State of Tension

The fire is now precipitating a full-blown national crisis argues Jonathan Shafi, and instead of fear and racism people are showing strength and solidarity in times of crisis.

It is fair to speculate that crisis meetings are being held in the heart of the British State and very likely in the security and intelligence services. The crisis they face is not easily resolvable. It exists on many fronts and it is shaking the country. It would be wrong to imagine that behind the scenes everything is ticking over as normal. For this is anything but a normal situation.

The last few weeks have seen a political earthquake take place. The tremors will be felt for a long time to come. The man who had been demonised by the entirety of the system prevented Theresa May from extending her majority. Now she languishes without allies, trying desperately to cobble a deal with the DUP while in the process destroying the principles of the Good Friday agreement.

But they have no choice. That nightmare scenario overlaps into another one: Brexit. The reason for which they called the election on the first place. And, on top of that should they call another election, there is every likelihood that Jeremy Corbyn would win. The UK government has still not filed its positioning papers for the first round of negotiations on Monday.

Building, for some time and in various ways, has been a backlash against the ruling class. They have not been unaware of this, and have resorted to increasingly shrill divide and rule tactics, and to deploy weaponised propaganda against those who dare to challenge them.

But dare they did. But the old, tired, rusted out gun barrels of the Sun fell on deaf ears. And, their clapped out arguments were hidden from public debate. May couldn’t meet members of the public never mind argue her case in front of the nation in a debate. Some say that is her weakness. Certainly, she’s no leader – but the real weakness is the ideas and the vision of a party who have shown themselves only to be wreckless, and wretched. As one Tory MP admitted: ‘that’s the last time we will be honest with the public.’

“The campaign to toxify Corbyn failed in epic proportions. Amber Rudd, Home Secretary in an election marred by terrorists atrocities barely held on to her seat against a party whose leader had been covered with smears and allegations about his sympathising with terrorism from every corner of the establishment in ruthless and coordinated manner. The Tory party is left utterly humiliated. And yet – they must cling on.”

This situation must involve a very high state of tension between a huge section of the population and the levers of official power. The media, the political class, the banks and the corporations now no longer have a hegemonic grip on ideas. Nor, more worryingly for them, do they have any obvious solutions. But now tension is boiling over to a real, deeply felt sense of anger and injustice. The type of anger that doesn’t ever disappear. And the type of injustice that can’t be diffused with the usual platitudes.

The fire is raising questions about everything. It seems to speak to the whole of the pre-existing crisis. The imbalance of power and wealth, the ambivalence of the ruling elite towards the lives of the working class majority, and the rapidly ebbing legitimacy of the ruling order. But more than that, the story and the meaning ascribed to the horror of the events in Grenfell Tower is not being set out by the elite, but by the people who live in the area who have rallied with courage and dignity.

People who have mobilised solidarity when others didn’t. People who have spoken out in ferociously cutting terms about the nature of the housing and it’s faults. And about much more than that. About the class divide, and the way in which power is used to entrench the super-rich while people live in conditions that should be alien to a country with so much wealth. And neither should London have lost over 500 firefighters – who have been national heroes – thanks to Boris Johnson’s austerity. For many, things have just gone too far.

And in this moment of national outrage, and of national grief, the government is simply nowhere to be seen. Theresa May cannot meet the residents. She can’t because it is less of a humiliation not to meet them. That’s how deep the ravine between the Prime Minister and the people really is. Government ministers have refused to give answers or appear on television. They know they have no answers that can prevent the tide of rising anger, to rise further still. They – who are meant to be the leadership of the country – are scurrying for cover from ordinary people who want answers to questions that have led to the death of their friends, family and neighbours. A death toll that is, it would seem, being held back from public knowledge as a means of preventing civil instability.

In all of this, they have failed to call for a national minutes silence. They apparently don’t want people thinking about it if they can help it, far less joining an oppositional movement. They know a public enquiry won’t be enough. They know that as each day passes they are increasingly sucked into the swamp. They may now be too late to call for a period of national mourning with any credibility.

