Enfield campaigners. Photo: Unite housing workers branch
Enfield campaigners. Photo: Unite housing workers branch

Paul Kershaw, chair Unite Housing Workers Branch, LE1111

The fire at Grenfell Tower was supposed to be a watershed moment but change has been slow or non-existent; dragged out of government by hard-fought campaigns.

Tory minister Michael Gove has conceded that flawed government guidance contributed to the cladding crisis. Of course, this has been clear to all for a long time. Residents of blocks with cladding, whose lives are blighted by safety concerns, the threat of huge bills and often an inability to sell, will be looking for action not words. It was a significant step but stopped short of making the obvious link to decades of deregulation by all governments since Margaret Thatcher.

There has also been an important local victory for campaigners in Enfield, where the Labour council reversed its earlier decision and stopped planning approval for a number of new highrises with a single staircase fire escape.

Senior planning officers were presented with special ‘Christmas presents’ as part of the campaign; copies of the book Show Me the Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen (see review in February 2023 SocialismToday) were presented to them with publicity. The book shows how public bodies and politicians facilitated profit-hungry corporations in dodging safety regulation.

Britain is almost unique internationally in not banning single-staircase highrises. Two escapes are important so that firefighters can get in with their equipment while residents get out. Grenfell had just one stairway.


It is telling that over five years since seventy-two people lost their lives, the government is only now ‘consulting’ on new regulations for fire escapes. In Enfield, a Labour council was so keen to support developer profits that it was prepared to go against the advice of the local fire brigade and common sense to proceed.

Local campaigners and trade unions, including the Unite housing workers branch, came together to fight for safety. They also challenge building residential towers of largely unaffordable housing in developments such as the troubled Meridian Water regeneration, where truly affordable social-rented homes are desperately needed.