Article: John Lunch
David Cameron said in 2012 that his new year’s resolution was to “kill off the health and safety culture for good”.
Health and safety legislation has become an “albatross around the neck of British businesses”, he wailed costing them “billions of pounds a year”.
“I don’t think there’s any one single way you can cut back the health and safety monster,” said Mr Cameron. “You’ve got to look at the quantity of rules – and we’re cutting them back; you’ve got to look at the way they’re enforced.”
Doesn’t look good in the wake of a fire which has killed over a hundred people – a wholly preventable fire that leaves charred bodies and a burnt out tower block as symbols of Cameron’s heroic slaying of the “health and safety monster”.
The residents group that repeatedly warned the owners of Grenfell Tower of the potential for a catastrophic fire were dismissed with disdain and contempt – troublemakers in the fight against ‘red tape’. Boris Johnson told those who questioned the wisdom of closing three fire stations in the area to “get stuffed”.
Gavin Barwell, now Theresa May’s chief of staff and previously Minster for Housing, told MPs in October 2016 that relevant health and safety regulations would be ‘reviewed’ following the investigation into the fatal 2009 Lakanal House fire in south-east London – the review has yet to appear. The whole purpose of the enquiry into Lakanal House and the subsequent ‘review’ was simply to slow down any enthusiasm for the dreadful monster of health and safety; so it will be with any inquiry into Grenfell.
The response of the tory government and the local tory council to the fire at Grenfell Tower has been predictably disinterested: no help offered on the ground and a drive past from Theresa May who naturally didn’t feel inclined to speak to or even wave at any of the little people who had lost homes and loved ones. When the papers kicked up a fuss, she went to a hospital – but all encounters between May and ordinary people have to take place within controlled conditions. She lacks the software to fake concern for people she doesn’t care about.
This is to be expected. Tories are not concerned with people, they are the party of assets and capital. Thus when Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party proposed legislation to make homes fit for human habitation the Tories voted it down. No mystery as to why. Their party is replete with millionaire landlords who don’t want the expense of caring about tenants.
Another tory hero of the fight against health and safety, former housing minister Brandon Lewis said this of the sprinkler systems which would have saved lives at Grenfell Tower:
“We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation.”
In other words, if protecting people from burning to death inconveniences capital: fuck off.
Leaving health and safety regulations in the hands of tories is like asking UKIP to build centres to welcome refugees. They are not merely uninterested, they are deeply hostile. Health and Safety is fine in the airbags of the luxury cars they drive and the construction materials of the exclusive hotels they stay at. It is never to protect poor people at the expense of landlords. After all, they are the landlords.
There are plenty of empty residences deployed by vulture capital as tokens in London’s property casino, that could very easily be seized by the government and used to house those who lost everything at Grenfell Tower – but we know they won’t be. Such a move would set a dangerous precedent of caring for people over property. No conservative government will ever do that.
The whole putrid pantomime of how the establishment obscures and excuses the contempt of the wealthy for the well-being of anyone else is now in full effect.
The Daily Mail rushed to publish a photograph of the guy whose malfunctioning fridge perhaps sparked the fire. He was black, you see, and drinking a pint of beer which explains everything in the eyes of its hate filled readership.
The Telegraph and The Sun rushed to smear the local community as a mob and their legitimate anger as the work of hard left activists and (incredibly!) the death toll as ‘fake news’ spread by Corbyn supporters. The Telegraph declines to explain quite where the 70 or so people who remain ‘missing’ have gone – doubtless they are all part of some Marxist conspiracy.
The Queen has been wheeled out to mollify the masses and there will inevitably be much huff and puff in the media for a couple of weeks.
There will be an enquiry which will take 6 years to report and the tories will courageously hide behind that report and change nothing in the interim.
No lessons will be learnt since none are necessary. We all know that over 100 people died at Grenfell Tower because its owners wanted to save five grand on cladding and the cost of the sprinklers. The culture that normalises such decisions will not be changed.
The usual suspects will bellow “enough is enough”, recommendations about fire safety might be sneaked out behind other news in 2023 and a voluntary code suggested.
We know already that the Grenfell fire represents corporate manslaughter but oddly it took a Labour MP to say so. There will of course be no prosecutions in the end. An establishment which has managed to stall and obfuscate for Tony Blair since the Iraq War is more than capable of sweeping the charred remains of some poor people in a tower block under the carpet.
Britain routinely elects a clique of millionaire landlords and the ultra wealthy to run things, so we can only presume that our state religion is now the worship of money and the already powerful. Prioritising the demands of capital over people is what tories do. It’s what they always do. If you listen to them it’s actually all they talk about.
The next time you hear tories gleefully muttering about cutting ‘red tape’ you can be sure that it will favour them and not you. This is an interesting political parlour game which can be viewed like a football match between blue and red teams until it starts killing you or members of your family.
Since the tory brexiteers are chomping at the bit to make a bonfire of all the tiresome EU legislation concerning health and safety, one might hope that the Grenfell Tower fire might be a wake up call for a nation sleepwalking towards being a third world tax haven – I doubt it will be.
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