Grenfell demonstrator, 17.6.17, photo Mary Finch

Grenfell demonstrator, 17.6.17, photo Mary Finch   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Grenfell inquiry serves to deflect opinion away from the establishment

London Socialist Party members

The Moore-Bick inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire is trying to put responsibility on to firefighters who risked their lives rather than those who cut safety regulations, cut spending on emergency services, clad the building in inflammable material or threatened residents with legal action when they expressed safety concerns.

The press has been reporting with a spin that deflects opinion away from the establishment while some of the bereaved and survivors are bound by a non-disclosure agreement, and others have not had the chance to read the report.

Grenfell United, representing survivors and the bereaved, has expressed disappointment at the “lack of respect.” Unfortunately, this lack of respect is a repeated feature of the inquiry, adding still more pain for the community.

The leader of the firefighter’s union (FBU), Matt Wrack, has rightly pointed out that the causes of the fire go back decades. He pointed out that firefighters were being publicly scrutinised in the report while political leaders were not.

As London mayor, Boris Johnson was responsible for a £29 million cut in fire service funding in 2013 and the loss of ten fire stations, 14 fire engines and 552 firefighters. When challenged about this in a committee meeting, he angrily told his challenger to “get stuffed”.

It was ministers who failed to act on findings of inquiries into earlier fires before Grenfell, such as the fire at Lakanal House.

After Grenfell, thousands still live in unsafe buildings while the government still fails to act, and some landlords – including housing associations – still fail to share fire risk assessments with residents.

Labour councils should act now to ensure safety and demand that the government coughs up – and, in the general election campaign, Labour should pledge to ensure safety work is funded.

The report questions the fire brigade’s ability to learn, but what have the Tories learnt? The landlord and council were asked on the night for a list of residents and plans of the building.

They were unable to obtain these details for hours, and when the landlord’s CEO did get them, he did not forward them to the fire service for over two hours.

Any criticism of decision making by the fire service must be placed in the context of the failures of the building and its management.

While focusing on criticisms of the fire brigade, the mainstream media have not placed emphasis on the reports finding that the building was not compliant with existing regulations.

The silencing of resident groups means they have been unable to comment. However, this finding is important and does open the way to possible prosecutions of those responsible.

Jeremy Corbyn has commented: “Thousands of people are still at risk because of the government’s failure to remove similar cladding from other tower blocks”.

“Given the huge strain on our fire service after years of Tory cuts, the next Labour government will increase resources going to the fire service and recruit additional firefighters.”

That must be translated into concrete campaign pledges during the election campaign.

Residents must be guaranteed access to risk assessments and enough money committed to resolve safety issues around the country.

Labour should also commit to a revamped inquiry led by the local community and labour movement to reveal the underlying reasons for the terrible events at Grenfell and the roots of the fire safety crisis that has been revealed nationally.

Grenfell showed the depth of class inequality in Britain and the contemptuous way that the Tories deal with working-class housing.