In 2017, in a developed country whole blocks of flats shouldn’t be burning down because regulations were ignored or sub-standard materials were used when attempting to make the brutalist mistakes of the past look pretty. People have lost their lives through incompetence, austerity measures and a human right that every single person is entitled to: To have their voices heard. Residents of Grenfell Tower repeatedly tried to make their concerns known, instead of being listened to, they were threatened with legal action.
When a section of society are ignored because they don’t have the connections, money or knowledge there is something fundamentally wrong with the institutions that are supposed to protect them. It should not take the deaths of those same people before people start to take notice and pretend to care. If they cared, the situation would have been addressed, if they cared they would have used cladding that wouldn’t pass regulations in other countries. You can’t place a value on human life, there isn’t one.
This situation isn’t going to be unique to people in North Kensington, there will be people all across the country who will have concerns that won’t have been listened to. The government has stripped back money from councils, legal aid has been cut. In what is supposed to be a progressive democracy we are going backwards, people are being threatened into silence and denied their rights by the people who are elected to serve them. How can one come to any other conclusion than these cuts being deliberate measures to maintain the status quo?
Conservative ideology is one where people are told they will make it if they work hard, if they aspire to be the people at the top. What about the single mother that works four or five cleaning jobs and then goes home to look after her family? In what world does she not work hard? She works as hard as any but the reality is that she is trapped in a cycle where the only aim is to survive and provide enough to get through the weeks or even days. When it comes to aspiration, what are kids supposed to aspire to be? The person at the top who doesn’t listen to them anyway? No one is going to aspire to be the person that creates all of their problems in the first place.
Populism isn’t the answer either. I have no love for our current political system and what I believe to be the erosion of democratic rights. The left are as adept at shouting down alternating opinions as the right are in completely ignoring them. What the people involved will want is an answer to why they weren’t listened to, what is going to be done in the future to prevent it happening again and what will be done to help them rebuild their lives. Capitalising on this situation with empty promises and radical solutions that are not viable will only lead to further problems when they go unfulfilled.
When people are ignored they turn to extremes. While it is easy to label every person that voted for Donald Trump as ignorant or racist, not all of them will be. People in America were ignored. Rust Belt towns and cities that have been neglected and left to rot and die are glaring evidence of that. When the people living in these places heard someone telling them what they wanted to hear they listened. It’s not about ignorance, it’s about destitute people looking for glimmers of hope where they’ve had none.
Through all of this, the people of London have shown their strength and community spirit. They’ve come together and helped those in need. That is what gives me hope for the future. There is a realisation that austerity has created problems for societies most vulnerable, and in this case the biggest price has been paid. Governments, politicians and officials can’t keep ignoring people’s needs, nor can they try to capitalise on tragedy to ride a wave populism. What they need to do is listen and give people equality in being able to have their voices heard.