The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewPatrick Cockburn Archive
Grenfell Tower: We're Paying the Tragic Price for a Rolled-Back State
🔊 Listen RSS
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New Reply
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

My mother, Patricia Cockburn, joined the Air-Raid Precautions (ARP) in 1939 and worked at the “Northern Control Centre” in a large cellar deep under Praed Street in Paddington through the early months of the Blitz. This is about two and a half miles from where Grenfell Tower was to be built 35 years later. She recalled later in a memoir that “60 of us sat in a large underground room, each at a narrow desk on which were four telephones coloured white, red, green and black”.

The black phone was for the Chief Warden of a district to call in to say where bombs had fallen and ask for assistance proportionate to the level of destruction and the number of casualties. Patricia would immediately pick up her white phone to send ambulances, the red one for fire engines and the green for heavy rescue vehicles. The skill of the controllers lay in matching the rescue effort to the needs of the victims of the bombing. “You never gave the warden all the machines he asked for,” wrote Patricia. “If you did, you would run out of ambulances and fire engines, long before the raid was over.”

Overall, she found the system well organised and effective. There were glitches, such as an instruction to wear gas masks at all times which briefly made it impossible for the controllers to hear what the wardens were telling them. She was overawed by the dedication of the rescue crews. One night during a heavy raid she got a call on her white phone and heard a girl’s voice calmly asking: “My ambulance is on fire, do I have permission to abandon it?” Patricia asked if she had any patients in the ambulance. The girl said she did not because the crew had been on the way to a bombing. Patricia asked if this meant they had a full tank of petrol and, when told that it did, replied: “Don’t ask any more questions, get out and run like blazes.”

My mother left the job because she was pregnant and was therefore not in the cellar when a bomb fell through an airshaft and killed everybody on duty at the time.

I was thinking about my mother’s time in the ARP during the Blitz, comparing her experiences with events surrounding the Grenfell Tower fire. The fire, ambulance and police services behaved with comparable courage and efficiency to their predecessors in World War Two. But the response of central and local government 77 years after the Blitz was miserably inadequate, and continued to be so long after the unexpectedness of the calamity provided any excuse. They failed at every level and their failure is being rightly pilloried as a grotesque example of cavalier irresponsibility on the part of the state.

It is nauseating to think of the burned bodies of people trapped in Grenfell Tower as the flames engulfed them and then read government boasts on an official website about how “businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from six hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day jobs.” Dangerous drivel like this sends the clear message that the authorities do not care much about fire safety. Of course, under a regime of cursory 45-minute inspections every business will have a “good record” until the day it burns to the ground.

The Government approach is to imply with a sort of gloating superiority that concern for health and safety is a frivolous diversion from the real business of life which is making money. It is disgusting but revealing that in the wake of Grenfell Tower the Government has still not withdrawn a press release dated 3 March 2016 which is entitled “Government going further to cut red tape by £10 billion”. Signed among others by the communities and local government secretary, Sajid Javid, its lauds the infamous “One-in, Three-out policy” under which three regulations must be removed every time one new one is introduced. If some PhD student ever writes a thesis on “Gimmicks that kill”, they should try to trace how this mindless slogan turned into policy.

Sneers directed over the decades by governments and media against “Health and Safety” as the apogee of unnecessary and intrusive bureaucratic meddling, set the stage for the Grenfell Tower tragedy. One does not have to be particularly cynical about human nature to realise that some businesses, noting the dismissive attitude of the state to its own regulations, will conclude that nobody who matters will mind if it breaks a few of them.

But there is an even more destructive aspect to this contempt for state supervision that marks a big difference between government attitudes today and in 1940. For centuries after the end of the 17th century, Britain had a more efficient and better organised state than its rivals in the rest of Europe. This was the outcome of decades of civil conflict in Britain and Ireland, though not all parts of the state apparatus were equally effective, the navy being much better run than the army. It was state power as much as free trade and the industrial revolution sustained the British role in the world.

ORDER IT NOW

It is a tradition that has taken a long time to die. Britain was never going to retain its imperial status after 1945, but neoliberal rhetoric about shrinking the state has been deeply damaging in a country that was never big or strong enough to afford too many mistakes. I was periodically stationed in the Middle East, Russia and the US in the years after 1980 and in all these places one could sense the decay of British state institutions. Visiting British politicians were astonishingly ignorant of the local political landscape. British embassies abandoned diplomacy and turned into trading posts. Britain’s reliance on its relationships with the US and the EU became ever more pronounced. This may not have mattered too much until British voters decided to discard the European crutch and President Trump devalued the US crutch by retracting the US role in the world.

