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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/25/17

The religion of property is to blame for the deaths of those at Grenfell

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Message Joshua Funnell

Reprinted from www.opendemocracy.net

Taken at the #MayMustGo protest at Downing Street on Saturday 17th June 2017. Garry Knight/Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Taken at the #MayMustGo protest at Downing Street on Saturday 17th June 2017. Garry Knight/Flickr. Some rights reserved.
(Image by garryknight)
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Taken at the #MayMustGo protest at Downing Street on Saturday 17th June 2017. Garry Knight/Flickr.

Some rights reserved.There's a simple reason politicians condemn 'politics' during tragic events: when shock and emotion are raw, people are most receptive to powerful lessons that resonate. The authorities find this threatening, as the most shocking tragedies can shine a bright unwelcome light into their deepest failings, and society's greatest injustices that they have left unresolved. This, in turn, can be a potent force for social change.

It's only 'political' when it hurts the establishment

During such events, explanations favourable to the authorities -- those that strip them of culpability -- are deemed entirely legitimate and apolitical. Yet, conveniently, explanations that demonise the authorities are rejected for 'insensitivity to the victims' and for "politicizing tragedy".

This was evident during the recent terror attacks. Focusing responsibility on the Muslim community was deemed totally acceptable. By contrast, to question links between terrorism and g overnment foreign policy, or the failure to adequately resource police and security services, was deemed outrageous political opportunism.

I am no longer willing to play this game. Nor, it seems, are the victims of Grenfell Tower, who have expressed grief and political outrage in tandem. Politically induced horrors demand political responses. We should not censor what we instinctively know to be true, simply to save the blushes of economic and political elites who are culpable. The warnings were so many that they do not deserve a shield created by our own polite self-censorship. There is no greater dishonour to the dead and their families than to not speak the truth -- truth that may help avert similar tragedy, and which indicts those complicit.

Property: the UK's religion

As I write this I recall 'Homes Under the Hammer' on BBC1. The opening credits tick by with houses made of money and the title font is like that of a crisp -20 pound note. The hosts enthusiastically gesticulate to the camera, talking about the 'earning potential' for would-be landlords, and how the 'regeneration' of a local shopping centre is making the area a 'hot spot' for property developers.

'Regeneration' means nothing more than the advancement of property value: it is not a good in itself for the community. Perhaps 'Homes under the Hammer' is an insidiously apt title, as it hammers the social utility of a home, and reduces it to nothing more than a plastic toy in a game of monopoly.

Former Premier League players I idolised as a kid now reinvent themselves as sophisticated property gurus, as though it takes skill to make money from a housing bubble when you already have huge amounts of wealth. I can't help but lose respect for these people: they have effectively won the lottery to become professional footballers, and now they help inflate house prices to the detriment of the less fortunate -- unimpeded by the government, I'll add.

The British economy gravitates around property. In an age characterised by relative declines in wages and automation, consumer spending has been sustained by borrowing off the value of property. This, in turn, has created a boom for banks and property developers. It has also propelled a Wild-West scramble across the UK to accumulate as much as possible to rent out, to create a life raft for themselves.

Politicians -- particularly of the blue persuasion -- defend the interests of property with a religious zeal.

In sync with this phenomena, politicians defend the interests of property with a religious zeal. Whether it's changing the law of Adverse Possession (squatters rights), or selling off valuable state property, they are vociferous in its defence, and almost fetishise it. Considering the vast donations the party receives from banks and property developers, this is hardly surprising.

Like any religion, impediments to the faith are condemned as blasphemy. For property, this means 'red tape' and 'market obstructions'. In practice, this means fighting rent controls, ownership limitations, inheritance tax and --most important for the purpose of this piece -- health and safety regulations and minimum quality standards for buildings.

Like any religion, impediments to the faith are condemned as blasphemy. For property, this means 'red tape' and 'market obstructions'.

Like most neoliberal policy making, it ordains the outsourcing of state property management to private companies, that are moved by profit, not primarily by a concern for people, or raising standards. In turn, this dilutes state accountability, creates dysfunction, and softens services for full future privatisation on the grounds of ineffectiveness after managed decline through defunding.

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Joshua studied Politics and Political Economy at Warwick University and has previously written for the New Statesman, the Huffington Post and The Skwarkbox.

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The religion of property is to blame for the deaths of those at Grenfell

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