23

Grenfell – Two Years On

The Cynic

The tragedy of the Grenfell Tower blaze affects every person in the country, not just those living in tower blocks. Many of the safety issues potentially reach into every home, not just high-rise dwellers.

This is not just about fire-safety. The Grenfell tragedy revealed defects at every level of government, from top to bottom. When action was needed urgently, instead we have witnessed astonishing paralysis. Government has been unable to acknowledge let alone remedy the problems it created. It became obvious the entire system of government is dysfuntional.

No lessons have been learned, nothing has changed. New buildings are still being covered with plastic cladding and flammable Celotex insulation – “solid petrol” that burns to produce cyanide.

Even the scale of the potential problem has yet to be properly assessed. The government has set arbitrary limits about the type of buildings and cladding that could be considered – limits that fire would not respect. A dramatic recent blaze at Barking illustrated that the same problems also affect low-rise buildings and types of flammable non-plastic cladding that the government claimed were not at risk.

Nothing has been done about appliances such as the fridge-freezer that started the inferno, which was insulated with flammable material broadly similar to that on the outside of the building and, like the building itself, lacked fire-proof cladding that would have made it less dangerous. The government simply dismissed the risk, claiming the fridge-freezer complied with the regulations, therefore must be “low-risk” ignoring complaints from consumer groups that the regulations were inadequate..

Many have criticised the slow pace of the inquiry. It took a year to set up. A first report is due in October 2019 but this will only address the performance of the rescue effort, not  the refurbishment, cladding and the spread of the blaze. The Inquiry will only begin considering those issues in 2020, three years after the blaze

The government has actually used Grenfell as an excuse to delay rather than hasten action already recommended after a previous fire, ten years ago. Safety measures are to be delayed yet longer, pending the outcome of the Grenfell inquiry.

This is not just about national government – similar failures occurred at every level. This was no single broken link but rather an entire chain of broken and unfit agencies and procedures, from top to bottom, down to individual local council departments and the “Arms Length Management Company” created to distance the council from responsibility for housing. Every single agency was to blame, because no single agency could have failed so badly except for lack of action from all the others. The problem was not just that the regulations were so lax but that even these were not enforced, in many different ways at successive levels.

The response has been embarrassment and evasion. Theresa May was criticised for her initial reluctance to visit the site and meet the survivors.

A very self-serving system has shown little interest in the problems of ordinary people. Two years later, some of the families are yet to be re-housed.

This is a profound scandal but nothing has changed. No-one has lost their job, no-one has been censured, no changes have been made – no response at all. There has been no official criticism of anything – not the agencies nor any individual.

The only possible conclusion is that there is a total absence of accountability. No matter what happens, no-one will be held to account. The entire point about democracy is that government has to be accountable to the public. Here government is not accountable to anyone or anything – not even the law.

This is not just about fire-safety.

We can see similar lack of accountability in other areas, with similar fatal consequences. Take the scandal of the Gosport hospital deathsmore than 450 people were deliberately killed in hospital by lethal injection of morphine – a process that continued over a period of years.

No-one has been punished, no-one has been held to account – so far, there have been no consequences at all. Officials at the Department of Health covered-up the deaths, and a string of ministers went along with this until, after two decades, finally one minister went against his civil servants‘ advice[1] and unexpectedly decided there should be an inquiry.

A government that is willing (and able) to cover-up 450 intentionally-caused deaths is likely more than willing to conceal the issues behind 72 accidental deaths, at Grenfell, caused by apparent wilful neglect. And we cannot know how many other scandals have been successfully concealed[2].

These stories reveal a total absence of accountability. This is a culture of impunity.

When there is no accountability, this opens the door to… let’s not call it corruption, let’s call it “influence”. One of the phenomena we have seen grow, as accountability has diminished, has been the lobbying industry. Different industries have lobbied to change the regulations that affect them, to give them a commercial advantage.

In relation to Grenfell, the plastics industry successfully lobbied to change insulation regulations, setting insulation standards difficult to achieve without plastic foam insulation, while weakening the controls against flammable materials. It seems this process happened via the European Union, via the Building Materials regulations.

The European Union adopted regulations, but Britain lobbied for these particular standards to be adopted, at the behest of the plastics industry.

One of the particular features of the European Union is lack of transparency. The public never finds out which nations voted for, or lobbied for, particular EU legislation or rules. This has given rise to the phenomenon of “policy laundering” – governments introduce controversial legislation via the European Union, then claim to the public “We didn’t want this, we fought against it, but the EU has adopted it, so now our hands are tied – it must become law.”

