Not In Our Name – response to article by Simon Jenkins

After the atrocity of the Grenfell Tower fire, among the agendas being peddled by different factions in the media members of the MPA  and MP Neighbourhood Forum were appalled to see Simon Jenkins citing Mount Pleasant in his anti-tower block diatribe this week.

You can read the article by Simon Jenkins here: The Guardian: Comment is free 15/06/2017 – Grenfell Tower

Not in Our Name

Mr Jenkins it beggars belief that in the immediate aftermath of one of the worst national tragedies of our times, you choose to make a cheap bid for a conservative agenda that is not only based on ideology rather than evidence, but, in the cruellest of ironies, has played its role in the cause of this disaster. Your dislike of the high-rise has no place in the debate about Grenfell Tower and to try to conflate the two displays not only prejudice and ignorance, but also profound insensitivity to those caught up in this nightmare.

Your citing of Mount Pleasant in this context is unacceptable. As a community united in solidarity and grief with those affected by the Grenfell Tower disaster, we abhor this association. The community at Mount Pleasant, like communities all over the UK, has confronted the excesses of a system designed to profit from the sale of public assets and has found itself at the mercy of a state infrastructure so utterly weakened by austerity it is powerless to resist. Grenfell Tower has exposed this condition with horrifying clarity and has nothing to do with your anti-high-rise agenda. The local community at Mount Pleasant are not ideologically opposed to high rises; they just objected to where the Royal Mail placed them – outside a primary school for maximum PTAL profit.

The language you employ to support your argument is more akin to that of an authoritarian than a journalist.  ‘Imprisoning’, ‘alien’, ‘ugly’, ‘concrete monoliths’, ‘social disasters’, ‘isolation’, ‘misery’, etc.  This kind of labelling (Cameron’s ‘sink estates’ being another example) constructs a powerful narrative that prevents a reasonable debate not merely about the tower block but also of social housing and its wicked privatisation by stealth in the name of regeneration. Grenfell residents have exposed this iniquitous agenda for what it is, recognising that the murderous plastic shroud that enveloped their homes was an attempt to conceal or beautify a structure for the benefit of wealthier neighbours.

As one Grenfell resident so eloquently put it: “They’ve built something which is more of a firetrap than it ever was before. It used to be a beautiful concrete building.” Ugliness and beauty, of course, are in the eye of the beholder.

Britain’s post-war high-rises might not be to everyone’s liking, but they were a noble response to massive social inequalities that helped create the most egalitarian society our country has ever experienced and is ever likely to experience.

And finally: there were no rows of eight-storey terraces ever built in Victorian Britain and those very few eight-storey mansion blocks that were put up under Victoria’s reign were not for the masses – that acute problem was left to twentieth century architects, who did an extraordinary job rising to the challenge.

If we are to learn any lessons from Grenfell Tower, Mr Jenkins, it is that we must avoid the sorts of simplistic ideological agendas that led us to this disaster.