Some of this decline was inevitable and some was self-inflicted. The political and media elite often compensated for these failings by disappearing into a world of comforting fantasies, as in the failed British military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It became the norm to blame all the disasters on Tony Blair, but in both these wars, and later in Libya and Syria, there was a pervasive lack of interest in what was going wrong and how it might be put right.

For a nation that so often is mocked and mocks itself for being too absorbed in its triumphs in the First and Second World Wars, the British are surprisingly ignorant of the causes of their past success. Whatever its military fortunes, the British state machine used to be better organised and more effective than its allies and opponents and its ability to create powerful alliances useful to itself was unmatched. Self-interested denigration of the state as a sort of super-parasite over the past 30 years has helped dissipate these strengths. The well-organised calm of my mother’s ARP control room under Paddington in 1940 was incomparably better than the chaotic state response to Grenfell Tower.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Britain, Neoliberalism 
Hide 11 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
    []
  1. […] are mostly on the newer thread now, but the previous thread also has a lot of good information in the […]

    Read More
  2. I’ve heard two stories about the cladding: It was put up because the rich folk who had to look at the tower insisted it be beautified, and it did not adhere to fire codes. The former is a bit of sophistry designed to rile up the mob to demand more from the monied classes for the support of an ever expanding underclass, ironically caused by the monied class exporting good jobs and importing cheap labor whom they the allow to burn by the dozens to save £5,000. The latter, if true, is a crime, and someone needs some jail time.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
    AgreeDisagreeLOLTroll
    These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used once per hour.
    Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
    Sharing Comment via Twitter
    /pcockburn/patrick_cockburn__grenfell-tower-were-paying-the-tragic-price-for-a-rolled-back-state/#comment-1916076
    More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  3. El Dato says:

    I don’t think big lessons can be had from Grenfell tower except that isolation cladding should be fireproof (possibly bring back asbestos), there should be sprinklers, there should not be cooking gas bottles in a high rise and the high rise should not be overpopulated. Neoliberalism? Nah.

    Inept government was always with us. Comparison with the Good Times of WWII aren’t particularly relevant. If you are on a wartime footing, things are simpler, a lot of dirt and dead people go under the carpet without a second thought.

    triumphs in the First and Second World Wars

    What does that mean? The first world war was an utter disaster, depopulating the countryside for no good reason except to guarantee the balance of forces on the continent while Churchill was faffing around in the Dardanelles. Even the navy couldn’t get on top of the Kriegsmarine in any particular way. As for WWII, let’s not talk about that (except to say the Briatin should maybe have kept the Japanese diplomatically closer). After that, the moribound Empire was history. SIc transit…

    Read More
    • Replies: @anonymous
    here is the tactics and strategy of the English in WW1 in a few sentences.

    !. Send British men to be killed in the massacres of Ypres, the Somme and other battles.

    2. Spend vast amounts of money and effort on propaganda enticing and conning the Americans to come in.

    3. Send Sam Untermeyer to blackmail Pres Wilson with letters proving that he had a long term adulterous affair with a fellow professors wife and that they had an adult son. This blackmail resulted in Wilson declaring war on Germany.

    4. A Triumph!!!!! America send its men to bail out the English and French and England won the war. Millions died. But Britian won the war.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  4. peterike says:

    You can’t have a strong state system in a multi-cultural hell hole, which is the new England. Inevitably, you will get ethnic fiefdoms, and with non-Western cultures you get massively increased corruption. Has anybody looked into the regime of state fire inspections? How many of the inspectors might be persons of color, shall we say?

    You also get steadily decreasing competencies as more and more jobs formerly done by whites are now done by non-whites. Look at Britain’s healthcare system, for one example. No, you cannot replace white doctors and nurses with Pakistanis and Nigerians and expect similar results. Well, you can if you’re a delusional Progressive fanatic, but if you have even one foot still on earth you will understand this isn’t going to work in ANY way.

    Also, as welfare regimes increase, and foreign invaders are given priority, of course there will be less money to go to things like fire inspections: after all, Abduhl and his three wives and fourteen children need food and shelter and (pointless) schooling and medical care and spending money, and they get it all, in spades. Well THAT’s got to come first, of course, because racism.

    Mr. Cockburn might note that the British nation in WWII was 99%+ white, Anglo-Saxon. Sure, there were enough Jews around to cause a lot of trouble (like the war itself), but things ran with a certain effectiveness and efficiency and good will. This is now gone forever, or until Britain throws out every non-white, non-British parasite and invader that has landed or been born in the past 50 years.

