The scale of the Grenfell Tower disaster in which at least 58 people have died has received worldwide coverage and provoked an unusual amount of anger in the British public, with a resulting impact on British politics.
Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey block of apartments in the West London district of Kensington, went up in flames in the early hours of Wednesday.
The tower is in the richest district of London, but the immediate area is one of the poorest in the UK capital, and has a significant immigrant population from many parts of the world, especially Arabic and African countries.
The tower, built by local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) in 1974, is run by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants’ Management Organization (KCTMO) on behalf of RBKC.
It was refurbished in a ten-million pound program (about 12.8 million U.S. dollars) which finished last year, but the program did not include the installation of water sprinklers, which are now necessary in all newly-built tower blocks in Britain.
ANGER ON THE STREETS
Survivors of the fire have criticized the KCTMO, KBRC and also the national government for their failure to spend money to improve safety at the tower.
Xinhua spoke to Said Ali, who said he had been a resident of the tower and lived on the 15th floor.
Ali, who was in his early 30s, said he had fled the flames on Wednesday morning when the blaze started.
He said that fire safety in the block of flats had been bad at the time of the blaze, and beforehand too.
“It has never been safe; we spoke out, we put in complaints but nobody was listening — because they don’t care,” Ali told Xinhua.
“They tell you’if you are not happy, go and rent’. That is what they used to say,” he said.
On Friday afternoon angry survivors, local residents affected by the blaze, and their supporters, marched to the RBKC headquarters, in a protest.
They demanded to meet officials, and when their demands were not met they forced their way into the building.
At about the same time, the British prime minister Theresa May paid her third visit to the area in two days.
May had been criticized for her first visit, in which she met no survivors, and discussed issues with rescue officials.
May’s second visit was in private to survivors in hospital, but she was criticized by some for not having been seen in public with survivors.
May’s Friday afternoon visit was also carried out in private, and when it was finished, police had to clear a passage for her to leave a building as an angry crowd of survivors and protesters gathered outside.
On Friday evening and again on Saturday, small demonstrations took place in Whitehall, outside the prime minister’s residence in Downing Street, criticizing May and her response to the tragedy.
INFLUENCE ON POLITICS
Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics and Political Science(LSE) told Xinhua in an interview that the disastrous fire and the response of the authorities had now become an issue in politics.
Arguments centered around the policies of the local authority and of the government’s perceived lack of spending on safety measures.
“The sense of anger about the way in which public spending and public services have been delivered in Britain in recent years — and that is not going to help the government much either,” said Travers.
A similar but smaller fire killed six people at an apartment block in the London’s district of Camberwell in 2009.
The fire at Lakanal House led to a report from the coroner and also from the British Houses of Parliament which was delivered to the government in 2013.
However, the government had not acted on the recommendations of the report, with the minister responsible Gavin Barwell saying he was reviewing it.
Barwell was appointed as May’s political adviser on Saturday, after her previous two advisers quit as a result of general election, in which May lost her majority in parliament to govern.
Travers said that the government, already weakened by the June 8 election setback and the need to seek support from other parties in the British House of Commons, would suffer as a result of the fire.
“It risks making the government, at the moment, look slightly out of touch. And that will further weaken it,” said Travers.
The government has announced a five million pound fund to help survivors of the fire, but the longer term implications for funding for survivors, safety checks at other tower blocks in the country, and the costs of those repairs are likely to result in a higher bill for the government, according to Travers. Enditem