WERE there sharp intakes of breath when shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the Grenfell Tower fire victims were “murdered by political decisions?”
McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and other political activists, supported by the Morning Star, have been agitating for decades to demand that housing be seen as a human right not a marketable asset.
Council housing was the primary means by which Britain combated the scourge of slum dwellings and destruction of countless homes through aerial bombing during the second world war.
Requisition of land, compulsory purchase, fire regulations and restrictions on the ability of private landlords to gouge rent from tenants for below-standard homes were all part of the postwar housing campaign.
They weren’t seen as dangerous revolutionary fancies, although the desire to rehouse the homeless in modern, sanitary and safe homes certainly had its roots in the left. But even Tory governments in the 1950s boasted of building hundreds of thousands of council homes each year.
Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government unleashed an ideological offensive against council housing in the 1980s, flying her “property-owning democracy” propaganda kite. She encouraged individuals to buy their council homes, while subsequent neoliberal premiers from both major parties pushed the transfer of entire council estates/schemes to housing associations or delegated their running to arm’s length management organisations.
Making savings not human decency became the watchword for managing council housing.
This meant taking out caretakers/concierges from tower blocks, cutting corners on safety and scrimping on the cost of insulation, as the minimal savings achieved through fitting flammable panels rather than flame-proof cladding at Grenfell shows.
Safety warning followed safety warning and complaint followed complaint, but they weren’t taken seriously because the tenants were poor and didn’t warrant extra expenditure, having failed to buy into the capitalist dream.
The Grenfell victims were effectively murdered by heartless political decisions and by the profits-first ethos of capitalism.
This article appeared in The Morning Star June 26th 2017