    Read More
    • Replies: @europeasant
    I agree and the same can be said about the USSofA.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  5. Logan says:

    The problem isn’t that the state isn’t doing enough. It’s that it is doing the wrong things.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  6. Grenfell Tower: We’re Paying the Tragic Price for a Rolled-Back State

    Bankster and Corporate Bailouts and Endless Wars:We’re Paying the Tragic Price for a Bloated State

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  7. @peterike
    You can't have a strong state system in a multi-cultural hell hole, which is the new England. Inevitably, you will get ethnic fiefdoms, and with non-Western cultures you get massively increased corruption. Has anybody looked into the regime of state fire inspections? How many of the inspectors might be persons of color, shall we say?

    You also get steadily decreasing competencies as more and more jobs formerly done by whites are now done by non-whites. Look at Britain's healthcare system, for one example. No, you cannot replace white doctors and nurses with Pakistanis and Nigerians and expect similar results. Well, you can if you're a delusional Progressive fanatic, but if you have even one foot still on earth you will understand this isn't going to work in ANY way.

    Also, as welfare regimes increase, and foreign invaders are given priority, of course there will be less money to go to things like fire inspections: after all, Abduhl and his three wives and fourteen children need food and shelter and (pointless) schooling and medical care and spending money, and they get it all, in spades. Well THAT's got to come first, of course, because racism.

    Mr. Cockburn might note that the British nation in WWII was 99%+ white, Anglo-Saxon. Sure, there were enough Jews around to cause a lot of trouble (like the war itself), but things ran with a certain effectiveness and efficiency and good will. This is now gone forever, or until Britain throws out every non-white, non-British parasite and invader that has landed or been born in the past 50 years.

    I agree and the same can be said about the USSofA.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  8. jack ryan says: • Website

    Hey English….

    Have you apologized to the Germans yet?
    Have you told them how really, really sorry you are?
    Have you told them if you had to do it all over again, you wish you had lost both
    World War I and World War II?
    Don’t you wish Germany had invaded England FROM Normandy Beach –
    and the invasion was a full on great success?
    Don’t you wish that there were still German occupation troops patrolling London England – that
    London England, not Londonstan?
    Don’t you wish England didn’t have any Islamic terrorist attacks and
    Don’t you wish current Londoners would laugh at the thought of having a Pakistani Muslim mayor of London/Londonstan?
    Don’t you wish England had exactly ZERO Pakistani Muslim sexually grooming rapes of poor English girls in Rotherham England and other English Mill Towns but…
    Don’t you wish that there were more than a few war babies between the occupational German troops and the local English girls?
    Yep, English – have you apologized to the Germans yet?
    Have you told them how sorry you are?

    Read More
    • Replies: @ScotchedEarth
    Hey Jerrybags and Hitlerfags…
    Have you apologised to the world yet for wrecking European Civilisation?
    Have you told them how really, really sorry you are for causing the deaths of over 12 million Europeans in WW1 and over 45 ½ million in WW2?
    Have you told them if you had to do it all over again, you wish you had never started both World War 1 and World War 2?
    Don’t you wish Britain had invaded Germany in 1935 or ’36—or had refused to withdraw our British Army of the Rhine in 1929?
    Don’t you wish that there were still British occupation troops patrolling Wuppertal—instead of Sharia police?
    Don’t you wish Germany didn’t have any Islamic terrorist truck attacks and…
    Don’t you wish current Germans were able to laugh at the thought of having Muslim rape festivals in Cologne, Germanistan?
    Don’t you wish Germany had exactly ZERO Muslims assaulting, raping and/or murdering German girls and boys in Freiburg and Muhlhausen and Hannover and other towns all over Germany?
    Don’t you wish that there were more than a few war babies between the Allied occupation troops and the local German girls?
    Yep, Jerrybags—have you apologised to the Europe you ruined yet?
    Have you told them how sorry you are for almost destroying Western Civilisation twice already and laying the foundations for most (arguably all) of the world’s current ills?
    Or do you want to go for Round 3?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  9. anonymous says: • Disclaimer
    @El Dato
    I don't think big lessons can be had from Grenfell tower except that isolation cladding should be fireproof (possibly bring back asbestos), there should be sprinklers, there should not be cooking gas bottles in a high rise and the high rise should not be overpopulated. Neoliberalism? Nah.

    Inept government was always with us. Comparison with the Good Times of WWII aren't particularly relevant. If you are on a wartime footing, things are simpler, a lot of dirt and dead people go under the carpet without a second thought.


    triumphs in the First and Second World Wars
     
    What does that mean? The first world war was an utter disaster, depopulating the countryside for no good reason except to guarantee the balance of forces on the continent while Churchill was faffing around in the Dardanelles. Even the navy couldn't get on top of the Kriegsmarine in any particular way. As for WWII, let's not talk about that (except to say the Briatin should maybe have kept the Japanese diplomatically closer). After that, the moribound Empire was history. SIc transit...

    here is the tactics and strategy of the English in WW1 in a few sentences.