There is no obvious replacement for May. She is now effectively a hostage of the state that needs someone to symbolically rally the country around. It has been Jeremy Corbyn – the “extremist Marxist” – who has been performing the function of Prime Minister. He’s been asking the questions only he can raise given the complicity of the Tories, meeting residents, organising solidarity, bringing together community leaders. Bringing together the nation. This cannot be allowed to continue, they think as they deploy the Queen. Let’s take it out of politics. But the crisis has a way of snowballing, as all it has done is raise the question: if it’s secure enough for the Queen to visit, why is it not for the Prime Minister.

“The fire is now precipitating a full-blown national crisis for the ruling class. It punctuates a pre-existing social, political and economic calamity. Its rawness of emotion is tied inextricably to the fact that millions know this could have been avoided and that it is the failure of the system Theresa May represents.”

They have no leader, they are bunkered down and know they are widely despised. No one is waiting in the wings to save them. Every hour of every day that passes is a years worth of political combat compressed into a pressure cooker that is ready to explode. The deaths of those people are political, and having a political impact. Those who say it’s not political are wilfully ignorant, or worse, accessories to covering up a crime.

But the deaths are first and foremost personal. They were family members, and friends. They had lives that really matter. They had their own stories and skills and strengths and weaknesses like all of us. They are members of a community, and an extension of all of us as human beings. They had dreams, and plans, and problems and stresses. Like everyone does. But the lives of and living standards of working class people have been derided and dashed at every turn by the ruling elite. They are the ones who the technocrats and the corrupt political class want to clear out of the city to make way for the oligarchs, big business owners and the spivs. And so for years they have tried to destroy the solidarity of ordinary people.

But solidarity has come in droves. Faith barriers have been broken, much to the dismay of those who have been injecting poison into our national life. What thugs those well presented commentators who tried to drive a wedge in our society over skin colour and religion look now. Every race colour and creed has banded together in practical, on the ground ways. People are getting organised, in direct aid and in sending political message too.

And that message is not being delivered or devised by even Jeremy Corbyn, the leader around which a huge section of the population is looking towards. He is simply amplifying the concerns articulated by residents and local campaigners. That is an act of leadership. The whole country is watching and having it confirmed that a ruling elite and their system has done this. But crucially this is being told through the voices of the working class and the local community. Those people are on the frontline of the era of austerity and neoliberalism. Voices that have been shunned for decades. People that the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland now dares not meet.

This is not an ordinary moment. This is not going to go away. This is at a profound and fundamental level shaking this country to its very core. A demonstration has been called in London tonight. Those marching deserve and require the solidarity of us all.

Comments (23)

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  1. J Anderson says:

    Top rate of council tax band H in RBKC is less than some of the poorest areas of the UK, the money is there, the austerity is a myth.

    People living on these estates keep the great city of London running, for their billionaire neighbours, but lack the most basic protections.

    This all leads in to the core of the establishment, every detail of this disaster touches on the corporate economics that has taken over our society, the 07/08 crash didn’t lead to significant financial regulations in the UK, even the USA was more hard line.

    Question is can corporate governance be reversed?

    1. Chaise Guevara says:

      Yes. Exactly this.

  2. Alastair McIntosh says:

    What an eloquent denouncement of everyday violence: “What thugs those well presented commentators who tried to drive a wedge in our society over skin colour and religion look now.”

    This is what Easterhouse (Glasgow) community activist Cathy McCormack in “The Wee Yellow Butterfly” has long been calling “the war without bullets” against the poor.

    And to think that some interests are saying we “shouldn’t politicise” such a political tragedy. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? Anything but to name the crassly instrumental self interest behind the politics of “getting government out of our hair”, “cutting red tape” (esp EU), and “liberalising” their right to exploit.

    I know a slum landlord who reportedly laughed about one of his tenants dying in a flat fire. That is why the first duty of governance must be to protect the people from tyranny.

