POLITICS

Grenfell Tenants 'Deserve Answers' From The Labour Party Over Social Housing, Says Campaigner

More events devoted to the energy market than fallout from the tragic fire.

22/09/2017 18:38 BST | Updated 23/09/2017 21:29 BST
PA Wire/PA Images

A key Grenfell campaigner has voiced her anger after it emerged just three out of more than 300 events at the Labour Party conference have been devoted to the tragedy. 

Pilgrim Tucker told HuffPost UK more time should have been set aside to debate the fallout from the blaze and tenants “deserve answers” from Jeremy Corbyn’s party.

The activist, who has been heavily involved in supporting Grenfell tenants, said hardly anyone directly affected by the inferno was invited to share their experiences, while housing bosses and MPs dominated the panels on the few events there were.

HuffPost UK understands several CLPs and the FBU have put forward emergency motions, however, and Grenfell Tower would be discussed on the main conference floor as a result. 

It was expected the motions will be reflected in the ‘final agenda’. 

PA Wire/PA Images

“Grenfell shows us what can happen when tenants and residents are ignored – I’d like to see party conferences where it’s people from places like Grenfell and the surrounding area, not chief execs of housing associations, setting the agenda on social housing,” said Tucker, who will speak at a Momentum event next week. 

“There needs to be a genuine conversation about land values and the role of finance, which are absolutely central to understanding why housing costs have gone completely crazy in recent decades.

“It’s a difficult conversation to have because it goes to the heart of how wealth and power is organised – but it’s one that has to be had, especially by parties that aspire to run the country.”

The fire claimed the lives of at least 80 people in North Kensington on June 14 and has led to widespread calls for a radical rethink of social housing policy. 

Still from Andrew Marr Show
Pilgrim Tucker said the Labour Party needs to do more to show it is listening

Party conferences are an opportunity for members and elected politicians to discuss policy ideas and hear from grassroots campaigners. 

The vast majority of events at the annual gathering in Brighton next week are devoted to Brexit, trade unionism activism, jobs and the economy. 

Around 15 fringe events are devoted to energy, some with sponsorship from companies including EON, Dong Energy and ENA, and seven relate to housing.  

There is a Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND) debate, a Sinn Fein discussion and also an event led by the Gibraltar government. 

She said Labour was shying away from debating big questions related to the housing market, adding: “Powerful vested interests are a big reason why it’s almost impossible for most ordinary people to access decent, affordable homes and why it’s so difficult for low-income people to have their voices heard.

AFP via Getty Images
Jeremy Corbyn was lauded for visiting the scene at Grenfell in the immediate aftermath of the blaze 

“The developers, landlords and owners’ lobby wields far too much influence over our politics. Politicians – from local to national government – have spent too much time deferent to these vested interests and defensive.”

Many have hit out at austerity and the Tory-led Kensington and Chelsea council for choosing cheaper, more flammable cladding for Grenfell Tower - something which allowed the fire to spread rapidly. 

But questions have been raised successive governments’ policy, including measures which led to the deregulation of fire safety and the privatisation of housing management. 

Labour has to do more to show it is listening, said Tucker. 

“Clear thinking and clear discussion on how to change this is needed – and if not at a party conference, then when?,” she said. 

“We have to sort out our broken housing market, we have to learn lessons on how we treat people in social housing after Grenfell, and we have to work out how the safe, decent and affordable homes we need will be provided.

“People will be watching and reading the news around party conferences, asking how this is going to happen. They deserve answers. 

“There’s a long history of ‘we know what’s best for you’ in housing provision, but often professionals and politicians know less than residents. We saw that at Grenfell.

“For me, it would seem obvious that to make the changes in housing that this country needs, listening to residents and acting on their concerns is a top priority.

“Labour’s manifesto talked about handing power back to communities. They need to spell out what that will look like in real life.”

She added: “Labour’s manifesto pledges on housing inspired people were bold and inspired people to the polls in huge numbers. But in local government, their record on housing has often left much to be desired and there is more Labour needs to do more to reassure tenants that the party is on their side.

“More discussions at events like conference, led by residents, would be a good start.”

HuffPost UK has contacted the Labour Party for a comment.