They claim this, blaming the EU, to hide their own role in introducing the proposals and forcing them through. Britain has adopted this approach repeatedly – it has become a standard ploy. Tony Blair’s New Labour used this several times to introduce unpopular new measures.

Unfortunately, the EU dimension explains much of the dithering about flammable building materials, post-Grenfell. After the EU has set rules, only the EU can change them – member-states are prohibited from setting their own standards. National fire-safety standards are considered a “non-tariff barrier to cross-border trade”. The idea is that contractors from one country should be able to bid for insulation and renovation projects across Europe, using the same standards, not having to navigate a profusion of different rules in different countries.

For example, Germany lost a case in the European Court of Justice, trying to asset its own national standards for fire-safety – the ECJ insisted EU rules took precedence and nation-states could not set higher standards.

These EU rules were a subject of controversy for years before Grenfell – fire safety experts across Europe had forecast they would lead to a disaster.

Since the EU has adopted these rules, only the EU can change them – and that could take a decade. There is no sign these rules will change quickly.  This paralysis highlights the problems with the EU system of government.

An acute irony is that, at this point. the building materials industry itself would desperately like the uncertainty resolved, because the delay is costing millions. Unfortunately, no-one seems able to break the deadlock and hasten action.

(The role of the EU this issue has been disputed, due to Brexit politics. A detailed account of the technical issues has been made by Richard North in his EUreferendum blog, over several articles – see this , this, this, this, this and this.)

This has become a Europe-wide issue. Although the UK press does not report much from Europe, the same issues of flammable insulation have affected hundreds of buildings across Germany and other EU nations. (An important distinction, however, is the tragedy at Grenfell also reflected that the UK did not enforce what rules there were. The rules may have been inadequate but they were broken in multiple different ways, mainly due to the UK’s enforcement regime and interpretation of the rules.)

Also relevant is that the type of plastic-clad fridge freezers that started the Grenfell blaze are legal in the EU, under EU regulations, but not in USA.

The point is that the European Union is subject to the same forces that have led to a crisis of government in the UK. These forces are international. They originate at a higher level than Britain or the EU. The issue is the ‘Washington Consensus’ – pressure from the US that all governments must make their policy open to influence from multi-national corporations. This is the basis of Globalisation.

Pointing out the problems of lack of accountability and bad government in the EU is not some stale and hackneyed attempt to argue about Brexit – this is pointing out issues that have to be faced whether inside or outside the EU.

For many years, Labour and Conservative Parties both represented similar policies – it made little difference which was elected. In a similar way, it is likely to make little difference whether Britain is in or out of the EU

It is not difficult to see why Theresa May and other UK politicians were so reluctant to talk about the EU dimension to Grenfell – and why the pro-Brexit politicians did so little to expose this. Grenfell represents why many of Britain’s problems are tied-up in the EU – but equally how Brexit may represent no solution to these and may even make matters worse.

What most commentators have been reluctant to realise is that the EU is the ‘regional agent of globalisation’, that is, it advances US interests in Europe. In many ways, the EU is actually an anti-European institution, dismantling European traditions and culture on behalf of US commercial interests.

Unfortunately, many of the advocates of Brexit propose pushing us deeper in the direction of ‘trade agreements’ that increase corporate influence over policy. Opening government to corporate influence requires being less responsive to the views of the people – to be less democratic. Unfortunately, this is what ‘trade deals’ are really about – less democracy and more corporate ‘influence’.

Faced with the widespread lack of accountability, we see the ‘democratic deficit’. We see that government officials can flout the law with impunity. To what extent are we a democracy?

Holding elections is not enough to make a country a democracy. North Korea holds regular multi-party elections and there are three main parties in the North Korean parliament – does this make North Korea a democracy?

There is plenty of evidence that Britain is not a democracy, because policy is imposed on Britain by the US. A nation cannot be a democracy when it is ruled by a foreign power -democracy is only possible in a free nation, with self-determination. It cannot be “rule by the people” when the rules are imposed by someone outside.

Whistle-blower turned academic historian Clive Ponting wrote several books about how power in Britain really works – so called “revisionist histories”. In “Breach of Promise“, about the Wilson government, 1964-70, Ponting reveals that the first duty of every British Prime Minister is to visit, with his deputy, the US President, to be told what his policy will be.

Ponting was able to obtain the minutes of these meetings (though official secrets in the UK, they were freely available from the US under their Freedom of Information Act). These revealed that Wilson was forced to adopt a series of policies extremely detrimental to the UK. One was an exchange-rate policy designed to protect the US Dollar, that the US realised would cripple the UK economy. Appreciating this, to control the effects on the UK, the US required the UK to introduce prices and wages controls.

