Tories – the Blue and the Red

Towards the end of a long interview with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell on the Andrew Marr Show last Sunday 16 July (BBC One), he was yet again asked to take back his statement that people at Grenfell Tower were “murdered by political decisions”.   The corporate media was so used to getting away with labelling social murder as an accident that it went spare when John said that politicians had to take responsibility for the consequences of their policies, even when they end in death. In his reply, McDonnell quietly told another explosive truth:


AM:  One more thing I must ask you about.  Do you regret saying that the people who died in Grenfell Tower were killed by political murder?

JM:  No I don’t regret that. I was extremely angry with what went on, and I’m a west London MP, this site is not far from me. Political decisions were made which resulted in the deaths of these people. That’s a scandal.

AM:  But murder means a specific thing. Murder means a volition to actually kill another human being, intentional killing.

JM:  Well there’s a long history in this country of the concept of social murder, where decisions are made with no regard to the consequences of that. And as a result of that, people have suffered, that’s what’s happened here, and I’m angry about it.

AM: So you regard it as murder?

JM:  I believe that social murder has occurred in this instance and I believe that people should be held accountable for that.

AM:  And so who are the murderers?

JM:  I think there has been a consequence of political decisions over years that have not addressed the housing crisis that we’ve had, that have cut back on local government so proper inspections have not been made, cut back 11,000 fire fighters – jobs been cut as well – even the investment in aerial ladders and things like that in our country.

AM:  So the politicians who sanctioned the cuts are murderers?

JM:  I believe the politicians have to be held to account, I remain angry at how many people have lost their lives as a result of political decisions that have been made over years.

AM:  To be absolutely clear these decisions happened under Labour and Tory governments over the years.

JM:  I set up the Fire Brigades Union Parliamentary Group.  Way back in 2004 I raised the issue of sprinklers – all through this last seven years in particular, I’ve been going along [to] ministers on behalf of the FBU to say stop cutting fire fighters’ jobs, stop undermining national standards. No one was listening at that point in time.

AM:  Very very strong word to use, but murderers is how you still regard the politicians who took those decisions?

JM:  I do not revile from what I said – and I remain, I remain angry at the loss of life that’s taken place not far away from my constituency.

AM:  John McDonnell, thankyou very much for talking to us.

John broke new ground when he said that in 2004 he “raised the issue of sprinklers …” with the government then (which was Labour till 2010 and then the Tories). They were none of them interested. In other words, both the Blair and Tory governments share the responsibility for social murder in Grenfell Tower.

Many of us have waited for what seemed a long time for the socialist Labour leadership we voted for to draw a line under New Labour, disowning their crimes from the Iraq war to PFI. Yes, John, thanks for drawing the line. Now the Blairight MPs will know that we can call them on their bloody past.

Burning All Illusions at Grenfell

The Grenfell fire was a watershed.

Speaking in a debate about whether democracy is broken at Glastonbury the day after thousands serenaded Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell drew a line under the soft phrases from mealy-mouthed politicians that hide deep truths.

“Is democracy working? It didn’t work if you were a family living on the 20th floor of Grenfell Tower.
“Those families, those individuals – 79 so far and there will be more – were murdered by political decisions that were taken over recent decades.
“The decision not to build homes and to view housing as only for financial speculation rather than for meeting a basic human need made by politicians over decades murdered those families.
“The decision to close fire stations and to cut 10,000 firefighters and then to freeze their pay for over a decade contributed to those deaths inevitably, and they were political decisions.”

The phrase “murdered by political decisions” was in all the media condemning him for speaking the truth.  The corporate media was outraged that a government which has refused to stop arm sales to Saudi Arabia which uses them to murder civilians in Yemen and holds hands with Trump were called murderers after the tragic Grenfell deaths.

That Corbyn and McDonnell are in a position to call it on the government has made it easier for the Grenfell residents to speak their minds.

As we said in the original post, “After the fire people described how people like them (and us) are despised, demeaned and murdered in our beds. Such clarity owes much to the recent election and how well the Corbyn movement did. We now have the power of an opposition voice in Parliament and that alone has made us bolder to say what we really think and most of the time have held back from saying.”

Calling it murder when it was government which was responsible empowers all of us to call it as we live it and see it all around us in cuts, in privatisation, deprivation, in homeless people living on the street, in needless deaths like Lillian Oluk (36) and her child Lynne Mutamba (aged 2) who died of starvation and thirst in Gillingham, Kent, or in the death of Lawrence Bond who was told he was fit for work and forced to be a jobseeker, who collapsed and died after leaving the (Kentish Town, London) job centre.  Many have died in this way.

These are not the result of failed policies, they are policies which either aimed for this result or did not care if this was the result.  We have not yet succeeded in stopping them from happening.  Calling it murder when it is murder is a step towards succeeding.

The Grenfell inferno, to paraphrase Bob Marley, was burning all illusions that night in some ongoing and fundamental way.

Three people responded to our first comment on Grenfell on 22 June about that fire – one from Guyana, one from Canada and one from London.

You think you know just how inhuman capitalism is, and then Grenfell Tower teaches you that you didn’t quite know that 170 years after Engels wrote The Condition of the Working Class in England, in the capital of England social murder of the most brutal kind still happens. Your blog helps those of us who don’t want to cover our eyes not only from this horror but from the more hidden, daily assaults.

Andaiye, Georgetown, Guyana

The tragedy that the people of Grenfell Tower have faced has gathered international attention; on facebook, Native people and people of colour from across Canada and the United States are, unanimously, disgusted that councils would use cheap materials that are banned here to save money, gambling with the lives of those with little social power.  This is the result of privatization and the unabated war on people of colour and working class people that has gone on in Britain since Thatcher and Blair.  We were all so delighted with Corbyn’s successes, although we wish he had won; still, a powerful opposition can push back and support peoples’ efforts.

Bonita Lawrence, Mountain Grove, Ontario, Canada

Good article, thanks Selma.  I don’t think the proposed government inquiry into the fire will result in justice or change – inquiries can be part of a cover up.  Remember that the national inquiry into mass child abuse in the UK has been boycotted – at first when the government repeatedly appointed biased judges who shared relationships with establishment figures accused of paedophilia.  And later, two organisations of survivors (Shirley Oaks Survivors Association and White Flowers) resigned from the inquiry complaining that it will not result in justice, nor compensation, nor even the public disclosure of crucial documents.  It will provide an opportunity for some survivors to vent their legitimate anger – important but not enough.

Instead, I know some surviving relatives of a rape victim who got a Coroner’s Inquest, before a jury, to consider whether the deceased victim’s right to life was breached under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act.  The advantage of this is that the families can give evidence via lawyers, the jury decides who or what caused the death and writes a narrative (that’s a detailed judgment) and the coroner can order specific changes to stop it happening to the next person, e.g. the council must do abc.

Fanny, London, England