Episode 65 – A joke-lite episode as Tiernan looks at the awful Grenfell Tower fire and what lead up to it. Also a chat with Ben and Chris Blaine (@blainebrothers) for some election number crunching.
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Hello and welcome to episode 65 of the Partly Political Broadcast. I’m Tiernan Douieb and like personification of the void David Davis at the Brexit negotiations, I haven’t got a fucking clue what I’m doing this week either, but hey, let’s give it a go, what harm can it cause? And let’s be honest I’m responsible for this podcast so if anyone should have to wing their way through territory they are completely unclear about, it’s the person who was so sure about starting it in the first place.
It’s a slightly different show this week. If you’re a regular listener you’ll know I usually start with 10 minutes of gags from the past week’s politics but that doesn’t feel quite right in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy. It’s been an event that shook me a bit, not just as a Londoner and a human being – because I am one of those, no don’t be surprised – but also as someone who’s done benefits for the Fire Brigade Union before as they’ve warned of the danger of cuts to their service, who’s worked with and met people in austerity conditions and who’s witnessed the degradation of social housing in the capital since I was a kid. There’s something so truly saddening about this, a preventable situation, and it shouldn’t, shouldn’t have happened. There’s still no final body count, it’s unlikely we’ll get a true idea of who exactly should be held directly responsible as there’s a lot of factors that lead to this, and there are so many people grieving. The Grenfell Tower fire has caused more deaths than any of the past few years of terrorist attacks in the UK combined, and it happened due to neglect from our own successive governments who have, repeatedly promised to protect British people and failed. And they’re continuing to fail when it comes to the welfare of those affected now. I’ve felt shitty and useless and helpless about it all week. I was part of a meeting yesterday about what people with mostly unhelpful skills like me can do about it and hopefully something will come from that. But until then, I thought I’d spend a lot of this week’s show looking at what we know about the fire, and why the current state of social housing, regeneration, arms length management companies and emergency services cuts have all added to, if not caused, this awful event.
Speaking of awful events, I woke up this morning to hear of the news that the mosque in Finsbury Park had been attacked by white nationalist in a van. That’s my area and has been for my whole life. That mosque is in a part of FP opposite a Pentecostal Christian church, near a Jewish bagel shop, an Irish pub, a betting shop, an Eritrean restaurant, a barbershop that used to double up as a place to buy weed, ahem, and the Arsenal stadium. It couldn’t be more diverse and welcoming if it tried. Really, attacking there, as far as I’m concerned is properly attacking British values. Can we not get a break people? Has hot weather taken us to boiling point? Personally I’m hoping laughter will come from the next few weeks of watching David ‘I constantly have the theme tune from Bullseye playing in my head’ Davis conduct Brexit negotiations with all the expertise of someone who once had a go on a child’s scooter heading confidentially into a driving test.
Sure there have been some funny things over the past week such as Tim Farron resigning because he put faith before politics, though with a party like the Lib Dems, a blind belief in a reason for existence is entirely necessary. Then there’s that the Queen’s speech in 2018 has been cancelled, although hopefully with this much notice her maj should be able to get another booking in the diary so she doesn’t lose out on work. Or the fact that acid damaged Boglin Nigel Farage has backed David Davis as prime minister as he believes that’d mean Britain would be genuinely committed to Brexit. Have you met double D before Nige? If he was PM we’d not be committed to anything for more than 10 minutes before he then said he’d never said that and blamed someone else for it. Jeremy Corbyn is going to open for Run The Jewels on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury this weekend. Meanwhile Theresa May likely to hiding somewhere in the Glastonbury Rabbit Hole mainly supporting herself. Oh and apparently the government have announced austerity is now over, which is great as while the pound plummets and the UK economy slows down to standstill, it shows that austerity had nothing to do with saving money whatsoever and was just a shitty ideology all along. Knowing this government they’ll just rename it something else and in a year’s time we’ll all say, hang on, isn’t this austerity but with a fake moustache and glasses on and they’ll say, oh er, why don’t you meet our new pal Mausterity? Now dig into your own pockets and buy him a drink.
