Vile Grenfell video reeks of callous Tory policymaking

Vile Grenfell video reeks of callous Tory policymaking
Comment: The offensive video mocking the Grenfell disaster should be criticised, but remember that May's government are the real culprits, writes Malia Bouattia.
5 min read
07 Nov, 2018
The Grenfell tower was essentially a 'giant fire trap' [Getty]
The Grenfell fire of June 2017, which cost at least 72 people their life, destroyed countless families and a community, and continues to be a source of great pain and injustice.

The tragedy showed the world the extent to which poor, racialised and migrant people are dehumanised by the UK government. Earlier this week, a vile video of a cardboard model of the Grenfell Tower being set alight was shared on social media. The policies which murdered the victims in the tower, it seems, have instilled a culture of unbelievable insensitivity.

In the video, which left many outraged, a crowd of people circle a bonfire with a cardboard model entitled 'Grenfell Tower', and cut-outs - mainly of people of colour - hang out of its windows.

As if this violent re-enactment wasn't enough, voices can be heard shouting "Help me, help me!", "Jump out the window!" and "Stay in your flat, we are coming to get you" with laughter in the background. A St George's flag with the word 'England' written across it can also be seen flying from a pole behind the scene.

One of the individuals shouts, "That's what happens when they don't pay their rent!" 

This horrific scene highlights what the survivors, and countless justice campaigners from the community understand to be the wider social problems that led to the unspeakable horror they experienced.

The lives of working-class communities, migrants and people of colour are deemed so worthless that the state made it acceptable to house them in what has effectively been called a giant fire trap.

The Grenfell fire is proof of decades of state neglect which led to murder

Yet, as the offensive video demonstrates, instead of elected leaders being blamed, it is the victims' poverty that has repeatedly been central to media coverage.

Their throwaway comment may later be described as a very inappropriate joke, that didn't mean much. In reality, it represents our government's approach to working class communities: Your wealth defines your ability to live in a safe home.

Hearing that five of the men involved in the burning of the effigy have handed themselves in to the police offers some sense of limited justice. However, it does not take away from the fact that to this day, while politicians grand-stand about the perpetrators in the video, not a single councillor, company board member, or MP involved in undermining fire safety regulations is behind bars.

As the Grenfell Inquiry continues, countless people are still awaiting permanent re-housing, some are finding it difficult to make ends meet and even feed their families because of inadequate cooking facilitites which forces them to have to pay for alternatives such as takeaways.

The Independent reports that The North Kensington Law Centre has said that the council has been putting pressure on survivors to live in housing that overlooks part of the Grenfell building, as well as flats in poor condition.

Others, like Hamid Wahbi, have been living in a hotel. Wahbi has been waiting for rehousing, alongside his disabled 90-year-old mother and son Walid, since June 2017. The impact on Walid's schooling has been severely destabilising.

Sixty-five days into the inquiry, and we are still hearing harrowing details of the living conditions in Grenfell caused by the council and companies involved. From faulty electricals to toxins found in the soil of the surrounding area of the tower in the aftermath, the Grenfell fire is proof of decades of state neglect which led to murder.

Not a single councillor, company board member, or MP involved in undermining fire safety regulations is behind bars

Theresa May may well tweet: "To disrespect those who lost their lives at Grenfell Tower, as well as their families and loved ones, is utterly unacceptable" in relation to the circulated video, but her words feel completely empty.

More than that, it is insulting; while she hypocritically measures their actions as wrong, the Conservative Party's agenda has been the driving force deteriorating living conditions for millions of working-class people in the country.

Grenfell showed very vividly, the result of Tory policymaking. The impersonation highlights how rampant racism and the problematising of the poor is legitimised, because it starts at the very top.

In 2014, David Cameron promised a 'bonfire' of building regulations. In the same period, the Kensington and Chelsea council refused to install fireproof cladding on Grenfell tower, in order to save money. That same council then distributed council tax rebates to those who paid in full - that is, the wealthier inhabitants of the borough - to celebrate their effective saving policies in previous years.

The Tories did not mock the poor, migrants, or people of colour, nor did they joke about their living conditions or their suffering.

What they did do, however, was repeatedly send clear messages to the building industry, and to the rest of the country, that their profits are more important than the lives of their poorer constituents. They did not mock the fire, but laughed all the way to the bank, while laying the foundations for the disaster.

Let us punish those behind the racism and vile class snobbery of that video, by all means, but let's also keep our eye on the ball in terms of who the real culprits are, and who will need to be brought to justice if we are to learn anything from the horrendous disaster at Grenfell tower.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.