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Tuesday 27th
posted by Morning Star in Features

Now is the time to for the government to properly enforce a zero-tolerance policy on MPs’ conflicts of interests, writes JULIAN VIGO

THERESA MAY and London Mayor Sadiq Khan have ordered a public inquiry into the fire in Grenfell Tower as the death toll is currently confirmed at 79 and is expected to rise as other residents are reported missing.

But there is more behind this tragedy than merely the shoddy state of the tower’s housing.

For instance, the Grenfell Action Group residents’ association had consistently warned about the possibility of such a tragedy.

A recent post on the group’s blog read: “Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in [the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea]. All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”

These residents are not only right to be furious but there is a much larger political beast that goes beyond the current partisan squabbles which abound in the media over which political party is to blame.

Continuing to bicker over May’s facial expressions is as futile as the many lawyers offering free legal help for those with compensation claims. The heart of the issue is one of political corruption from within the British government.

In 2009, approximately 30 per cent of all homes in England were declared “non-decent” according to with the highest rates of non-decency occurring in the private rental sector. Because owner-occupation is by far the most common tenure today, it still accounts for two-thirds of all non-decent homes.

In fact, there are substantial numbers of households in non-decent homes at all levels of income.

While Grenfell Tower households were statistically no more likely to live in a non-decent home than richer households, its size meant that fire posed an incalculable risk to its inhabitants and rendered a safe exit from higher floors challenging at best. The brute reality is that the tragedy of Grenfell Tower was completely avoidable.

Residents warned as early as January 2016 that Grenfell Tower had problems with rubbish and inadequate fire exits. Danny Vance, an associate pastor at Notting Hill Community Church, has blamed the treatment of poor people in Notting Hill for the fatal tower block inferno and said residents had been “neglected” in the area, telling the Evening Standard: “The disparity in this country between rich and poor is disgusting... this would not have happened in those £2 million, £5m flats around the corner.”

Similarly, neighbours near the Grenfell Tower contend that this tragedy is part of a larger social project where some contend that social housing is merely another form of “social cleansing.”

This tragedy occurred in one of the richest neighbourhoods, in the richest city of one of the wealthiest nations on Earth. And while many a columnist writes of this being indicative of class disparity and poverty in Britain, the elephant in the room is left untouched: almost one-third of the British government is run by MP landlords who have a vested interest in continuing exploitative housing practices.

While some MPs have championed schemes like help to buy, starter homes, and shared ownership, many have failed to protect social housing by scrapping quotas for affordable homes.

In January 2016, 71 Tory MP landlords threw out a Labour amendment to the Housing and Planning Act which ensured that all rented accommodation would be safe for occupation.

One can critique the class system in perpetuity but until the underlying issues of how corrupt government results in the most vulnerable being killed, such systems of exploitation will simply not change.

To be blunt, having MP landlords who administer the laws of the country is like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank.

We should be angry but not surprised that the culture of rental housing in Britain is in such a pathetic state, be it private or public.

And this includes the removal of the Labour government’s 1965 Rent Act which regulated tenancies and independently assessed rents together with the 1977 Rent Act, which established rent controls.

The Thatcher-era Housing Act of 1988 removed these protections entirely. There have been various petitions established in recent years which have asked for the outlawing of conflicts of interest within the government. Sadly, these petitions were largely ignored or did not have enough public visibility.

Perhaps now it is time that we demand the government enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward conflicts of interest by elected officials while we evaluate the deplorable state of many tower block estates in the country.

As the criminal investigation begins into the Grenfell fire, one need only to look to the MP landlords to find the culprits.