Apart from Wilson and Callaghan, nobody in the British Cabinet knew these policies originated from the US – not even the minister who introduced the (desperately unpopular) prices and wages controls, Barbara Castle. This policy endured from 1964-1979, through both Labour and Conservative, and led to the defeat of three governments. No mater how unpopular the policy, it was not possible for the British people to overturn it, because it was imposed by the US, and no British government could change it.

During the period of the Roman Empire, the different conquered nations had the appearance of self-rule – they each had their own kings and the people believed these kings were in fact their sovereign rulers; the hand of Rome was kept out of sight. The reality was, they were vassal states and had no meaningful independence. Vladimir Putin has referred to the Western nations as “vassal states” of the US. He was referring to their lack of power to make their own policy.

This is very much like the situation in Britain’s different local councils. Local people can elect their local councillors but the policy of the council is directed, often in great detail, by the regional office of national government. The officers of the council liaise with the government office and develop their policy in collaboration with national government officers much more than in response to their own elected council leaders. The job of elected councillors often ends up being no more than the sell to the public a policy they had no hand in creating.

Over time, a nation that is ruled by a foreign power will become more and more obviously not democratic. It cannot respond to the will of its people, therefore cannot allow accountability. Democracy, particularly accountability, is essential to the health of public institutions. Without this, over time, corruption must inevitably proliferate – only accountability can hold it in check. Corporate influence is a particularly concentrated form of corruption – and it has actually become official policy to embrace it. We can see its disastrous effects on public institutions today. We are descending into epic corruption for much the same reasons as ancient Rome.

What happens to the elected “leaders” of a nation, when they cannot make its policy? It appears they realise they have no power except to get rich from their position. They cannot much influence policy, but they have the advantage of knowing what policy is going to be, before anyone else, thus can take advantage of investment opportunities, knowing what direction government policy will take.

(Of course, these remarks should not be considered to refer to Theresa May or her husband’s position at a large investment bank. But maybe read this, this, this and this.)

Ultimately, the issues at stake here are not about race, class, poverty or even about high-rise blocks – the issue is whether we can trust our government. Is our government competent, honest, efficient and accountable – a democratic government – or is it spreading chaos and even causing unnecessary death because it doesn’t care about our interests? Is it run by people who are robbing the country, corruptly, because they are not accountable, because this is not functionally a democracy.

We are in a very terrible predicament. We can only hope that public awareness and debate about this may lead to a solution over time.

Notes

[1] Government officials tried to dodge inquiry into 800 deaths at single hospital, ex-health minister claimsThe Independent

A former health minister has claimed government officials tried to dodge a public inquiry into the suspicious deaths of more than 800 patients at a single hospital in England.

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb said he suspected a “conspiracy” among officials, when in his absence they tried to reject an inquiry into hundreds of deaths allegedly linked to Dr Jane Barton.

He claims to have intervened at the last moment, allowing the subsequent launch of the probe into circumstances around the deaths of mainly elderly patients, many of whom were prescribed high doses of morphine.

[2] Gosport scandal exposes blame culture in NHS, says HuntThe Guardian

… a warning by Prof Sir Brian Jarman, head of the Dr Foster Unit at Imperial College London, that situations similar to Gosport were likely to be happening elsewhere.

He told Today: “At the moment, whistleblowers are fired, gagged and blacklisted. Nobody dare whistleblow in the NHS.”

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Rhys Jaggar
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Rhys Jaggar

Actually the issue is the increasing control of lower income rental housing by capitalists solely interested in high rates of financial return. Housing is not a commodity you can choose to go without in the Uk, hence it is entirely unsuitable for free market capitalist approaches.

Housing for rent should be broadly communally owned by non-profit making cooperatives. That can be local government vehicles, it can be charities, what it should not be is asset-stripping vulture capitalists solely interested in 20%+ returns per annum.

You make short term profits by failing to update infrastructure, failing to invest and generally pushing more rent less for less quality. You hope you are out of the market by the time the manure hits the rotating cooler.

Social housing objectives should surround solvent management organisations, healthy homes not engangering the health of infants and the elderly (who are most susceptible to cold, damp and disease). It should take an intergenerational view, an holistic view of a community serving its members and a responsibility not to put tenants in potentially life threatening danger.

Of course, the US has forbidden its vassals for thinking like this as the poor are acceptable collateral damage and only the top 5% are worthy of life.