But today’s show is mostly on Grenfell Tower. I was going to have an interview for you from the Fire Brigade’s Union but understandably they have a lot on their hands at the moment and had to cancel. Hopefully I’ll have that in the next few weeks. Instead the interview this week is a lighter, pretty fun chat about election number crunching with film makers the Blaine Brothers who’ve done some wonderfully geeky work indeed. Oh and there will be a look at former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron’s best bits too as well as the return of the pod question of the week. Quick thank you to Anthony and Ethan who both donated to the Patreon this week and lastly due to this heatwave today’s show is recorded while I’m only in my pants. I just wanted you to have that imagery. You’re welcome. I mean really, I’m not saying it’s warm in my flat right now but Dante just popped by to take notes. Anyway, enough of that, let’s get on with this:
GRENFELL TOWER – What happened?
On Wednesday, just after midnight, a fire at Grenfell Tower, a 24 storey tower block in North Kensington, was reported. I’ve seen Grenfell many times when driving over the West Way into or out of London, or from the windows of Piccadilly Line trains when it goes over ground past Baron’s Court. The blaze covered every floor from the 2nd up and we still don’t entirely know what started it though rumours suggest either a gas explosion, a faulty fridge or faulty building wiring. What we do know is that more than 200 fire fighters and 40 fire engines tackled the blaze and it took over 24 hours to control. Final numbers of deaths is yet to be announced. Several names of those who have died have been released, and 79 are now presumed dead, but some reports on the ground from say it’s many, many more than that. It could take weeks till we get final figures. 74 people were admitted to hospital and 18 are still there at the time of recording. Kensington and Chelsea council seem to have done little to help and instead local people, volunteers and neighbouring Ealing Council have done the bulk of aiding residents with more than £1m raised so far and so many donations of food and clothing it’s been requested people stop bringing stuff. Jeremy Corbyn visited and spoke to residents and victims. Theresa May visited and spoke to no one, then was told to go back and do it again like you mean it this time and The Queen visited which was a nice gesture but she didn’t offer to put anyone up in any of her spare rooms so it feels a tad hollow. A big protest at Kensington Town Hall was referred to by some papers as a protest, because it was, and by others as a riot because they don’t know what it’s like to have human feelings.
But all of this dates back much further back than last week. Grenfell Tower is managed by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which means that while the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea still own the social housing in their area, the Tenant Management Organisation, or TMO, is a separate company that has a management agreement with them. In 2002 under Tony Blair’s Labour government, the Commonhold and Leasehold reform act allowed leaseholders to give management of their property to another provider, and in this case, it was the K&C TMO. Now the TMO are not only a TMO, but also an ALMO, which isn’t a knock off Sesame Street character but an Arms Length Management Organisation which sounds a lot like it just makes sure people’s sleeves aren’t too short. But what it really is, is a not for profit that covers housing services for local authorities. TMO is lead by a board with four members elected by tenants, four councillor appointed one and three independents. Their job, overall, is to make sure the properties they are in charge of, fit with the Decent Homes Standard which was also brought in by Blair’s government in 2000 and updated in 2006, and requires public housing to reach certain minimum standards of living and health and safety. So all seems pretty kosher right? And in fact, tons of improvements were made to make social housing homes safe, warm and watertight, right up until the end of the decade. With ALMO’s being not for profit, that mostly means they have to make cuts to work with the money issued to them from the councils. In 2009 a ton of money meant to be for ALMO’s was instead used for house building so funding dropped. By 2010 the Department of Communities and Local Government reported that a quarter of London council homes fell below the Decent Homes Standards.
And since 2010, it’s all gotten worse for Britain’s social housing. A 2011 study by Chief Fire Officers Association and Chartered Institute of Housing said only 27% of housing managers in the social housing sector felt confident their buildings were fit for purpose. In 2013, the All Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue advised installing sprinklers systems in all 4000 tower blocks in the UK and it wasn’t acted on. The secretary of the All Parliamentary group Ronnie King made several requests to meet then housing minister Gavin Barwell, you know the one who wrote a book on how to win in key marginal areas then lost his seat over a week ago? – but Barwell kept turning King down with replies saying they were looking into it. Because Barwell is such a moron he needs to conduct extensive research into whether water would help deal with fire. It’s funny how the government are quite keen to pay billions on Trident to protect people, but not any money on sprinklers. I wonder if their remit is just to stop other people killing their poorer citizens as that’s their job and they like it.
