Greetings from London. The Tomb in The Sky is Forcing Us to look at it

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The tragedy of Grenfell Tower is not a merely domestic accident. It marks the current political moment and the next future. Not only in Great Britain.


A postcard on the fridge door. On the top of a cupboard. Pinned down on a notice board.

The warm light of the sunset is wrapping up the sharp lines of the building.

But what you can see is not the London Bridge standing out against the horizon, nor the austere profile of Westminster Palace lying on the north bank of the river Thames.  It is not even the Big Ben, which dominates the dreams of children watching Peter Pan.


“A tomb in the sky”. The postcard from hell is delivering a message through the letter box of everyone’s imagery: the empty and smoking carcass of Grenfell Tower. An un-erasable black-spot in the London skyline; the Freudian Uncanny of the British political conscience and beyond: in the background, beyond the 23 floors building, there you see a country already burnt in its core by seven years of austerity and business speculation, exhausted by terrorist attacks that left behind only questions and a lot of anger. A country that won’t give up nevertheless and that is hungry for a change. If you look attentively, at the bottom of the postcard you will read: “We won’t give up”.


All that happened before, during and in the aftermath of the disaster is revealing of the political and social moment the country is going through. A crucial moment. A tipping point.

When the fire happened on the 14th of June 2017, even as the information arrived I immediately understood that we weren’t dealing with a typical tragic incident. The social media soon started to report that in the past some residents had been warning over safety concerns. And that they had been threatened for the mere fact of having expressed these concerns. Then details about the cladding started to come out. Due to the cheap, inflammable cladding, the fire had spread at an unbelievably quick pace.  Non-inflammable panels would have cost only £ 2.00 more per square metre.   It’s not that the money wasn’t there: the operation of urban “regeneration” had involved a galaxy of contractors, who had pocketed thousands of pounds, not few pence. Yet for them, the most important thing was that the council tower at the centre of the wealthiest borough in London – one of the wealthiest cities in the world – was covered by a decent façade.

What they cared about was to please the posh neighbours around – disturbed by the sight of the shabby tower – rather than ensuring a safe environment for the tenants living in it. The most important thing was “cladding over poverty. We don’t need to make social housing better. We just need to make it look better”. We need to hear the hard truth from a fictional character, Jonathan Pie.

The thermometer measuring the social climate in Britain is showing that people are not buying any more the fairy tale of austerity as a necessity. It is a choice, not a necessity. A choice led by specific interests and also by ideas and ethics shared by specific groups. Perhaps these choices are not the direct cause of disasters such as this one. Yet they certainly allow the creations of causes and conditions for such tragedies. Especially if concurring with cynicism, speculation, and corruption.

The videomaker Ishmail Blagrove – Kensington and Chelsea resident – rightly said “It’s not a domestic fire: it is a catalogue of systemic failures. It is not a case of negligence; it is a case of corporate manslaughter”.

Grenfell Tower is an eyesore that everybody can see. In it, anybody can see also what is not immediately visible.

Yes, it was a disaster. Yet anything else could have happened and could happen. In the landscape around the tower, disasters waiting to happen are everywhere and could be triggered any time: in a poorly equipped hospital, in a neighbourhood lacking essential police forces, in an overcrowded school.

Not to mention dozens of tower blocks around the country having the same safety concerns and in some cases covered with the same inflammable cladding.

And not to mention the silent disasters, those creeping along quietly yet consistent over the time, like drops of arsenic from a drip-feed. The cynicism and the greediness behind the Grenfell tragedy are the same cynicism and the same greediness behind the NHS cuts, the police cuts, the fire brigades cuts, the disability benefits cuts. It is the same cold hand that signed the “fit for work” notice for hundreds of people dead few weeks after having received it. Welfare cuts are able to do over years what the fire is able to do in few hours.

But let’s go back to the varied ‘social mosaic’ represented by Grenfell Tower, the community that the posh in Kensington prefer not to look at.

A community symbol of a contemporary society in rapid and constant evolution. Groups and Individuals who don’t want and are not supposed to be encapsulated within stereotyped labels stuck on them whether by politicians or mains stream media commentators. Cultural laziness, ignorance or intentional dishonesty defines them from time to time in terms of poor working class, underclass or an explosive racial-ethnic mix of individuals suspicious towards one another and most probably uneducated. This is a kind of narrative fuelled by certain media, used to cheap formulas fished out from a collective imagery stuck to 10, maybe 30 or 40 years ago. A narrative detached from the reality. A narrative that is dear to those who are writing the script of the current political agenda. According to Labour MP Emma Dent Coad, members of the Council have been always treating these people as if they were ‘lesser than them’, second-class citizens.

The Tower was keeping together members of an interclass and intercultural community, encompassing all the range of social varieties and in some cases of global tragedies.

Individuals with different stories, backgrounds, aspirations, and ambitions ended up to share the same roof, in the same area of the world: Grenfell is the Syrian refugee and it is also the British photographer with Gambian origin at her first Venice International Biennale Art Exhibition. It is the Iranian family with teenage children, the single British white woman, and a couple of young Italian architects, part of a sad phenomenon known in Italy as ‘Brain Drain’, two talents migrated ‘from a country that is kicking its youth away’ (quoting Gloria Trevisan’s father).

