The Grenfell Tower Atrocity: Exposing urban worlds of inequality, injustice, and an impaired democracy
The fire that erupted in Grenfell Tower in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in west London on 14 June 2017 is widely acknowledged to be the worst experienced during UK peacetime since the nineteenth century. It is confirmed to have resulted in 72 casualties and 70 physically injured. It has also left a community physically and emotionally scarred. That the catastrophe occurred in the country’s wealthiest borough added to the shock while the circumstances surrounding it also begged questions relating to political and corporate responsibility. The UK Prime Minister swiftly established a public inquiry which is ongoing and anticipated to stretch well into 2019. This paper offers a preliminary analysis of what some are interpreting to be a national atrocity. It begins by describing the events at the time of the fire while also identifying the key controversies that began to surface. It then examines the local geography of Grenfell Tower and the surrounding Lancaster West Estate revealing an astonishing landscape of inequality across the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The paper then uncovers how such inequality was combined with a malevolent geography of injustice whereby for several years residents raised regular warnings about the building’s safety only to be disregarded by the very organisations which were there ostensibly to protect and safeguard their livelihoods: the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea municipal authority and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation. The paper then deepens the analysis identifying how these organisations disavowed the local democratic process, in doing so dishonouring so tragically the Grenfell residents. It then finds this democratic disavowal to be multiscalar: for amid an incremental neoliberal political assault on the national welfare state, public housing across the country has become wretchedly devalued, stigmatised, and the subject of scandalous maladministration. A final section offers some preliminary analysis of the early stages of the Grenfell Inquiry, while also revealing the dignified resistance of the Grenfell community in the face of London’s increasingly plutocratic governance.
GRENFELL ACTION GROUP COMMENT:
A must read, this is everything that O’Hagan’s travesty was not. Beautifully written, with empathy and compassion for all who inhabit the working class ghettos of the UK, it deftly exposes the politics of greed, indifference and austerity administered by those who enjoy the entitlement and privilege of wealth and power and who enabled the badly botched refurbishment of Grenfell Tower that led directly to the tragedy of the Grenfell Fire.