History repeats: Hillsborough, Grenfell

Very soon after the deaths of ninety-six people at Hillsborough it was clear what had happened and who was to blame: Incompetent policing prior to kick-off led to a crush followed by malicious policing later that prevented ambulances and medical personnel from entering the ground.  Everyone at the ground knew what had happened and the families of those who had died knew what had happened.  It was clear.  

Twenty-eight years later the guilty still refuse to admit culpability.  It took twenty-five years for any official inquiry to agree with the assertions made by the families of the dead.  Twenty-five years of cover-ups, misdirection, lies and false blame.  All of the cover-ups were, and are, deliberate.  Alongside the cover-ups and misdirection, there was blame thrown at the Liverpool fans by South Yorkshire police with the help of the far-right media, blame that some such police officers continue to repeat in order to protect their police pensions.

The cause of the deaths and injuries at Hillsborough was bad policing.  The ingrained attitude of the police was a consequence of the then Tory government’s contempt for working-class people.  The cover-ups, by police, FA and both Tory and Labour governments, were driven by an intrinsic desire to protect the reputation of the establishment and by ideologies that viewed the masses of the working-class as enemies.  People who have fought for justice over the last twenty-eight years have been variously ignored, vilified and patronised.  

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The look of contempt, Hillsborough to Grenfell

An unknown number of people died in the fire in the Grenfell tower block in Kensington; as many as two hundred people may have died.  

The cause of the rapid spread of the fire is known: Flammable cladding on the outside of the building.  

The reason that flammable cladding was used is known: Penny pinching by a reckless Tory council.  

The reason that the management contractors of the building were able to forego necessary fire safety features in the building is known: Removal of access to legal aid by the Tory government that prevented the tenants from mounting a legal challenge to the lack of fire safety features and removal of fire safety regulations by the Tory government.

The above is known.  It was already known: Tenants of Grenfell described the cause of the fire as soon as they left the building.  

The anger of the residents and family and friends of those who died existed before the fire.  The people knew that such a catastrophe was possible but their complaints were treated with disdain by Kensington and Chelsea council.  The council threatened legal action against Francis O’Connor from Grenfell Action Group, a tenants group that made numerous complaints to the council regarding fire safety all of which were ignored; the threat of legal action was an attempt to suppress a blog wherein Mr. O’Connor expressed concern about an impending catastrophe at Grenfell: Playing With Fire.  Details of the council’s legal threat are here: Kensington council letter.

The pull-back from necessary health and safety regulations that began with the Cameron/Clegg government has eaten away at basic protections for tenants, and occupants of other buildings such as schools.  The only reason such a pull-back has occurred is to further enhance the profits of private contractors and to reduce council tax bills for the wealthiest.  It is a step back from civilised society.  There is a good account and analysis of this pull-back here: Conservatives’ bonfire of red tape.

Families burnt to death is a direct consequence of a Tory council’s recklessness and of a Tory government’s focus on profit.  The abject lack of interest in the consequences of their reckless and profit-oriented actions is driven by the Tories’ contempt for the working-class and their complete detachment from society.  It is exactly the same separation between elite and people that created the attitudes that led to the Hillsborough crime.

Politicisation?

The fire at Grenfell Tower is a political event.  It is not a Labour versus Tory political event but it is a clear political event.  The causes of the fire and the ideology behind the causes are political ideologies, political attitudes and political decisions.  The blame lies with the politicians at Kensington Town Hall and with the current (and previous) occupants of Downing Street.

It is the politics of division, of elitism versus the masses, of contempt for the working-class.  It is the same destructive political ethos that led to Hillsborough.

Residents of Grenfell, families and friends of those who died and the neighbours in Kensington have not needed any outside influence for them to know that the fire is a political event and that what follows is also political.  The ineptitude of the council to provide adequate assistance to the displaced residents of Grenfell is political, the paltry funds (£5m) assigned by the government to help displaced residents is political and the absence, physically and verbally, of the prime minster and other senior ministers is political.  It is the politics of detachment, of elitism, of absolute lack of empathy.  It is symptomatic of how the Tories view the masses.

People are angry.  The anger is focussed on what needs to be done and it is focussed on who is to blame.  On Friday some people, including displaced residents and family and friends of the dead, protested at Kensington Town Hall.  The protest was a response both to the culpability of the council for the fire and to the wretched, arrogant behaviour of the council to the needs of those affected.  The reaction of Tories in the council, other Tories elsewhere in the country and their friends in the media was reminiscent of how the Tories and right-wing media reacted to complaints about Hillsborough.  

