Reprinted from www.opendemocracy.net
The Grenfell tragedy has crystallised how an unchallenging media fertilises the soil in which the seeds of tragedy can grow. This explains the resentful anger aimed at some establishment journalists at Grenfell by the public. The media are eternally obsessed with the elite's soap opera politics. At the same time, they have failed to vigorously and consistently investigate and highlight the deprivation and suffering of the poor and elite indifference to it.
The Grenfell tragedy has crystallised how an unchallenging media fertilises the soil in which the seeds of tragedy can grow.
Only now do they discover the truth when tragedy strikes and it becomes the new fashionable conventional wisdom. They ask aghast, "how can this happen in the 5th richest country in the world?" apparently not grasping that GDP expansion is not synonymous with sustainable growth for all and suggestive of an implicit media belief in trickle down economic fantasies. It has echoes of the "nobody predicted this!" when Corbyn slapped them round the face with a wet fish on election night. The answer to both these examples is the same: if you had cared to pay attention and listen to different opinions beyond the cosy Westminster Consensus, the truth was discoverable to foresee both these events.
The sharpest insights are sometimes born out of the greatest emotion and rage. Ishmahil Blagrove, who has become a voice of the Grenfell crime, said it best in his now viral media critique:
"f*ck the mainstream, you don't deserve to be there " We should be campaigning, not to government, but to the BBC, who act as mouthpieces for this corrupt government ... For two years you've demonized and hounded Jeremy Corbyn, you said he was unelectable, and you created that narrative" The mainstream media, you are mother f*ckers."
He then made a decision of great principle and announced his refusal to produce a documentary about the tragedy for Channel 4. He highlighted how they had routinely ignored his independent production company in the past, saying that they would not "exploit our contacts" now it was expedient for them.
Grenfell shows that without the bright uncomfortable spotlight of media scrutiny, the rot and decay caused by austerity and anti-regulation fanaticism has gone unchecked, hidden in the darkness. As a Grenfell resident commented to me, it amounts to "glorified gambling, except people's lives are at stake". Perhaps if media had allocated half as many resources to exposing this, as they did to shaming poor, small time welfare cheats and anti-social villains, then they could have helped avoid this carnage.Visiting Grenfell Tower
I didn't want to be regarded as a 'grief tourist', but I wanted to experience Grenfell free from abstraction, media dissemination and political narratives.
As I exited Shepherd's Bush Station, locals were immediately gathering signatures for an inquest, NOT an inquiry. As you depart the manicured Westfield Shopping Centre, you cross over the imposing A3220, which acts like a highway buffer zone. As you cross, you enter a different world, characterised by sprawling tower blocks, fused intermittently with affluent closed areas, random boutique houses, and scattered chunks of low rise social housing. It's a sociologist's patchwork quilt.
To get a real sense of the sporadic class divisions here, please watch the BBC's "The Secret History Of Our Streets -- Portland Road", a really fine piece of work. In a revealing exchange, Henry Mayhew states (with my emphasis):
"There is nothing at the end of that line I have any involvement in"London is a series of villages and my village ends at that line"THEIR village is that way".
Mayhew is a stereotypical wealthy inhabitant of the borough, a blue-blooded banking heir whose ancestors originally "teamed up with the Rothschilds" to establish what would become Barclays banks. He candidly states that his inherited fortune "paid for everything I am, and everything I do". Asked why he bought a house in the area, he said "property is thee British investment" and he couldn't "let sentiment stand in the way of a good deal".
Unsurprisingly, inhabitants of the borough have an acute sense of class-consciousness and segregation. It is the most unaffordable borough in London for rentals, combined with the highest rate of out-of-borough homeless placements at 69%. The house price boom here is largely attributed to financial sector bonuses, ironically fuelled in no small part by public bailout money. Not to mention the foreign buyers, who are immediately parachuted into luxury to use Kensington's properties as "tax havens" without any government restrictions. These buyers knowingly smirk when interviewed as they stick to the charming fiction, "we came here because we love the British culture".
This extreme wealth disparity is rubbed in the faces of poorer residents. This is the context in which this fire occurred: a final straw, after generations of final straws, by New Labour and Conservative governments alike.