THE BLOG

Disasters And Getting Heard

17/06/2017 10:02
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Anger is what hope becomes, once hope is crashed against brutal reality. Hope is what anger becomes, once anger is put to work.

Sometimes you wonder what the point of it all is.

Having spent the past eight weeks fighting to represent my home town again, I would be a liar if I said the thought that I might lose the election hadn't crossed my mind. It did every day. And I would be even more of a liar if I said I never wondered if life out of politics might not be a little easier. A little calmer. Happier. Possibly, happier.

But there clearly is a point to it all. And that point is glaringly obvious to me now, after the events of the past 48 hours. Why are we all so angry about Grenfell Tower? It is painfully evident that a group of people that should have been listened to were not. Hear the residents who've spoken out already and the controlled anger is audible. That anger is rising. Before long it will be uncontrollable.

And as the death toll rises, people will, of course demand to know why.

The inquest will follow. There will be a public inquiry. The causes must be known in all their detail. I would not second guess what that inquiry will have to say. I can only repeat Sadiq Khan's plea that an interim report is produced quickly. Some wounds never heal. But any healing that can be done will begin with understanding what went wrong, so it must be done quickly.

Yet, when I heard the news and saw what was happening, in the pit of my stomach, I just wanted to scream out. In 2009, I was a Southwark local councillor when the Lakanal tower block fire happened in my ward. A foreshadow of this week's events. A horrible future echo that I have been going over and over in my mind.

From the woman from Lakanal who I encountered just after the blaze in a tenants hall, having to beg a council officer to pay for the nappies her child needed, to each of the funerals, and the sound of a young Camberwell woman singing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah at the memorial on the grass in the middle of the estate. I am right back there. I don't know how those from the Grenfell block are feeling, but I know how the Lakanal fire was. And I cannot cope with the idea that those deaths did not stop more deaths.

Anger doesn't begin to describe it.

If the question is, as it must be, could this have been stopped, then I already feel as though I know the answer. Maybe there will be complicated circumstances we are unaware of, and, of course no one should prejudge, but the similarities are so uncanny. In addition to the horrific distress faced by those burnt out of their homes, we have the grim reality that the flaws in that building should have been prevented.

How was this allowed to happen? Horrendously we cannot avoid the conclusion that there is a view that some people in our country don't matter. That they don't count.

This is inequality at its most brutal.

From the reports, it seems that residents were not heard when they were worried. That the local authority seems to be demonstrating the traits of an arm of the state insufficiently concerned with the dignity of all people, no matter how rich or poor. I am not in west London, I am in Merseyside, but I recognise the anger of people who have been ignored until it's far, far too late.

For me, then, there is another parallel. Hillsborough.

Because the tragedy that happened in 1989 didn't just come out of nowhere. The Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2011 laid out in terrible detail how the ground had been laid for the disaster in the years previously. Poor policing at football games - and a widespread prejudice against people who were written off as a lower life-form just for having the cheek to support a football team - was the grounding for a disaster that happened simply because the state failed completely to take basic care of its own citizens.

Plenty of people - well before April 1989 - knew that what went on in policing of football matches wasn't right. But who was going to listen to them? Who would listen to a bunch of footie supporters complain?

So, when even your testimony - the words you say - count for less than the average person because of who you are not what you say, then that is real inequality. It is impossible to be heard, not because of any deficiency on the part of the speaker, but rather because the person who needs to listen just won't.

In the end, justice for Hillsborough victims, survivors and all their families will have taken at least 30 years. All because those with power refused to listen, both before and after the disaster.

If people from west London were likewise ignored, I can imagine why. The British class system at work once again.

It stinks. And we should all be collectively, loudly, angry.

This is why I am so grateful for democracy, and for the election we just had. Because in the battle for all to be heard equally, there is the time in which we all count for one, and no one counts more than one. And that is when we vote.

The Tories, with all their money. All their piles of money. They can do much to try and block Labour and our values. But despite the Prime Minister's ambition to sweep Labour away, she could not. We could stop her because we had something better than money. We had the Labour family.

The Labour family could show that by listening to people and acting on what we heard we could win vote by vote by vote. One by one. Add them all up. Each counting for one, no one more than one. But altogether a great number.

Yes, the Tories got more votes than us. They did, and there is no point denying. But it was proof of a basic principle: it's not arrogance that wins elections. Theresa May thought she was entitled to a huge majority. She was entitled to no such thing. You get great majorities when you work for them. When you are prepared to listen.

Alison McGovern is the Labour MP for Wirral South

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