I have been meaning to write about my feelings and thoughts following the horrific fire in Kensington that cost the lives of at least 80 people (the final figure hasn’t been worked out yet and may never be fully known).
I was away on holiday in North Wales when the fire happened. We turned on the television in the morning to catch up on the news and were transfixed, like so many others must have been, by the horrific pictures of a huge tower block going swiftly up in flames.
The witness stories were almost too much to listen to. Of people desperately trying to escape the flames, of jumping out of windows, of trying to get their children rescued first.
It was the aftermath though, of complete chaos and inactivity by the Government and the local council, Kensington and Chelsea. Then something remarkable happened. People from within the locality and others from far and wide came to help. They brought food and clothing to volunteers who informally created an organisation that coped remarkably in contrast to the inactivity of the local and national government.
This seemed to be a triumph for the community and showed a human spirit of cooperation that defied Mrs Thatcher’s assertion that “there is no such thing as society”.
The spotlight of blame though was not going to go away easily. More and more it became apparent that it was the refurbishment of the block by the council using cladding that would look ornate but may well have made the block into a giant fire trap. Indeed the local action group had sent a warning to the council months before warning of a terrible accident waiting to happen, it was, of course, ignored.
In the aftermath of the General Election, there was a new found confidence in those of us who have been railing against constant austerity cuts that saw the poorest of our nation get poorer whilst the richest got richer and richer.
Kensington was a perfect example, often seen in London, of how you could go from extreme poverty and deprivation to fabulous riches (some might say obscene) in the space of just a mile!
Here is an example of the geography of the area:
Note just how near Kensington Palace (the home for many years of The Prince of Wales and his wife Diana) is to the Tower. The dark areas are areas of deprivation, the white areas are areas of plenty (indeed riches). This summed up to many the huge chasm that existed in the lives of our citizens in modern Britain.
That there was misgovernment and mismanagement in respect of the refurbishment and lack of safety in Grenfell Towers is beyond dispute. Today (27th July), the Metropolitan Police stated that there was a case of Manslaughter that could (note the bold print) be brought against the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Builders they employed to do the refurbishment of the block.
Whatever happens, it will not bring the dead back to life. My abiding memory of the fire was a distraught volunteer a few days after it happened saying “This was murder! These people were killed by people saving money.. for what? For an accounting figure that showed the Government just how much they were towing the line of never-ending austerity.”