way of the lottery of birth and the neoliberal free market. In great inequality we see greater likelihood of radicalisation, higher rates of cancer, shorter life expectancy, greater depression and greater struggles with mental health. This dogma festers with and tacitly encourages contempt of the poor, it cannot exist without this premise and in doing so casts the prosperity, opportunity, health and happiness of the majority into the shadow of profit for the few.
The stakeholders are fivefold; citizens, the judiciary, the state, the press and big business, all but the former have been amalgamated into a single cell by the neoliberal regime, the pillars of society required to hold each other to account have fallen into an incestuous, domineering relationship and the people suffer as they must. In order to break this mould we must reinstate democracy not only into our politics through local government, strong unions and alternative voting, but crucially to our economy and the press.
At the present time the institution tasked with holding our state and big business to account is made up of former and future members of the state and big business; corporate hegemony made up of billionaires own our beloved free press and oligarchic monopolies write the legislation by which we live, the editor, minister and entrepreneur have come to a head, concentrating wealth and furthering inequality that leads to less happy and less prosperous societies and have in every historical case been brought to their knees by exceptionalism and by hubris at the cost of great suffering, injustice and further deprivation of the working poor.
In the wake of the fire in Kensington we will see public inquiries, with hope an inquest, and as with the Zeebrugge Ferry disaster, as with Hillsborough, we will hopefully see laws passed that seek to condemn such tragedies to history, but in order to scrutinise the laws passed that assert such regulations and offer change, we must look at the law makers, who they are, to whom they swear allegiance and to whom their loyalties lie. And when such interests are deemed to be found guilty of complacency, of elitism and incest they must be democratised and the citizens for whom they are constructed placed again at the centre of their task, else the inferno at Grenfell Tower and the suffering of the poor be reconstructed and retold endlessly, often silently in countless manifestations for years and years to come.