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Everything has changed

Comments Off on Everything has changed 15 June 2017

Everything has changed

Last week, I wrote that Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpectedly narrow general election defeat had changed everything. The consensus that nothing could change, that the poor were always destined to remain poor and the rich would carry on getting richer regardless of what happened to society was suddenly challenged. Labour’s manifesto, warts and all, gave people hope. The election result made us all sit up. Maybe Britain really could be a fairer and more equal place after all.

Silently, people had spoken, by way of putting a cross on a ballot paper. Corbyn’s version of Labour resonated with a lot of people who had had enough of the status quo. If it was not for the old – you know: the old who decided last year to snatch the future away from the next generation by removing them from the EU – Corbyn would have achieved a remarkable victory. How things will go from here with Labour, well who knows, but in future the party knows that a large section of the electorate is in favour of a significant retribution of wealth and power. How Labour goes about building a wider coalition of support is a discussion for another day, but then we had the disaster at Grenfell House. I sense this could make even bigger waves.

I do not wish to get into the blame game about yesterday’s tragic fire. We all have our thoughts and suspicions but now we should concentrate our minds on the here and now, the victims and their families, the people who lost everything and are now homeless. But we cannot ignore the enormous divisions in society.

The people who lived in Grenfell House were not the rich and powerful. In fact, Grenfell House is in the 10% poorest areas in the land. The average house price in Kensington and Chelsea is £1,369,708 and even a simpleton like me can see that this figure is well beyond the people who Theresa May refers to as “ordinary working people”, the “just about managing”. These people are not living in luxury: they are living in places like Grenfell House.

I have never liked the big tower blocks. They are the most crowded places imaginable and yet they can be the loneliest places on earth. No member of the House of Commons lives in such a tower block. The landed gentry wouldn’t know how to get access into a tower block. It’s high altitude prefabs, hundreds of feet in the air. It’s all right for someone else to live in.

The media attracted real grief near Grenfell House today. Angry local people had simply had enough. They rounded on journalists including Channel 4’s Jon Snow. Another man angrily attacked the BBC, for only bothering to come to the area when people died. Where were they the rest of the time? Setting to one side comments about the BBC and Channel 4, I would say that the people of Grenfell House and the surrounding area have a point about the media who have demonised working people for years. (I recommend Owen Jones’s book Chavs to illustrate my point.) Some of the newspapers actively demonise their own readers, smearing them as scroungers and skivers when more often than not the opposite is the truth. Unable to strike back, to speak up, these “ordinary working people” knew their place in life. Until now.

David Cameron often referred to “Broken Britain” in his speeches. Granted, it was soundbite politics, no different from May’s “strong and stable” and he was certainly not referring to the broken Britain where young people have had their life choices stolen away, where students are saddled with eye-watering debts, where young people cannot afford to get near, never mind on, the housing ladder, where, yes, those “ordinary working people” being paid buttons for insecure work, where we are supposed to accept a collapsing NHS, schools being starved of funding, severely disabled people having their benefits taken away and…oh, I could go on all night. I don’t know if Britain really is broken, but it sure isn’t fair and the mood is changing.

Look, I am the most moderate man in the room. Politically, I am mainstream left of centre but I’m far from being hard line socialist. In order to win elections, the winning party must tap in to the centre ground of politics but even there, I wonder if the sands are shifting. I think they are.

For people who have enough but not too much, they see their children’s future are far more bleak then their past. It is not just the occupants of tower blocks whose futures are behind them, if they ever had a future at all. Many of those who have enough, have had enough. Seven long years of austerity which was only applied to those at the bottom and many of those in the middle has come to an end. The general election was a kind of uprising and the Grenfell disaster could be another.

Business as usual can no longer be an option for politicians of all colours. A general election and a tragic fire have proved that to be true. One thing is for sure: we can’t go on like this. Everything has changed.

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