As the fallout from Grenfell continues, opposition to the Tories spreads, writes Shabbir Lakha
The blackened remains of Grenfell Tower stands starkly in the London skyline as an immortal symbol of Tory Britain, the sceptre of the avoidable tragedy that took place there looming over the city. For the thousands of people living in the area and the thousands that have flocked in to volunteer to support victims and their families, the sight of the tower is a tragic reminder of how the Tories let poor people burn.
I couldn’t look at the tower without seeing the faces of people whose faces are plastered on missing posters all over the area, the faces of children in windows from videos I’ve seen and just trying to fathom how people could have tried to get out and what happened to the hundreds that were left trapped inside. I can only imagine the feelings of people who have lost loved ones in this tragedy.
What I saw yesterday, walking around Ladbroke Grove and marching with the community in the evening, was utter rage. But it wasn’t a hopeless, directionless rage. It was very much aimed at the Tories – both the local councillors immediately responsible for ignoring the residents of Grenfell Tower for years and for the vanity project that installed the not-so-fireproof cladding and the Tory government whose policies of austerity are culpable for this atrocity.
Snapshots of conversations I heard throughout the day were all about how Theresa May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell, the former Housing Minister, sat on a report that raised the fire risk of Grenfell Tower and other high rise buildings; how Theresa May was a coward in how she has responded to the situation and refused to meet victims; how this is part of an agenda of social cleansing and gentrification that they’ve been facing for years.
And the talk about social cleansing wasn’t the conspiracy theory version, although there was a bit of that, and I don’t blame them for thinking that given how they’ve been treated. It was mainly a clear understanding that in the richest (but most unequal) borough in the country, the residents of Grenfell Tower were ignored because their lives just aren’t worth as much and that the refurbishments done last year were for the sole purpose of prettying up the building for the wealthier residents nearby.
This is class politics and it was at the heart of the chants and demands throughout the demonstration in the evening. Someone asked: “Why has there been no minute’s silence for these victims?” One person took the mic and said “You might call them the government, but I call them the mafia. This is organised crime.” One of the chants that caught on was: “The rich, the rich, we’ve got to get rid of the rich.”
The local community mobilised impromptu at Kensington Town Hall and stormed the building, demanding answers from the councillors that have remained hidden. They then marched to Grenfell Tower. On Tuesday evening, Nick Paget-Brown, the Tory council leader and the man who has justified the council’s actions by blaming the residents of Grenfell Tower for the fire, will be hosting a meeting and answering questions in South Kensington – the community are ready to mobilise and demonstrate there.
Three things are clear:
1The politics has not been diluted – there is no talk among those directly affected and living in the area about “not politicising the tragedy” as some right wing commentators including Boris Johnson have come out with: there is a clear awareness of how political the situation is.
2The anger is very real, omnipresent and not going to go away. If the government, media and police continue to treat us the way they are; continue suppressing figures, downplaying the horrors and the government’s responsibility for it, the anger will only escalate.
3This battle will take place on the streets. Yes, there will be legal and bureaucratic political avenues used as well, but one thing that everyone was certain of, is that justice will only come from our defiance and our mobilisations on the streets. There was widespread support for the national demonstration on July 1st, and there is likely to be a Justice for Grenfell bloc at the demo.
The demonstration on 1st July will be massive, it will play a huge part in bringing down this murderous Tory government and the spirit and solidarity from Grenfell will very much be a significant part of it.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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