As the furnace blazed in Grenfell Tower, I responded to Parliament’s opening debate in 2017 by declaring that “in one of the richest communities in the country, no-one had the capacity to listen to one of the poorest communities, and while clearly they were proved to be right, the price they had to pay was all too costly.”
Despite protestations about their fears of the cladding programme, residents’ concerns were overlooked by profit seeking companies, eager to dress up old tower blocks in lethal materials which would vent flames up outside and within, such as they did at Grenfell. As if Lakanal House, eight years earlier, was not sufficient warning. Concerns raise, fires blazed, lives stolen, reports written, and nothing changed.
It is four years this June since we were promised that everything, yes everything, would be done to learn, to act, to rebuild the shattered lives and to pursue justice. They were just words. Buildings today are still wearing their lethal cladding coats, and it would only take a faulty socket for the nightmare of Grenfell to be relived and another community shattered.
When landlords ignore the people because they are poor, because of their race, because they have no recourse to public funds; when companies became complacent in selling dodgy goods, there is a belief that they can get away with it. And they have.
Despite the Grenfell Inquiry, despite the injustice we see, despite stories, the memories, the tragedy, the loss, Government have failed to do what they promised. That cladding should have been ripped off these buildings and reparations made. Instead residents up and down the land are being ripped off by forking out for night watchmen and by paying exorbitant amounts for removal, let alone reparation, of toxic cladding.
Residents only want to be safe, to go to bed at night with the confidence that they will wake up in the morning. Yet as the years go on, the best the Tories could do this week was sit on their hands, pound the Parliamentary debate with excuses and do what they have done since 2017 – nothing.
Labour only called on the Government to urgently establish the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritise buildings according to risk to start the ball rolling. It asked for the upfront funding to ensure cladding remediation can start immediately and to protect leaseholders and taxpayers from the cost by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis and for a monthly Parliamentary statement on progress. Labour asked for justice and the Tories turned their backs.
“In one of the richest communities in the country, no-one had the capacity to listen to one of the poorest communities.”
These might have been my words in 2017, but history repeats itself daily as the embers of risk refuse to die out. Government’s first duty is to protect the safety of its people, and yet it’s only interest is to protect itself from the cries of injustice. Dodging a vote this week will not let them off the hook as we, in Labour, will seek to pursue just resolve as we daily look to the green heart of Grenfell that tells us that until it the cladding scandal is resolved another tragedy is waiting to happen.