But thinking people do not accept US authority overseas and are prepared to be outspoken, rude and utterly implacable in saying that we have nothing to learn from the ghettoisation of US cities, other than not to look to the US for models of equitable societies…..

different frank
Reader
different frank

As a brickie, the amount of celotex I have put into people’s homes is a bit disconcerting.
But the regs stated that celotex was the insulation material to be used.
I always thought it a flammable material.

Guy
Reader
Guy

Grenfell towers is proof positive that building 7 in New York 9/11 could not have come down other than with explosives.Connecting all the dots .

ZigZagWanderer
Reader
ZigZagWanderer

Whilst it is true that the NIST report regarding the collapse of building 7 is bogus , incorrect and scientifically impossible , it is not possible to compare it in any way to Grenfell .
Building 7 was a steel frame structure. Grenfell was a concrete structure.

Chalk and cheese.

Guy
Reader
Guy

And for how long did the Grenfell bldg stand while burning ?
And for how long did bldg 7 stand while burning ?
Notwithstanding the fact that both bldgs were built differently ,the fact remains one went down after a few hours of burning on a few floors while the other one burned for how long ?
Chalk and cheese ??

different frank
Reader
different frank

Indeed.

0use4msm
Reader
0use4msm

They ought to clad government buildings with flammable Celotex. After all, if it’s considered safe enough for the plebs to live in…

Fair dinkum
Reader
Fair dinkum

‘Also relevant is that the type of plastic-clad fridge freezers that started the Grenfell blaze are legal in the EU, under EU regulations, but not in USA.’
With more than a million money hungry lawyers in the US, perhaps SOME manufacturers are more cautious.

andyoldlabour
Reader
andyoldlabour

The timing of the Skripal fiasco and the following death in Salisbury of the unfortunate woman, were in my opinion staged to deflect attention from the various Grenfell enquiries and the Gosport hospital deaths.
The Gosport affair resulted in huge loss of life, and yet it has just vanished into thin air. It is in fact worse than that, because I think many people are totally unaware that it actually happened – which is exactly what the powers that be intended to happen.

mark
Reader
mark

This is all quite plausible. It is standard procedure globally to stage these incidents as a distraction device. Terrorist incidents, apparently tragic accidents like train derailments, Jack The Ripper type murders of women. Anything that generates fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Sometimes for its own sake. Sometimes to divert attention from something else going on.

Just one very minor example. Just before the 1973 Middle East War, Syria needed to stage a very large build up of its forces in southern Syria. This was on such a scale that it could not easily be concealed. So a distraction operation was mounted. A train carrying Russian Jews migrating to Israel was hijacked in Austria by Syrian officers posing as members of an obscure Palestinian operation. Nobody was hurt, but it had the effect of diverting attention from the build up.

Someone who was in special forces said that for similar reasons, before a war a lot of operations like this had to be expected. School shootings like Dunblane. Train derailments with heavy casualties. Jack The Ripper type murders. Anything to generate horror and divert attention. When Reagan was shot in the US, intelligence organisations were immediately alerted to see if this was an isolated incident or something staged for other reasons.

Mark in Mayenne
Reader
Mark in Mayenne

Has anyone been looking at why the fridge caught fire? Residents had been complaining for some time of large fluctuations in the mains voltage. Three-phase system with return wire broken?

Joe
Reader
Joe

It’s all a three phase system, but a building, or a street, will be connected to only one phase.

Godfree Roberts
Reader
Godfree Roberts

One night in 2010 a Shanghai high-rise fire killed fifty-eight people. The Minister of Public Security arrived from Beijing at two am and, by dawn, had coordinated twenty-five fire stations and a hundred fire trucks, a thousand firefighters, police, hospitals, finance, insurance, housing, donations, counseling, criminal investigations and the local school district. Forty-eight hours later, state-owned insurers began compensating families for lost property and $250,000 for each death. A week later, Shanghai mayor Han Zheng admitted, “We are responsible for poor supervision of the city’s construction industry which caused the fire.” He implemented new building codes, fired or demoted thirty officials, of whom twenty-two were indicted and most went to prison, two for sixteen years. The contrast with London’s 2017 Grenfell Tower fire is stark.

mark
Reader
mark

Ah, that just proves what an evil dictatorship China is and how morally superior we are. We obviously need to double down on the lofty sermons and pious lectures to China.

Tim Jenkins
Reader
Tim Jenkins

GR-eat that comment 😉

A stark reminder . . .

People who speak well, speak briefly.

