Grenfell Tower and Cynical Conservatism

The academic Corey Robin in his book, The Reactionary Mind, argues that ‘the right is fundamentally inspired by hostility to emancipating the lower orders’ and that there is an ‘impulse to defend power and privilege against movements demanding freedom and equality’. The political debacle in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy reflects these sentiments and illustrates the utter contempt in which many poor and underprivileged people are held by the Conservative Party.

Political expediency demands that the survivors will all be rehoused within three weeks. This is a borough that has thousands of people waiting for social housing or who are lodged in bed and breakfasts. It is therefore a political decision to leave people without homes because when it is expedient the government can provide a social solution.

The contracting out of democratic accountability does not bring the mythical efficiency of the market but instead is a licence to cut corners and destroy the ethos of public service. It is a form of state violence committed against its own citizens. If the cladding (banned in the US and Germany) on Grenfell Tower contributed to the speed that the fire spread, costing many lives, when a more fire- resistant alternative was available for a mere £5,000, then the value the market has put on human life is risible.

Austerity has been used as an excuse to allow the state to withdraw from our communities and to stigmatise the poor and vulnerable as being undeserving. Contemporary Britain embraces inequality and poverty as social control. Conservative politicians criticise regulations as ‘red tape’. I digress, a properly financed Health and safety regime saves lives. As services are contracted out scrutiny collapses. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests are denied because of commercial confidentiality, so that when services fail the public have no one to hold responsible.

The election result brings me some comfort that a new and vibrant social movement, based around young people, can emerge.  The Labour Party manifesto at least offered a new vision, a different direction of travel. It was denounced as ‘socialist’ or even ‘Marxist’ despite the rather modest promise that the increase in public spending would equate to just over 40% of GDP. In contrast Emmanuel Macron in France is proposing a Nordic economic and social model with public spending rising to 50% of GDP. The lessons of the referendum appear to have been learnt. The general election saw the young turn out in record numbers. The young were overwhelmingly ‘remainers’ but did not vote in sufficient numbers leaving the decision to nationalists and bigots who were incapable of recognising false promises. This has left the United Kingdom in profound difficulty. Lord Adonis has said ‘We are at a moment of national crisis with echoes of the 30’s’.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, states that conservatism is ‘a reaction against democratic challenges, in public and private life, to hierarchies of power and status.’ For too long the disadvantaged have been left without a voice, demonised in the press and disenfranchised from the political process, not any more. If the Labour Party can energise the electorate and offer a radical and equitable future a cynical and arrogant conservatism could be consigned to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.