Grenfell Tower Legacy

Sometimes it feels as if there is a contagion spreading through our culture and it’s only a matter of time before we have another accident and emergency.  It seems as if wherever possible those with resource and power are winkling away for a little bit more money, so that even the law is for sale. Did you know you have to pay a premium now to phone the Home Office for advice? What do we pay taxes for if government has become a business? Anyone wanting to innovate or find a foothold has to jump through concocted hoops. The concoctions may have origins in alleged good practice, but monetising good practice is wrong. Good practice should be given as a standard for free.

Here’s an example of one of today’s conundrums. You can fly on a safe flight for 4500 miles from Lagos to London for £400; but if you wanted to cross the 290 miles from Libya to safety in Italy you might pay thousands of pounds for an extremely dangerous journey. Who is responsible for bringing the inequality that drives this chaos in travel?

The toil of everyday life is such that we often forget how fortunate we are to live in a time of peace and plenty. It wasn’t always like this and in a few places around the world it still is very tough.

So the Grenfell Tower catastrophe shows us what happens when things go wrong and how we respond. The system we have developed has become supremely adept at shifting the blame, when all we need to understand is why vast sums of money were spent making life worse and more dangerous? What culture have we cultivated to make such inflammation?

This is an opportunity for us to find a way to free local authoritarians, whether in business or government, from their sense of knowing best and change their stance to being public facing and acting in public interest. This private greed, insane competition, with the coining it by lazy landlords and oligarchs has gone too far! We need to free those who hold the reins from this out of control cartel.

And the accounting must be more than at a general election, because that is too occasional and the politicians have just become the fall-guys for a rotten system, backed up by fake news and corrupt money. The news is awful: murderer + terror plot + terrible accident + gaff by government + miracle cure by big pharma + royal story + sporting triumph or loss. Who gives a toss anymore?

Officials are defensive because they often have to put up with abusive language and negative perceptions. The powerless public imitate the puppet politicians. There is an impasse. One side feeling defensive and knee-jerking they know best, while the other side feels like mugs being conned for tax or fees by people who serve themselves before serving the community. If we can salvage something from Grenfell Tower in terms of identifying a series of negative premises and move forward towards more genuine local control over local affairs, building on the many good aspects of our system, then that would be a step forward.

The rise of local authoritarians is not necessarily a normal character trait; rather it is how people react in a pointlessly stressful environment, when they have unnecessary tasks to fulfil without the resources to do them. “We don’t have any money” is the mantra of those who are paid a decent salary to work for public good. It also masks the reality they have plenty of money although it is being misspent. Many people who have become local authoritarians started out with idealistic aims to do a good job. Unfortunately the diversion of funds (austerity) from the poor to the rich (£750 billion given to the banks who caused the 2007 economic crisis) means that while a few random greedy folk are becoming exceptionally rich, most people see their income stagnating or dwindling. In the end local authoritarians are stripped of the means to do their job and they resort to obfuscation, evasion and ensuring that no one can make them responsible for any action.

Local residents hold the real power, except we let others take it away from us. Our so-called democratic system is better than the monarchy which preceded it (because we don’t have to kill the king to change him), but we shouldn’t kid ourselves by thinking we are much different from other forms of oligarchy in Russia, China or America. Yes, we may have this quirk or that Black Rod to protect our liberties, but people elsewhere also get by and build on the legacy of Tchaikovsky, Ming ceramics and Martin Luther King to understand and celebrate their culture. Yes, we do have a nominal break clause, an election every five years, but this is often circumvented through media’s self-preserving propaganda and control, corrupt party systems which openly insult and lie about their opponents, and the requirement to amass a fortune or have a stroke of immense luck to be in the right place at the right time with an attitude that relishes standing in an abusive process.

Where are we now? Immeasurably better than one hundred years ago when we were still slugging it out in the trenches of the first world war. But how is it that the housing situation in those days was so much better? That the houses being built would last for at least one hundred years and more. That you could be given a council house when you wanted to start a family, or could buy a home for a few hundred pounds? That you could trust that those who built your home weren’t trying to fiddle a buck! Somehow or other we have lost our way and turned ourselves from a making and producing culture into sitting at desks tapping into computers, like carrion vultures.

What happens on the front line for council officers?

  • Incredible pressure is put on front-line staff who have to face a disgruntled public

  • Line management systems with many meetings where blame is absolved by ensuring the matter has been dealt with, by an unfortunate front-line member of staff being given another nominal task. An email is sent and a record kept as evidence that the matter has been referred on.

  • Telling residents their concerns are being mulled over by experts/senior people

  • Telling residents there are medium term plans to knock down their residence

  • Telling residents there are exciting plans for an indeterminate future, where their dreams can be realised with far better facilities to come, apart from the decade when their community will be dispersed (and cleansed).

  • Telling residents that the new schemes are great value for money and will improve the quality of their life

Residents then

  • Feel demoralised

  • Do not want to invest time, effort or money in their current situation

  • Are utterly bored by meetings where nothing is resolved and no action follows

  • Feel threatened by events and let down by the “system”

  • Keep their head down and accept whatever happens in a curmudgeonly way

  • Occasionally dream of the swimming pool that is never built

Surely we can do better than this! For all the data we amass and all the hands which could be put to better use, couldn’t we build enough homes for our people to live in? Couldn’t we provide the education people need to lead a fulfilled life? Couldn’t we release the 70% of people who dislike their job into something more purposeful and worthwhile? Couldn’t we move away from insult and diatribe, towards discussion and problem solving? Couldn’t we turn our money from a debt based system into credit, where credit is due?

For a thousand years and more we have put up buildings that have become our villages, towns and cities. Every building was put up by our forbearers who worked in groups to achieve what we now have as their legacy. I would be surprised if there was any building in the whole land ever put up by one man or woman. Why can’t we share the credit for what our forbearers gave to us? Why have we so distorted our property system that the builders who construct our buildings are paid once and much less than those who work in financial services who seem to be paid on and on for work that has already been done, just because we have concocted the notion they own a property. Something is wrong when the highly rigged market is systematically working against our young people who cannot even imagine ever owning a home. Something is wrong when we’ve organised a process where we pay people who never laid a brick, instead of training and paying the home builders we need working for us today.

We have to find a way out of this rip-off culture and instead take practical steps for a stronger and more sensible future where villages, towns and cities are there for people and communities, and where markets sell products we can hold onto or at least eat, instead of being in hoc to a financial system which siphons off money from the many for the few. We need to face the truth that although the city employs people, it creates jobs for people who hate their job. Let’s welcome artificial intelligence which will enable us to put fairness into financial algorithms which will then lead financiers into worthwhile jobs.