Mike Cleverley, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
Recently, my partner and I watched ‘Grenfell: The Untold Story’. We watched footage of tenants, ahead of the 2017 tragedy, battle with ‘the suits’ over their living conditions: lifts out of order for days, water cut off, no heating in flats in January. The film footage was taken as part of what Kensington and Chelsea Council seemingly hoped would be a good PR exercise for their Tenant Management Organisation (TMO). But the obvious contempt these officials had for the tenants shone through. The tenants felt that they were seen as animals not humans!
During the 2015 ‘refurbishment’ of Grenfell Tower, tenants explained that there were enormous gaps between the new window frames and the window aperture, one woman said she could get her whole arm through the gap. Clearly, the window frames were the wrong size, but instead of getting the right size, the gap was filled with silicone. Later this silicone would play a terrible role in the tragedy.
As the programme went on, we saw tenants raise further problems, only to be pushed aside by the TMO officials. The Tory MP at the time, Victoria Borwick, attended some of those meetings. Her response was: “I am only an MP, I don’t have any power!” Those watching in my borough of Waltham Forest must have thought: “I have heard those words somewhere before!”
Several times, the tenants were assured that all the fire safety measures were in place. Another familiar refrain we hear from local councillors acting as apologists for developers and construction companies.
Towards the end we realised that most of the men, women and kids we saw speaking at these meetings are now dead. We heard their voices again on their telephones, begging for help, imploring their families not to worry. We heard hapless switchboard operators talking to desperate people whose homes were filling with toxic smoke.
As the credits ran we sat in stunned silence. I was so angry I had to stop myself from starting a Facebook rant, landing myself another ban.
The show didn’t hear much from the Kensington and Chelsea councillors. After all, many of these TMOs were set up to keep tenants’ problems out of councillors’ in-trays!
We all know that where profits are the main concern, all sorts of ‘savings’ get made. Cheap window frames, inflammable silicone and insulation panels that burn like petrol – all the result of cost-cutting by a Tory council.
Many homes workers live in are death traps; hospitals prop up their ceilings with pit-props. Yet when the government needs to bail out big companies, the NHS needs a cash injection, or flammable cladding needs removing, it is working people who are forced to pay. The poorer you are, the bigger percentage of your money will be snatched away.
How much longer must we tolerate this horrible profit system, and the Tory and Labour parties that support it? This is why I am a member of the Socialist Party, and proud of it too!
- ‘Grenfell: The Untold Story’ is available to stream on All4 until 8 October 2021