Charred hulk of Grenfell tower, is a monument to modern Britain
Since 2001, there have been 100 deaths in the UK caused by terrorism.
While any needless death is too many, the numbers are relatively low in both global and historical terms. Yet the threat of terror is seldom out of the media agenda and seldom out of our minds.
Why? It’s because terror is visceral and the threat of terror suits the agenda of those who are in charge.
Each time terror rears its ugly head the government raises our threat level a notch on the scariness scale. Theresa May is happy to slide into the spotlight, looking Strong and Stable, preaching to her shaken congregation that atrocities won’t change us. Simultaneously pledging to crack down on our hard won freedoms, to ramp up our interventionism and to infiltrate our private thoughts.
We need the fear of terrorism to keep us pliant because most of us, the lucky ones, are distanced from the perils omnipresent throughout most of human history. We are insulated from apex predators, the existential struggle for food and shelter, exploitation and slavery, brutality and warfare.
Yet some in the UK are not kept in check by mere manufactured fear.
The residents of Grenfell tower were right to be concerned about their living conditions because more people died there in one night than have been slaughtered this century by terrorism.
Yet unlike terrorism there is no political hay to be made by the ruling party.
When tragedies occur that the establishment has some direct culpability for we see no strength but only obfuscation.
Post Grenfell May didn’t preach, instead she cowered from her victims in a church. Tough solutions replaced by a proposed public whitewash. An inquiry that the government will control and one that will report at a time in the future when everyone has forgotten about the people who needlessly lost their lives.
Everyone knows that the deaths in Grenfell were caused by succession of governments that value the lives of the rich over the lives of the poor. A system that would rather see children die than curb the profits of the elites or dampen the ravages of austerity.
Yet even though the death toll makes ISIS look like the girl guides, you are unlikely to see a UK threat level for government policies any time soon. For most of the government’s victims don’t have such a newsworthy demise as being roasted alive in the proximity of the metropolitan elite.
It is not just the threat of terror that is used by government to keep us thinking and acting the way they want us to.
Many of those who lived in Grenfell tower were also pariahs to be detested and feared.
Grenfell housed refugees who die in tens of thousands to get here from countries that our foreign policy has helped to destabilise. It housed the disabled, thousands of whom have dropped down dead weeks after being declared fit for work. It housed those on benefits, forced to survive on foodbanks, too many driven to the brink of suicide. It housed immigrants that come here to better their lives by working in jobs that most in that neighbourhood would find below them. It housed the working poor, on low income or zero hours contracts, still dependent on the state despite a level of toil that in a fair world would ensure a comfortable life.
When Grenfell burned, the affluent were forced to look up at these people instead of down.
The tower is surrounded by one of the richest areas in the UK. The bankers that caused the crash of 2008 and the establishment that let them off were confronted by the consequences of the world they preside over.
The towering inferno was an awkward intrusion. A brutal, visceral, smoking metaphor for the broken Britain they have constructed. The myth of meritocracy dampened by the howls of those being punished for the crimes of the rich.
Before the fire, selective ignorance made it easy to sweep away the concerns of those dumped in a tinder clad monstrosity with no sprinklers, inaudible alarms and barely a fire exit.
Just as distance makes it easy to barricade the borders in order to shut out the desperate refugees prepared to risk drowning themselves for a better life. Stereotyping makes it easy to allow the state to prise human rights from the disabled and infirm. Those who live hand to mouth from food banks can be salved from our conscience by the odd donation on the way out of Waitrose. A bottle of Moet to celebrate the latest bonus can dull the gnawing pang caused by the office cleaner who can’t afford to feed her children.
Yet faced with the reality of Grenfell the rich of the borough seemed to be appalled.
Why were they not dancing wildly round the Wickerman illuminated in the primal glare emanating from the culmination of their worldview?
That belief system only works if you can delude yourself to the consequences. You can’t turn a blind eye when the scroungers, the welfare tourists, the fundamentalists, the burdensome, the benefit fraudsters, the slovenly and the addicts are perishing in shot of your eyes, your ears and your nose.
Maybe, the best thing we could do now is to leave the ruin of Grenfell tower there, right in the bosom of the richest place in the country. It’s a monument to modern Britain and a reminder that things won’t get better unless we face up to the reality of how society treats our most vulnerable.
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