‘Great’ Britain?

I’m currently on my way to London on a Megabus, upon which, the toilet has broken and so the entire bus has been engulfed in the stench of days old human faeces for almost 4 hours. It’s a blearing hot day and I have had 5 hours sleep, so I apologise if I am less than coherent.

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I’m going to London to meet my dad to watch the Lion King for Father’s Day. A trip I am and have been looking forward to with great vigour, it’s been years since I spent time alone with my dad like this and I’m sure it’ll be a weekend of music, red wine and fiery political chat (I blame him for my excitable political temprement.) I’m exited to walk around one of the most iconic cities on earth in this hazy June sunshine and take in all the sensations of an international multicultural hub.

It will be impossible to go about my business, taking pictures of pretty buildings, listening to talented buskers and eating overpriced street food, without constantly thinking about the fact that less than 10 miles away from the centre, less than 10 miles away from people sipping their coffees and cheering their cocktails there are 10’s, 100’s of families whose family members will never have the basic human liberty of enjoying the simplicity of life ever again. People who will never see their children grow up, people who will never have their mother at their side for the birth of their first born, people who will never fight with their siblings, experience their first heartbreak, or laugh til they cry. People who will never wake up on a sunny morning like this and feel that much better upon the sight of a piercing blue sky. These people haven’t been slaughtered by terrorist ideologies . They haven’t been victims of some deadly disease or massacred by a serial killer. These people were poor. These people died, brutal, horrific, unimaginable and abhorrent deaths for no reason other than what their incomes granted them.

The residents of Grenfell Tower had spoken out on a number of occasions about their concerns for the safety of the building. There are blogs on the internet set up by residents (some of which remind unaccounted for) documenting the struggles of the residents in gaining the attention of Chelsea Council to provide the building with adequate fire safety. These residents predicted their own tragic fate long before the inevitable happened.

Part of me understands why the media has been less than transparent with the details of this event so far. It’s hard to know just how many people will have perished, although it goes without saying it will far surpass the 30 people confirmed dead so far. It’s difficult for the UK as a country, one of the richest countries in the world, to accept that this could have happened in the richest city on earth. It’s hard to accept that there is no bady from a different land upon whom we can pin our blame, our hatred and anger. It’s hard for us to accept that this could have been any of us that have ever lived in or known someone that relies on social housing. The people that lost their lives in this fire are exactly the people the media works tirelessly to vilify on a daily basis. Programmes like Benefit Street and Jeremy Kyle make a freak show spectacle of those reliant on the state for basic human needs. We are told that anyone who needs benefits must be a sponger and that only ‘hard working families’ are worthy of not only our praise, but our recognition as fellow human beings. We are told that only those with enough equity to pay their own way should be allowed a voice and that those unable to purchase their own property or to pay for school lunches, often those working two even three jobs just to make ends meet, are stupid, illiterate fools who couldn’t possible know what’s good for them, never mind speak up when injustice strikes.

I’m excited to go to the theatre with my dad. To see the Savannah come to life on stage, listen to lovely songs and eat some Rolo’s. I’m lucky my parents were able to make the sacrifices they had to enable my brother and I to gain access to a better future than they had. But I would be foolish to forget that my dad grew up in a 3 bedroom council house in Newtownards sharing his bedroom with his older brother long past childhood, with my force of a Nanny tirelessly working two jobs but still dependent on the government to get by. I would be foolish to forget that my great aunt Anne, a 93 year old beacon of youth and life who will be sitting now in her one bed council flat in Kilcooley Estate in Bangor, after spending her entire life working as a cook in the armed forces and later in a care home, who wouldn’t have a roof over her head and the independence to be free in her old age, if it wasn’t for state support.

This event could have happened to any one in any part of the country that relies on the state for housing. I would be surprised if you can’t think of someone who too, relies on the government for a roof over their heads. Because of the astronomical wealth of a select few in the city, who quite literally didn’t want to have to look at, nay, acknowledge the existence of the lower classes, Grenfell Tower was clad, as are many around the country, in high flammable plastic. A disguise of poverty and oppression. A costume to allow for a better view from an oligarchs multi million pound apartment. An apartment from which they watched human beings burnt alive in order to add a few more 0’s to their properties worth.

I don’t have any answers, nor any suggestions as to what we need to do about the social cleansing our cities are facing at the hands of a select few, determined to wipe out the very trace of the majority of people that make up this country. But I do know that launching a so called Public Enquiry, like the controversial one launched to ‘help’ the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, is not going to stop this from happening again. It is not doing to bring back the families who have been wiped from this earth at the hands of corporate greed and it certainly isn’t going to stop the fight our generation faces against the mass injustice of the class system in a country so proud to call itself ‘Great.’

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