Grenfell Tower is all of us.

The elites ruling London and the world have done their best in the last years to spread divisive feelings, suspect and prejudice within communities like this and others. To their big surprise, though, Grenfell fire didn’t only make their mask drop, didn’t only unveil the cynicism and the greediness of the current ruling class. The fire uncovered also a united community. United not only in the solidarity of the immediate aftermath but also in the reaction to the political response given to the tragedy by the establishment: the ruling elites didn’t expect this or most probably some of them were pretending not to have noticed it. Now they are well aware of it.

The scene of Theresa May booed by the people while visiting the site after having refused to meet the survivors, says it all. A very different reception was given to the leader of the Labour opposition Jeremy Corbyn. The residents – which are also voters – don’t forget. Besides the intentional negligence, they don’t forget, for example, that right last year an amendment proposed by Labour in order to make homes ‘fit for human habitation’ was rejected by 72 Tory MPs, all of them landlords and among them David Cameron.

It is clear that from now on any legislation upon the subject will be closely scrutinized by the public.

Someone has criticized the attempt of politicizing the tragedy of the fire. Yet, when the responsibilities of it are heavily political, why the response of the public has to be any less?

A country heavily marked by the social butchery of the last years and by the terrorist attacks especially of the last few months, is showing a growing chunk of population ‘immune to the narrative coming from the mainstream media’, to quote again Blagrove.

This is the heart that is still beating and that will carry on beating among the black ruins of Grenfell Tower.

For this reason, we may say that ‘The Tomb in the sky’ is marking a landscape that is at the same time depressing and electrifying for the British socio-political life. It might set an example for the future on a vaster, global scale.

A population which is not only sick and tired of austerity, but it is hungry for a change. And, most of all – a detail that any political commentator shouldn’t underestimate – is finally feeling to be politically represented.

This is what makes the difference with the situation of, say, two years ago. Without being politically represented, these frustrations might easily degenerate into riots – that in turn might be easily manipulated, infiltrated and therefore liquidated shortly. If channeled into the right direction, instead, the risk of ‘civil unrest’ mentioned by the Labour MP David Lammy can take a constructive path for justice.

In the immediate aftermath, we were very close to the risk of riots. Instead, the local community has being showing an extraordinary dignity and composure, pursuing the path of justice: for example, by insisting on having a criminal inquest – rather than a public inquiry where the judge and the judged are the same – or by achieving great results, when they forced the Tory leader of the local Council, Nicholas Paget-Brown, to quit.

This is the only way to carry on the fight, as the Guardian journalist George Monbiot pointed out.

Besides, there were meetings taking place inside the Parliament, involving some volunteers who described the awful conditions with which the survivors have been treated. It is worthy to note an event, in particular, that is quite revealing, not only for the content but also from the point of view of the media: an NHS volunteer was video recorded by a mobile phone while denouncing the mistreatment of the survivors and the block of the donations done by The Red Cross. Naturally, the mainstream media never aired the video. Yet it has been viewed by more than 6 million people on the social network.

The Internet and the social media – a tool that Theresa May would like to further crack down and control, not to say, censor – has taken and is taking the lion’s share. In the same way that it did during the GE campaign.


In the meantime, it is clear that the government is doing its best to push for the conflict, by exasperating and manipulating the social division. This has been seen specifically in the way the rehoming of survivors has been handled.

First, they promised to rehouse the families in the same neighbourhood, then to move them miles away, in Birmingham. Then again to rehouse them in a luxury block in Kensington. Naturally, this last proposal wasn’t received so well by the residents of the block, more worried by a devaluation of their property rather than interested in offering solidarity to the survivors (quote “It will degrade things. And it opens up a can of worms in the housing market”).

Eventually, some local accommodations were offered. However, as Emma Dent Coad reported, we are talking about very inappropriate properties: in some cases, houses condemned to demolition were offered. This wasn’t reported properly by mainstream media though. Because the official narrative – now as ever – has to remain divisive. It has to push people against each other, by depicting the survivors as ‘ungrateful’. In the meantime, the government can claim that it has done its duty on time, as promised. And it is rushing for closing this case as soon as possible.

At first, London Police stated that many months will occur to get a definitive number. And then suddenly, about one week ago, the Police issued the first detailed figures: 350 people were living in the block, 250 of them managed to escape and the final death toll remains at about 80.

Yet the residents who survived had done the maths already: about 600 people were living in the block, including the tenants staying in a sub-let illegally that even the Police officers are mentioning.  Where are all these ‘desaparecidos’? Vanished in the wind of Kensington?

In the meantime, the names and the faces of Khadija Saye, Gloria Trevisan, Marco Gottardi, Mohammad Alhajal, Deborah Lamprell and of many more people won’t disappear from the collective memory. They will echo in the wind during the busy autumn that the United Kingdom is about to face. 


Fonte originale in italiano:



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