Friday, 16 June 2017

Grenfell: Where Were Our Health and Safety Obsessives?

Like many people I had always assumed that the advantage of our health and safety obsessed society is that we are all, well, safe if mollycoddled. It seems not. Clearly something has gone disastrously wrong at Grenfell Tower in west London leading to the deaths of dozens, maybe even over a hundred people. It is astonishing. How can this happen in a country where people obsess about putting out small signs to warn of spillages and have to attend courses in order to use a step ladder?

There is going to be a big political row about this inevitably but the response of Chauncey has been disgusting as he attempts to politicise it based on his usual assumptions that we live in a Dickensian society of waifs and strays governed by malevolent Tories. His suggestion that we should seize the properties of the rich to house the victims is typically absurd and yet at the same time disturbingly nasty. His class warfare language is unhelpful and dangerous. We don't yet know what happened and why. Chauncey's assumptions based on his nasty brand of vengeance politics are another example of why he would make an appalling prime minister.

The conspiratorial accusations of Lily Allen are typically asinine. The authorities are only confirming those deaths that they have clear and unambiguous evidence of. That is a standard procedure with all deaths. The nature of a tower like this is that many of the people asleep that night would not necessarily have been registered as residents, they may have been visiting or in some other unofficial arrangement. That makes the work of the authorities more difficult and maybe even impossible.

This area of London sits cheek by jowl with wealthy areas of London, in all probability employing the residents of this tower. London is a melting pot of nationalities drawn to its wealth and opportunities. Grenfell Tower is like a modern day Tower of Babel and indeed its language issues may have been part of its problem as residents struggled to make their concerns known.

An inquiry has been announced and it will do its work. I suspect that what it will reveal is a classic case of British administrative torpor rather than out and out incompetence. There is certainly nothing malign or malevolent here as the likes of Chauncey and Lily Allen would like to allege. It will be an example of something slipping through the gaps, of various authorities assuming that others are responsible. This is not an excuse. It is sadly typical of the kind of pettifogging we do so well in the UK. Much of our bureaucratic meddling is pointless and annoying. It operates whilst allowing genuinely dangerous situations and whole buildings to continue regardless.

There is a huge problem with housing in this country, in London in particular. The Government should seize the moment and announce a fundamental reform leading to the building of hundreds of thousands of new homes for the poor and dispossessed, homes that will be modern, safe and foster a sense of community. Where high rise buildings are allowed they should be high quality and rigorously maintained and administered. They are a good solution in high density areas like London but mostly they should be avoided. It is time for action. We don't yet know what is to blame for this tragedy. But we do know that housing is in crisis. It is time to act

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