  3. Dougie Blackwood says:

    True but written in terms that are a little too far over the top.

    1. Mark Rowantree says:

      What exactly is over the top and what precisely do you know about the housing situation in London? Perhaps a little less smugness would be appropriate and considerably more humility is called for?

    2. Axel says:

      Exactly what temperature inside your dwelling would be over the top???

  4. Celia Fitzgerald says:

    Absolutely excellent article Jonathon!

  5. Jean Martin says:

    Excellent article……I live in the north of Ireland and believe me the DUP will be made suffer for their part in trying to prop up this abhorrent Tory party government, they will never be allowed to forget selling their souls for 30 pieces of silver.

    heads should roll but will they…….these people are expert at deflecting blame, covering up their evil deeds and using their wealth and connections to steer blame and responsibility from themselves, they have been doing it for a very long time. Please keep the momentum up, with you in spirit. It’s up to the young people now to make change happen.

    When I was young I put my baby son in his pram and I marched the streets of Derry to demand change, a vote, decent housing, recognition of our Irish identity, we are nearly here, still plenty to do and the young ones have taken on the challenge here in Ireland. The youth of Britain will do the same, they are angry and have every right to be…get out on the streets, DEMAND what is yours by right. The Tory’s have shown themselves to be soulless bean counters who can’t see past their own vile standards……make them listen or move them out of the way and let in the people who truly represent you. Good luck to all of you, my thoughts are with you.

  6. @bunkybun says:

    Grenfell should be renamed #Tory Towers

  7. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    The failure to call for a UK wide minute’s silence for those who died in Grenfell Towers is revealing of the perspective of this government and, indeedm the media.

    It was right that all of us recognised the deaths in the murders – and murders is what they were – on Westminster Bridge, in Manchester and at London Bridge. Yet, with most of the victims in North Kensington, yet to be found, the known death toll already is greater than the combined losses of the three atrocities mentioned.

    The victims of the three atrocities were casualties in ‘the war on terror’. The victims of Grenfell Towers are the victims of deregulation, of austerity, of class hatred, of rapacious and unbridled greed. That this government and its friends in the media cannot honour the common humanity of these people is appalling and cruel. The dead in Grenfell Towers had a common humanity, with the dead of the three atrocities and deserve equal respect from all of us.

    Let us hope that the majority of people in the UK demand respect and the redistribution of power and wealth amongst us all. ‘Austerity’ is just the redistribution of wealth and power from the many to the few. It must be reversed NOW!

    1. Neil Kean says:

      Well said. There is a pivotal point in every fight against tyranny and I believe this will be ours. There can be no hiding place, no buck passing, no cover up, no escape for the guilty. We have been subservient too long, it’s time for the people to speak, to really speak and for those in charge to listen. Political careers are rarely remembered, tragedies like Greenwell Towers never forgotten.

  8. TonyF says:

    A fine piece….in the words of Buffalo Springfield…….”something’s happening here…what it is ain’t exactly clear…”

  9. Doghouse Rielly says:

    Fire fighters on the ground are talking about 200 bodies already found.

    A final horrific total of over 250 is likely.

    That’s not idle speculation, it’s the magnitude of what this community knows and is being denied.

  10. Dorothy Turner says:

    Compensate those who suffered ‘austerity’ driven bedroom tax and benefit sanctions

  11. Willie says:

    A very well written piece with one particular comment that stuck out for me being ” weaponized propaganda.

    As this tragedy and indeed as the media treatment of Sturgeon and Corby has shown the establishment weaponizes the media.

    From restricting the release of the number of deaths to the relentless feed of misinformation to demonise l political opponents or causes, the propaganda control is pervasive. The UK is no democracy.

    Corporate largesse requires the sheep to be kept in line, and yes the security services will be at the heart of this.