In the case of Grenfell in particular, the Grenfell Action Group have been trying to inform anyone that fire safety in the building isn’t adequate since 2013 but to absolutely no avail. Various blogs on their site point to incidents of emergency vehicle access being blocked and a lack of fire safety instructions anyway apart from signs telling residents to stay in their rooms if a fire occurs. They even mention how they believe the council and TMO are reactive rather than pro-active and how sadly it’ll take something awful to happen before they change anything. This is all despite Kensington and Chelsea council stockpiling £274m of reserves over the last few years due to under spending that they’ve then been transferring into Capital reserves. Conservative council leader Nick Paget Brown said they couldn’t put the money back into services as it was a ‘one off surplus’. You know, one of those one offs that’s happened every year since 2014. You can’t help but feel it’d have been less expensive just to have used that money to buy some fucking sprinklers.
Several boroughs in London have been undergoing gentrification in recent years and so many places where families lived have been demolished and turned into luxury unaffordable apartments. There are many stories of families in social housing being relocated for these developments to happen, but the relocation is often far outside of London. A court judgement in 2015 said out of area relocations were not unlawful but that councils had a legal duty to ensure the new location is suitable for the family. By 2016 only a third of London boroughs hadn’t complied with that ruling. With housing benefit freezes, benefit caps, and rent rises councils have been competing for smaller and smaller stock of affordable social housing. So instead people just get sent off to somewhere they have no family, support of familiarity with. 364 families were moved out of London in 2014/15 and the actual figure may be a lot more but only 15 London boroughs released information on it under FOI to the Green Party when requested. The residents of Grenfell were worried this would happen to them, that the flats would eventually be demolished for a rebuild and there have been reports since the fire that now some are being told they will be moved as far away as Preston, and declared intentionally homeless if they refuse.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for Theresa May to reclaim private properties that weren’t in use so they could be used as shelter for Grenfell residents. Not a crazy idea at all as this is standard in Belgium when a property has been vacant for more than 12 months. Kensington has many properties just being used for value rather than accommodation, and in April figures were that there were 1399 empty homes in the area, worth a total value of £664m. Relocating families to those homes would mean that after losing family members and friends, they wouldn’t have to lose their familiar home area too, or jobs or schools or relatives near by. Theresa May has of course said this won’t be happening because as an empty shell herself, she prefers places to just appear to have some conscious thought in residence.
The cladding that was recently fitted to the front of the flats may have had a big part to play too. Added as part of a superficial refurbishment to make the flats appear nicer from the outside for the nearby conservation areas and newly built luxury flats. It was also meant to provide insulation but investigations have revealed that cheaper cladding was chosen rather than the slightly more expensive flame retardant cladding. Instead it’s thought that the cladding had gaps in that caused a chimney like effect allowing the fire to rise. There are no regulations around that in the UK, even though the fire protection agency has been pushing for it, as this cladding has been used on several other tower blocks and schools too. The contractors, Rydon, who did the work suspiciously deleted a webpage that stated exactly what they did to the building, at 4am in the morning of the fire. Sad that they’re happy for everyone to get burned except them.
It’s also worth pointing out that this happened before in 2009. Lakanal House was a tower block in Camberwell, where a fire killed six people and caused twenty to be injured due to a lack of fire safety advice, and the building being repeatedly identified by the fire brigade as at risk of enabling a fire to spread if one should occur. Instead tower block safety checks have fallen by 25% since 2011. But then if we had a government that learned from mistakes Theresa May would’ve resigned by now.
So you can already see the fire is a product of neglect, gentrification and austerity, which is now over so chill guys. And now it’s happened, it won’t happen again right? I mean, again, again, will it? You have to remember that this is a Conservative government who last year voted against private landlords having to make their homes fit for human habitation. Why else would anyone want to rent them? Oh this place looks terrible for me but it’ll be great for my pet flies. Apparently the Conservatives thought it’d bring unnecessary regulation to landlords and anyway local councils have powers to deal with poor quality housing. Yeah. Try telling people in Kensington to trust that delegation of power.