GR nails ‘it’ !

axisofoil
Reader
axisofoil

I agree.

mark
Reader
mark

In Tsarist Russia, a revolutionary was taken out to be hanged, but the rope broke. His last words were – they can’t even hang a man properly in this bloody country.

Britain has been like Tsarist Russia for a long time. You can look at the way we lurch from fiasco to fiasco, disaster to disaster, catastrophe to catastrophe. All Acts of God with nobody ever accountable.
A lot of these, fortunately, do not involve actual loss of life like Grenfell, though some do.
The PFI public/private gravy train scandal. I worked for a time in a PFI building where somebody asked for a small fridge. This had to go through the PFI administrators. They wanted £5,000 for a small fridge you could buy down the town for £89. Someone asked for a couple of “In” trays for an office. You can get them down the town for a couple of quid. The PFI folks wanted £70. A lot of hospitals, schools, and other buildings are PFI. They are a gold mine for the City and the Finance boys and a nightmare for everybody else.
The NHS computer fiasco, where £20 billion was blown on a system that never worked.
The HIV infected blood scandal.
The catalogue of Health Trust scandals.
The Group 4 Fiasco.
The Probation Service privatisation fiasco.
Of course, it’s not just government and public services. It’s the same story with banking and finance. We have had one scandal after another. Endowment Mortgages. Private Pensions. PPI insurance protection. The MSE small business loans scandal. And of course the 2007/8 banking crash. More Acts of God with zero accountability.
Carillion. Interserve.
The same applies in anything to do with defence. The Army has the SA80 rifle, developed at vast expense, the worst rifle in the world. They could have bought something incomparably better and much cheaper off the shelf from Heckler and Koch (owned by British Aerospace), but no, we had to waste billions to give the troops a crap rifle. They all had to be sent off to H and K eventually anyway, to be completely re worked and re machined to make them work at all, at a cost of £400 per rifle. 8 Nimrod AEW early warning aircraft were produced at a cost of £500 million, that were scrapped because they didn’t work. The most expensive scrap metal in history. A dozen Chinook helicopters were bought at a cost of £500 million when the Army was in Afghanistan and desperate for helicopter support. The software didn’t work and they were left to rust in a hangar, because they couldn’t be flown over 1,000 feet. A little bit of a problem in Afghanistan where there are quite a lot of mountains. There are scores of other examples.

I know people doing replacement cladding in London. They say there’s enough work to keep them going for another 20 years. But people in private flats are being charged £20,000 or a very substantially more a time to have it done. It shouldn’t cost more than about £2,000 per flat. Of course there are now thousands of blighted properties, that are not mortgageable, not insurable, and virtually unsaleable. Maybe for ever.

Murphy’s Law applies. Sooner or later, there will be another Grenfell Mark II. You could put money on it.

It’s probably just as well we don’t have the death penalty in this country. The rope would probably break.

KarenEliot
Reader
KarenEliot

Brilliant response to a very sobering and insightful article. The “everyone’s a subcontractor” wife boy culture is rife in UK, from top to bottom. I can well believe that US pressure is a massive influence but the logic of most vicious pirate wins was ultimately an export of the days of British Empire. What an embarrassment we are.

KarenEliot
Reader
KarenEliot

* wide boy, of course lol

Antonym
Reader
Antonym

The UK is starting to look like Grenfell – including the unknown illegal residents, but after the fire.
No use blaming the US, Israel or Russia; neither Germany or France are so messed up.
Better start looking at dominant elements of Whitehall, the City and lastly Westminster. Without them no outside force could have wrecked havoc.

Fair dinkum
Reader
Fair dinkum

Chris Hedges writes another good piece on the same subject >>
https://www.truthdig.com/articles/burning-down-the-future/

Dave Lawton
Reader
Dave Lawton

Now the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire and if people really bother to investigate you will find that it was a top EU Bilderberger Klaus Kleinfeld who was CEO of Arconic and knew that the cladding was inflammable but went on to sell it.He is now being sued by shareholders because of loss of profits because of the fire.It seems he has now buggered off to Saudi Arabia.He has now given himself the title of Dr Klaus Kleinfeld and is along with Tony Blair advising on how to enhance the economic, technological and financial development of Saudi Arabia..

andyoldlabour
Reader
andyoldlabour

Arconic supplied the aluminum panels which were filled with highly combustible plastic. They tried to blame other materials for the spread of the fire. This article is from Dec 2018.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/dec/12/grenfell-cladding-firm-arconic-fire-could-have-been-put-out-with-simple-extinguisher