  12. Redgauntlet says:

    String and stable government, folks…

    …to hear the platitudinous bullshit of May on Newsnight, to have to bear that stupid grinning monkey Michael Gove in the moronic news cycle, to hear another Tory talking about the wonders of the free market and the glories of deregulation another time…well, it’s too much to bear, friends. As the Big Yin liked to say, “Where’s my bloody gun!”

    Tory.Scum. Out. Now.

    And about a quarter of Scotland voted for these wankers, let’s not forget it… about one in four Scots are selfish, sick, bastards…

    1. Joycie says:

      As a Scot, I am also appalled that so many Scots voted for the Tories, especially after Thatcher. I put it all down to the media, mostly Tory controlled, fear campaign yet again. All I’m hearing from friends is that they can’t believe any Scot voting for the Tories. But you’re also right, there are some selfish bastards out there, particularly the rich Borders and Aberdeen areas.

    2. Joe says:

      120 per cent Redgauntlet. Very sad for the rest of us.

    3. Willie says:

      This week, here in Scotland, I heard one Scottish Conservative pseudo blue blood opining that at least the dead would all have been ethnics.

      You could not make up the depravity and inhumanity of certain folks and thar probably reflects why people like Theresa May kept away from survivors

      These people truly are scum on the face of the

    4. Alf Baird says:

      “about one in four Scots are selfish, sick, bastards…”

      Probably closer to just one in eight Tory voters in the seats just won by them are actually ‘Scottish’, given that half the Tory (or LibDem – nae difference!) voters in many rural Scottish constituencies come from rest-UK, reflecting census data.

  13. DLL says:

    Whitehall leak reveals plan to cover up terror death toll

    October 3 2004, 1:00am, The Sunday Times

    POLICE will withhold the true death toll if there is a “catastrophic” Al-Qaeda attack on Britain. This would be necessary to “mitigate and minimise” its impact on the public, according to secret Scotland Yard plans.

    The confidential memos — the latest in a series of Whitehall leaks to The Sunday Times — say that officers should not disclose the “numbers or seriousness/nature of injuries” of casualties immediately after a “dirty bomb” attack, even if there are thousands of dead and wounded.

    One memo, titled Communications Strategy for Dealing with a Terrorist Attack, suggests that poor handling of an attack will have “political implications” that could damage the police and government.

    The instruction to withhold information contrasts with assurances by Tony Blair and David Blunkett, the home secretary, that the public will be told the truth about terrorism.

    In a speech about terrorism to last week’s Labour conference, Blunkett said that it was “crucial . . . we don’t hide the truth”. Two years ago Blair promised that the public would not be kept in the dark.

    Circulated throughout Whitehall as police and Home Office experts prepare plans to deal with an Al-Qaeda “spectacular” in the run-up to the general election, the document reflects concern that a large-scale attack could turn voters against the Blair government.

    The memo, and another “restricted” paper titled Major Incident Contingency Plans, say that an Al-Qaeda attack here is likely to be at least as serious as the September 11 attacks when some 3,000 died.

    The memos predict that there would be “widespread loss of life . . . and maximum damage to property” which could cause a loss of public confidence in the police. They say that a massive chemical or biological attack could endanger people for “weeks/months”.

    Warning of “suicide terrorism in its most extreme form”, the documents say that in a “catastrophic incident” Al-Qaeda terrorists may use “aircraft, lorries (and) cars” to carry out simultaneous strikes at “several scenes” which would be “of such a scale” that they would cause “large numbers of casualties.”

    Senior officials are especially concerned about the possibility of people learning that police had failed to act on prior intelligence about an attack.

    The memos also warn Britain’s 1.2m Muslims not to retaliate in the face of the anticipated violent “backlash” from racist groups. They say that tensions between white people and Muslims will “increase sharply” and could get even worse if Britain or America takes punitive action abroad.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,2086-1291510,00.html

  14. Derek Hayes says:

    And still they don’t want us to know what the totally avoidable loss of life is likely to be. Shame on this totally self interested excuse for a government!

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