    !. Send British men to be killed in the massacres of Ypres, the Somme and other battles.

    2. Spend vast amounts of money and effort on propaganda enticing and conning the Americans to come in.

    3. Send Sam Untermeyer to blackmail Pres Wilson with letters proving that he had a long term adulterous affair with a fellow professors wife and that they had an adult son. This blackmail resulted in Wilson declaring war on Germany.

    4. A Triumph!!!!! America send its men to bail out the English and French and England won the war. Millions died. But Britian won the war.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  10. fnn says:

    “well-organised”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwtwo/blitz_01.shtml

    Since the end of World War One, air attack had been seen as the warfare of the future. Predictions about the unstoppable destructive power of bombing had been terrifying. Nothing seemed safe, as industrial and domestic buildings were equally threatened. There was a real fear that society would quickly collapse, under a concerted bombing campaign. Provision of shelter from the anticipated bombing was a major issue of concern.

    At first no one in authority seemed concerned about the people of Britain’s towns who, unlike the upper classes, could not leave their homes and find shelter in the country. Hitler had provided large, sanitary and comfortable indestructible shelters for his people, but in this country it was a different story.

    The government had understood that the safest means of shelter seemed to be deep underground shelters, so a shelter for the use of government officials was built in the disused Down Street tube station. It was fitted out with bathrooms, offices and living quarters, and it remains in place to this day – forgotten and dusty.

    Finsbury, in London, was a communist borough and its councillors also recognised the need to shelter its people safely. However, a pre-war scheme designed by pioneering engineer Ove Arup to build deep shelters in its garden squares was halted.

    The government expressed concern that a deep shelter system might create a ‘deep shelter mentality’: the fear that hordes of people might descend into the bowels of the earth and never come out, rendering them useless to the war effort and hampering war production. Unfortunately, the shelter that the government actually provided for the people was a lot more meagre.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  11. @jack ryan
    Hey English....

    Have you apologized to the Germans yet?
    Have you told them how really, really sorry you are?
    Have you told them if you had to do it all over again, you wish you had lost both
    World War I and World War II?
    Don't you wish Germany had invaded England FROM Normandy Beach -
    and the invasion was a full on great success?
    Don't you wish that there were still German occupation troops patrolling London England - that
    London England, not Londonstan?
    Don't you wish England didn't have any Islamic terrorist attacks and
    Don't you wish current Londoners would laugh at the thought of having a Pakistani Muslim mayor of London/Londonstan?
    Don't you wish England had exactly ZERO Pakistani Muslim sexually grooming rapes of poor English girls in Rotherham England and other English Mill Towns but...
    Don't you wish that there were more than a few war babies between the occupational German troops and the local English girls?
    Yep, English - have you apologized to the Germans yet?
    Have you told them how sorry you are?

    Hey Jerrybags and Hitlerfags…
    Have you apologised to the world yet for wrecking European Civilisation?
    Have you told them how really, really sorry you are for causing the deaths of over 12 million Europeans in WW1 and over 45 ½ million in WW2?
    Have you told them if you had to do it all over again, you wish you had never started both World War 1 and World War 2?
    Don’t you wish Britain had invaded Germany in 1935 or ’36—or had refused to withdraw our British Army of the Rhine in 1929?
    Don’t you wish that there were still British occupation troops patrolling Wuppertal—instead of Sharia police?
    Don’t you wish Germany didn’t have any Islamic terrorist truck attacks and…
    Don’t you wish current Germans were able to laugh at the thought of having Muslim rape festivals in Cologne, Germanistan?
    Don’t you wish Germany had exactly ZERO Muslims assaulting, raping and/or murdering German girls and boys in Freiburg and Muhlhausen and Hannover and other towns all over Germany?
    Don’t you wish that there were more than a few war babies between the Allied occupation troops and the local German girls?
    Yep, Jerrybags—have you apologised to the Europe you ruined yet?
    Have you told them how sorry you are for almost destroying Western Civilisation twice already and laying the foundations for most (arguably all) of the world’s current ills?
    Or do you want to go for Round 3?

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
Current Commenter says:

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone


 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments become the property of The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Patrick Cockburn Comments via RSS
Personal Classics
Full Story of the Taliban's Amazing Jailbreak
"They Can't Even Protect Themselves, So What Can They Do For Me?"
"All Hell is Breaking Loose with Muqtada" Warlord: the Rise of Muqtada al-Sadr