The words “mob” and “stormed” were used to describe the people entering the town hall, a public building.  A Kensington councillor, Andrew Lomas simultaneously libelled the protesters and invented a story about staff being fearful.

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That is, nasty defamatory and dishonest abuse aimed at displaced residents and families of bereaved from one of the councillors who shares responsibility for the fire and who shares responsibility for the absence of council help after the fire.  A clear snapshot of the arrogance of Tory attitudes toward working-class people.  

The Telegraph had a similar perspective.

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A theme in the above headline in the Telegraph is the invention of the outsider as provocateur.  This invention serves two purposes: It belittles the protesters by claiming outsider political activists are driving any actions taken and it denigrates the intent of people who want to support the protesters.  It is a standard form of misrepresentation that right-wing media and right-wing politicians use.  They want to try to limit support for people who are protesting and they want the victims to be passive.  

The ‘passive victim’ is a preference for the centrist media as well as the right-wing media.  The masses gathering to exercise their opposition scares the centre.  “Once anger is unleashed, it is hard to contain.  Once it is contained, however, it tends to stay that way, for a time at least,” says Deborah Orr in The Guardian – Unbridled Anger.  Her plea for everyone to be calm and passive while the overlords sort themselves out typifies liberal philosophy.  Since J. S. Mill this philosophy has been useful only for an elite few.  It is very insulting for observers to instruct victims how to behave, how to react, how to seek justice and how to protest.

Right-wing politicians and almost all of the media want depoliticised passive victims.  But, the Grenfell Tower fire is political in every aspect and the consequences of it are political.  The behaviour and words about Grenfell from the politicians in power are wholly political.  The motivation behind the media’s coverage is political.  What the establishment want, as always, is a one-way unfair fight: Hamfisted right-wing politics versus passive victims.

Hillsborough similarities

As well as the same elitism and division that led to Hillsborough being replicated with Grenfell – described above, there are other similarities between the two events.

Demonisation of protagonists started immediately.  It is a favourite method of the right-wing media.  Isolating individuals and slandering them is used to misdirect attention and to divide support.  

The Daily Mail published photos of a Grenfell resident in whose flat the paper claimed that the fire began.  Even if true, the fire in one flat is not responsible for the rapid spread of the fire – the cladding is.  This story in the Daily Mail exists to deflect blame from the culprits and to attach blame to a Grenfell resident.  Such a story is motivated exactly as Kelvin McKenzie’s infamous story in The Sun about Hillsborough was motivated.

The Telegraph focussed on one of the organisers of and speakers at the protest at Kensington Town Hall, Mustafa al-Mansur.  In Telegraph smear Martin Evans said “but he [al-Mansur] is also a slick political campaigner, a vocal supporter of Labour leader Mr Corbyn, whose brother stood in last week’s election as an independent candidate in east London.”  A slick political campaigner?  Evans elucidated the establishment’s fear that the victims might not agree to be passive and that they may fully understand the political nature of the fire at Grenfell.  “It emerged last night that Mr Mansur, who used to be spokesman for the Finsbury Park Mosque, had been arrested 10 years ago by the Metropolitan Police on suspicion of terrorism offences. He was released without charge,” proclaimed Evans.  Released without charge, ten years ago?  So, of absolutely no relevance other than to smear.  Martin Evans is channelling Kelvin McKenzie shamelessly.

The themes of the establishment response to the Grenfell fire were set straight away:

  • Protect the reputations and careers of the agents of authority – council and government
  • Demean protest via slander and misdirection
  • Invent culprits
  • Jump on any political solidarity while simultaneously being entirely political

The same themes informed the immediate establishment response to Hillsborough.

History repeats itself, unsurprisingly.

Transparent shenanigans

Twenty-eight years on it is much more difficult for cover-ups to succeed.  Today, the tactics, nuances and subtleties of the establishment shenanigans are transparent – Transparent politicians and transparent media are nearing extinction.  There is full knowledge of the motivations of the Tories and of their friends in the media.  Ignorance is receding.

Nothing scares the establishment more than an informed wise public.

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History repeats: Hillsborough, Grenfell

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