United Kingdom: Tower fire ignites national anger
The apartment tower fire that killed at least 79 people in the heart of London has exposed the shameful inequality at the heart of British society, said The Observer in an editorial. The 24-story Grenfell Tower was built in 1974 as public housing for the poor, an ugly building in the middle of Kensington, “one of the richest boroughs in one of the richest cities in the world.” Residents had complained for years about inadequate fire safety measures—too few exits, no external fire escape, no sprinkler system. Each time, they were rebuffed by an indifferent local council controlled by Britain’s ruling Conservative Party. When a fire broke out at night in an apartment last week, it took just 15 minutes for the flames to ignite the building’s exterior cladding, trapping residents on the upper floors. Some leaped, burning, to their deaths. Others succumbed in their homes; more bodies will likely be found in the coming weeks. The negligence that doomed dozens of men, women, and children to “burn to death must forever be a stain on our conscience.”
Austerity did this, said Patrick Cockburn in Independent.co.uk. Under pressure from the miserly Conservative government, local councils—which oversee public housing in their areas—now relentlessly cut costs, and corners, wherever possible. The material used for Grenfell’s exterior paneling—installed as part of a renovation completed last year—is banned for use on tall buildings in the U.S. and Germany because it easily catches fire. But the cladding was approved for Grenfell, because it cost about $6,300 less in total than a flameresistant version. It is “shocking and disgusting” how the Conservative Party, in power for the past seven years, deregulated the building industry with the excuse that they were cutting red tape, while at the same time “strangling the weakest, poorest, and most vulnerable people with red tape” by making it ever more difficult to claim even basic benefits. The Grenfell victims are “martyrs who died because of austerity, deregulation, and outsourcing.”
Grenfell will be remembered as Prime Minister Theresa May’s Hurricane Katrina, said Adam Boulton in The Times. Just as President George W. Bush looked uncaring and clueless when he flew over a flooded New Orleans in 2005, so did May appear stiffly insensitive when, on her first visit to the scene, she failed to meet with survivors or victims’ families. When she returned to meet them the next day, she was greeted with cries of “Murderer!” and “Coward!” What a contrast with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, seen hugging people warmly, or the royal family, who, perhaps sensing “a leadership vacuum,” have become the nation’s “consolers-in-chief.” That’s why Conservatives are getting more vocal about ousting May, said David Wooding in The Sun. Already tarred by the party’s poor showing in this month’s snap election, in which the Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority, May has again exposed her dismal leadership skills. The number of Conservative parliamentarians ready to “stick the knife into her” is growing by the day.