By Patrick Brogan
The Conservative Party in Britain have received a lot of the blame for the Grenfell Tower fire, whose official death toll is at 79, but given the difficult nature of trying to identify bodies in such a fire and the number of people that lived there, it is likely this number is nowhere near accurate.
In such events, politicians are desperate to play the blame game, but it is important to look at what led up to this to find the cause. The media, the public, and the opposition have all blamed Tory austerity. Boris Johnson’s tenure as mayor has come sharply into focus. Indeed Johnson’s actions of closing 10 fire stations and the removal of 27 fire engines looks very bad on the face of it. The current Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said during his time as Mayor of London the response time to fires was reduced by 50% and London had the quickest response time in the country.
This does not give a complete picture of the reality facing London firefighters. Many are frustrated by cutbacks and have said fire engines now have to come from further afield to tackle blazes. This allied to equipment that was woefully inadequate to put out a fire at such a height. Johnson’s main focus was on fire prevention, but he also did a poor job in this regard. The evidence of this is painfully too clear. We all know of the residents’ worries about fire safety at this stage and how they had warned the authorities for years. On Channel 4, one resident had spoken of his neighbours smoking on their balconies and the ash from this caused the cladding to smoulder.
Certainly, the videos that have come to light of Boris Johnson saying he wouldn’t make cuts to the fire service and his “get stuffed” comment when asked about said cuts make him look like a liar and arrogant. This will do his leadership aspirations of the Tories little good. Is he totally at fault? He certainly could have done more, but this would have been difficult under a Conservative-led Government so determined on austerity measures. Did he even try, though?
The reality is this is a broader issue. The Mayorship has been in Labour hands over a year now with Sadiq Khan. Johnson claims Khan had the money to change the fire service and even did a review of the situation. Still, no improvements were made. Where were the media before all this began? The mainstream did very little, some did nothing at all, to highlight this. Now they are on sight 24/7 producing emotional porn. Soon, they will move off, only returning to this story on anniversaries to make those saccharine documentaries.
The people of Grenfell were failed on a number of levels. And this is because they were dehumanised and by no means a priority. This is a worrying trend not just in Britain, but most of the Western world it seems. We need to get rid of the boxes we put people in and look out for each other.
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