Never has the phrase ‘a week is a long time in politics’ been more true than this week. It’s barely a week since the hung parliament was declared, and already it seems like a lifetime ago. It feels as though a major recalibration of our political and social system is taking place.
This morning I read in detail some of the accounts of survivors of the Grenfell tower fire. I was sobbing. The idea that your home could be turned into a flaming inescapable prison is horrifying. But after reading reports from residents, these people have been prisoners of that tower block for much longer. Prisoners of poor housing and landlords who wouldn’t accept or validate their concerns about safety standards.
From outsiders looking in the idea that the poorest in society could die in an inferno in one of the richest boroughs in the country says much about the UK and its value system.
At this moment this horrific event feels like it may become emblematic of the death throes of an economic theory that dictates that everything should be subject to the whim of the market where everything has a price, including human life. Social housing, when subject to the rules of the marketplace, has a bottom line, which becomes more important than providing a social service and legitimate safety net. It’s the ultimate logical outcome to trickle-down economics, the pervading neo-liberal ideology that has dominated in this country for nearly 40 years.
Except wealth hasn’t been trickling down, it has simply become concentrated in the offshore bank accounts of the few. The tap was turned off some time ago, and the rising tide that floats all boats has now begun drowning people. The problem (one of many) that this general election has brought into sharp focus with trickle-down economics is that when everything in life is treated as though it’s subject to the vagaries of the marketplace, those who are seen as not being a functioning part of the economy are sidelined by it. Couple that with a government and complicit media that worships celebrities and those with monetary status and as a result treats people who are seen as drains on the economy rather than contributors to it and you create ideas of ‘otherness’. Once you separate people and treat them as something ‘other’ it becomes easier to treat them as less than human, with poverty and disadvantage seen as moral failings. In this way it becomes easier and easier for those in power and with money to fail to treat others with humanity. It’s been used time and time gain, and was taken to its ultimate conclusion in Hitler’s death camps.
Trickle-down economics has just created greed and wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. Wealth accumulation, in spite of the immoral standards it sets when a dysfunctional banking system driven by greed crashes the system with little or no comeback for the perpetrators, is seen as the right path to follow. But the poisoned narrative that has been allowed to go virtually unchallenged for years is that somehow the welfare state and cuts in social services must pay the price for the resulting debt the country found itself in.
I am hopeful I can hear the creaks and groans as an ailing, failing system gradually grinds to a halt and, if we are lucky, another one, with a more human scale, not driven by ideals of perpetual growth at any cost, will take its place. But first we must watch as this government and all that it stands for is held to account for the appalling and unnecessary tragedy of Grenfell, whose victims will massively outnumber just the people who lost their lives.
I hope that from the ashes something nicer, more respectful, kinder and more humane ultimately comes from the green shoots of more progressive thinking that have shown themselves this damaged summer.