More on Boris Johnson and his shitty fire brigade cuts and what happens now with Grenfell, after some of this:
INTERVIEW PART 1
Numbers are great aren’t they? I like 87 as on it’s side it looks like a bird. You’re welcome. Sometimes there is little better you can do with numbers than crunch them. Mmm mmm crunchy numbers. I’m a very amateur number cruncher myself, currently only bench crunching around the double digits level, mostly for fun, but for this week’s interview guests if number crunching was a world event, they’d have all the stats about who did how well and by how much.
The snap election was a flurry of un-crunched numbers and if you have a tendency towards mathematical anxiety and avoided all of them, then I can see your decimal point. This week’s guests however have made it all made sense. Chris and Ben Blaine are actually film makers with their most recent film, Nina Forever now on Amazon Video. But when they aren’t shooting quality fillums, they like to work out what on Earth all the election numbers mean in the context of now and history and how to make sense of it all. So I thought it’d be useful to have a little chat so they could explain how the 2017 election numbers crunch.
Here’s Ben and Chris:
Before we get back to Grenfell details, I just wanted to give a small tribute to former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron who resigned last week after the Lib Dems Home Affairs spokesperson Brian Paddick quit, citing his concerns about Farron’s views on gay sex being a sin. You might remember that during the election campaign Farron dodged a number of questions on whether or not he thought the practice of gay sex was a sin. Instead he said ‘we’re all sinners’ which is either him being hugely homophobic, the weirdest way of him coming out in public ever, or he thinks we all originate from the village of Sin in Iran. Either way, Farron later stated that he didn’t think the practice of gay sex was a sin though perhaps it was because he couldn’t understand why anyone would practice it rather than just get fucking. But still he stood down stating that he couldn’t be Lib Dem leader and a committed Christian, you know, like Bale or Slater. Perhaps he just meant that in his religion Jesus only died and came back once, but as a Lib Dem leader his party is really pushing how many times it can do that. Anyway, as tribute to Tim Farron I just wanted to do a special ‘highlights of his time as Lib Dem leader’ section. So here goes:
‘He made that good gag about how people should watch Bake Off as Theresa May hadn’t turned up to the debate or something….’
And that’s it. Good luck out there Tim. Maybe he’ll try and get himself arrested and imprisoned in order to make it easier to be a committed Christian.
Right, back to Grenfell:
The Fire Brigade are proper heroes. I mean, it’s undisputed as far as I’m concerned. They fight fires. You know what they say, you gotta fight fires with firefighters. Well they don’t say that because they are idiots. But huge respect from me for fighting fires. At best I’ve occasionally fought with a button on an old pair of jeans. It’s really not the same. Firefighters put their own lives on the line everyday and with the Grenfell tragedy last week, over 200 of them helped put the blaze out over 24 hours. With reports of tenants leaping from their floors or waving from windows, who knows what those fire fighters have witnessed and gone through. Fire service budgets have been slashed by nearly a million pounds in the last 7 years. This means less fire prevention inspections, 10,000 fewer firefighters, several fire engines being taken off service and many fire stations closed down. Foreign Secretary and bag of giblets attached to a feather duster Boris Johnson closed down 10 fire stations in London alone, as Mayor of London in 2014. Because yeah somehow London voted for that twat twice. Fucking twice. Johnson’s excuse was that there wasn’t as much fire anymore, which is very dangerous thinking for someone with such dry, straw like hair. Also there is a reason there wasn’t as much fire as before, it was because a fully staffed fire brigade were able to prevent more fires with fire safety inspections. It’s like cutting doctors because there’s not as many deaths as before, oh wait, they are doing that. Or like cutting police because there’s not as much crime. Oh wait. Oh this is pointless. BoJo also cut the amount of counsellors trained to help firefighters deal with trauma from things they’ve witness from 14 to just 2. That’s it. Just 2. So there’s so little support for the people who save lives. Of course Boris wouldn’t understand, I can’t imagine anyone would let him talk at them for an hour without them throttling him.
