Sunday, 18 June 2017

Grenfell Tower: Is Neoliberalism A Form Of Terrorism?

Grenfell Tower, London
The disaster at Grenfell Tower in London is all over the media with many people saying it might end the tottering career of Prime Minister Theresa May because she comes across as robotic and uncaring. What I'd like to look at tonight is not the tragedy itself but at the underlying causes and what can be done to prevent it from happening again elsewhere.

I realise that to assert that a particular political philosophy is to blame for the disaster in and of itself invites accusations of making sweeping generalisations about it. However, neoliberalism either is or isn't a factor in this and I maintain that not only is it the underlying root cause, it's actually a form of terrorism. To make my case I'm going to examine the role and the impact of neoliberalism on Grenfell and housing policy in Britain, then I'm going to explain what it is that makes neoliberalism a form of terrorism.

The role of neoliberalism

I blame neoliberalism for the disaster on the grounds that policies and practices based on the belief that the market will provide, and that government should be limited to the protection of property, have resulted in the neglect of the public good. Let's take a closer look at this.

The market trumps all

The role of neoliberalism has basically been to put market forces in charge and to assert that money is more important than people. In 2016, this happened:

A Labour amendment to the government’s housing and planning bill, designed to ensure that all rented accommodation was safe for people to live in, was defeated by 312 votes to 219 on Tuesday, a majority of 93. - Tories reject move to ensure rented homes fit for human habitation, by Frances Perraudin for the Guardian.

Why in the world would they object to housing being safe to live in? Because, I kid you not, the market wouldn't like it. Yes indeed, a requirement to fit sprinklers might discourage house-building.

Regulation is frowned upon

In fact, Tory belief in the infallibility of neoliberal ideology means that any and all regulation is bad on principle, which explains why they've been kicking the fire safety can down the road for so long. You can use cheap, flammable cladding whether you're a Tory donor or not because ideology must be adhered to. That regulation could have saved lives is not the point; red tape is bad even when it's good because nothing must get in the way of making money. Or saving it.

Shirking public service

This "shrinking government" bee the Tories have in their bonnet basically means "shirking government." Their job is to serve us, not Capitalism. They've forgotten this for some reason. And idiots keep voting them back in.  And this is causing problems. The trouble with being obliged to do more with less is that sooner or later you run out of the thing you now have less of. Ask a fireman.

Big society

The Tories have been desperate to demolish the welfare state ever since it was set up, the idea being to limit wealth — and even basic amenities — to the "deserving," by which they mean "people with money." This explains why Libertarians are bashing the victims and survivors for "taking other people's money" as if the contractors who rip off our government aren't doing the same damn thing (but there's always silence when I mention that) when they're not pretending the disaster wasn't the result of neoliberal penny-pinching. That the rent was £2,000 a month and most of the residents were in receipt of housing benefit isn't an issue — that's just the council moving money from one pocket to the other when it's not threatening ASBOs.

The impact of neoliberal policy

Neoliberal policy has gutted our society by making us suspicious of each other, resentful of the handouts being provided for the "undeserving." That we've had great outpourings of kindness, etc., is most heartening but people I know don't half bang on about that so-and-so from across the way who pops out sprog after sprog like there's no tomorrow and just keeps getting more benefits. The fracturing of our society is not the only result, though.

Price rises for basic needs

As I learned today, council house rent in Kensington & Chelsea is £2,000 a month. Good lord, how did that happen? Why did that happen? Rent is not capped and the market is rigged. Gentrification forces the cost of accommodation skywards even if there's nobody living in the buildings. This pushes up the cost of everything else as wages need to rise so workers can afford to live.

Cuts to services leaves a vacuum

Per neoliberal theory if you get the government out of the way local charities, etc., will move in to fill the gap. In practice, we're left with a gap, which explains all the homeless people I see lolling about in shop doorways, etc. The Grenfell residents are complaining about a lack of organisation and presence right when they need it. They're not being rehoused as promised and one man was moved to an old folks' home against his will. Neoliberal policy reduced the number of social housing units available so I'd be surprised if any of the survivors could be rehoused locally at all. It's not as if the empty properties nearby could be requisitioned; the rule of law applies even in an emergency.

Government devolves/shirks social responsibility

The right wing press are all over Grenfell, basically making out that anyone who doesn't just try to burn quietly is either in a mob or that the fire was caused by regulations or the EU, etc. A "journalist" from the Sun actually impersonated a victim's friend in order to get an exclusive interview. While some people have argued that "the left" is politicising a tragedy the truth is that the moment the government decided to clad the building to make it look acceptable to the rich people moving in instead of installing sprinklers, they politicised it by choosing aesthetics over safety.

Creating divisions over religion, over wealth, or over any other thing by favouring one group over another automatically politicises any situation and our government certainly does play favourites.

Neoliberal terrorism

Terrorism is being used as a bit of a catch-all for dissent these days so let's all get on the same page before we dig in.

Terrorism is a term used in its broadest sense to describe the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror or fear, in order to achieve a political, religious or ideological aim.[1] It is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence against civilians or non-combatants. - Wikipedia

Basically, the idea is to frighten people into going along with a particular situation for fear of what will happen if they don't comply, agreed? Hold that thought; that's what neoliberalism actually does, you just replace "violence" with "threat of _____." Think about it: what have the right-wing papers been saying about Grenfell? Well the Telegraph is waving the Marxist boogeyman at us to convince us that Our Glorious Leader Theresa May is the best bet for government, the idea being that "leftists" might take over if she goes. Let's take a look at some other ways neoliberalism and its adherents frighten us to convince us to go along with them.

Threats to prosperity

Neoliberalism works to convince us that there's no other way but "non-socialist rule." Socialist rule, they warn us, will bankrupt the country. This necessarily implies that polices that benefit the public are naturally socialist and therefore suspect; this is why ministers warned against sprinklers on the grounds that it might chill housing development by raising costs: safety is a socialist principle, it seems.

Threats to jobs

Neoliberalism also works to convince us that either other people are trying to steal our jobs; one of the most vaunted excuses made against raising the minimum wage is that employers will be forced to lay off staff. This ignores the fact that businesses will be graced with customers earning more money under the new legislation but neoliberalism always did require the suspension of disbelief; the problem in these cases is not the wage bill, it's revenue.

Threats to personal freedom

Neoliberalism loves to use threats to personal freedom to frighten us into compliance. The proposal to requisition the empty homes in Kensington to rehouse the victims of Grenfell Tower is a case in point: it's not that simple.

That said, even the local borough council admits that empty homes are a problem and they do tax them. What I'm getting at here is the fact that neoliberalism reserves the scope of government to the protection of private property since adherents consider ownership a measure of freedom. The empty buildings can't be requisitioned because they belong to other people who would certainly push back if they were.


Whether or not you're willing to accept my premise here I think you'll have to admit there's something in it; neoliberalism does require us to be afraid of the alternatives in order to persist. That, in and of itself, is a problem. What you decide to call it is completely up to you.

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