So where are we now? Well firstly it’s the welfare of the residents who survived. Red Cross and voluntary groups are on the ground, but they shouldn’t have to be if the local council weren’t so massively shit. Also not all the food or money donated have got to those in need as people have already been rehoused, sometimes against their will with BBC reports of one man who lost his wife was relocated to a hotel and then moved despite protests to an old people’s home. Cash handouts of £500 are being given to residents and families will receive £5000 payments which with London prices is basically saying ‘get yourself a consolidator frappucino and have a farmer’s market organic fuck you to go with that.’ There are also claims of people being rehoused outside the borough with just £10 a day to live on. The government have pledged a £5m support fund but £5000 to each of the families barely touches that and there’s no indication what the rest will be spent on yet.
There will also be an inquiry, though many are demanding an inquest instead, especially as the current government haven’t got a great history with inquiries considering the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry still hasn’t got anywhere and is ignoring the opinions of all the survivors it’s meant to be listening to. An inquest is an independent investigation, an inquiry is a judge led one, with the judge appointed by the government. Inquests are fairly focused while inquiries can be much broader. There’s been a lot of arguments about which one the Grenfell incident should have and it’s a tricky question for me, mainly because I haven’t got a clue. But an inquiry would be able to take in the full scale of issues that lead to this from fire safety to council neglect, and apportion blame, whereas an inquest would not. The two aren’t exclusive though and a correctly directed inquiry could lead to an inquest. You say inquiry, I say inquest, let’s call at least one of them and quickly but with due care and consideration! But before any of that the police have to conduct an investigation into any possible criminal responsibility.
There are ways you can help if you want to. The British Red Cross are volunteering on the ground so you can donate directly to them. Justgiving have a grenfellfirefighters page where you can donate to them, and if you go to Grenfellsupport.wordpress.com you can find out what items people still need to have donated.
It’s all horribly upsetting but, if there is any silver lining to this very very grey dark cloud, it’s that many of the inadequacies of not only the government but the very idea of neoliberalism, choosing profit over health and safety of people, all that has been brought to light. It’s just so sad so many lights of innocent residents had to go out first for it to happen.
Now back to Ben and Chris:
INTERVIEW PART 2
Big thanks to Ben and Chris for that. Hopefully that all makes a bit more sense rather than just hearing ‘vote share’ and assuming some people let their partners do the cross in the box for them. Chris and Ben are, as a I said before, film makers and Nina Forever can be found on Amazon, iTunes or Vimeo. They can be found on Twitter @blainebrothers and Chris’s article on all those numbers can be found on his Median page with the title ‘Big Gains’.
As always if you have someone you’d like me to interview or something you’d like me to interview people about, do drop me a line @parpolbro on Twitter, the partly political broadcast facebook group, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or do it as a massive chalk drawing in Dorset, perhaps as a speech bubble coming out of the naked man of Cerna Abbas’s face or arse and I’ll see it next time I fly over. Which will be, probably never. Email is definitely easiest.
PPB Question Of The Week
Yes the Question of the week is back and this week I asked you what Tim Farron was going to do now that’s he’s quit as leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Nik Afia He will diminish and go into the west and remain Galadriel…
Rob Skene He will become the new leader of UKIP. ?
James Ross He will continue knocking on doors to ask if people have heard the good news.
Paul Jenkins Editor of Stonewall.
Andy Zoidberg Walker Supply Teacher. Whenever i saw him, i always thought there was a History or Geography class without a teacher
He is going to host a talk show with Jimmy Fallon called Jimtimmy Farrolalan.
Keeping the pews clean at his favourite place of worship.
I heard he’s replacing Alexander Armstrong as host of a popular daytime quiz show. Apparently he’s perfect because he’s “totally pointless”
Surely has to be Strictly?
I need a draught excluder.
Refresher course on how to not fall off of a bus.
That is all for this week’s show. Sorry it was a more sombre one than usual but I promise it’ll be back to it’s usual sardonic self next week, well, depending on what this week’s news brings. If you haven’t already given the show a review on iTunes or Stitcher please do, if you’d like to donate to the Patreon.com/parpolbro site or ko-fi.com/parpolbro site then please do and just generally spread the word about the show if you can.
I’ll be back in your lugholes next week when no doubt David Davis will have given a demonstration to the Brexit in panel in an awful French accent while singing ‘two world wars and one world cup’ throughout. Full Brexit, Queen’s speech, and have we even got a government yet update then.
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