The fire of the Grenfell tower, symbol of what is rotten in the United Kingdom


In the Kensington neighborhood, millionaires and crowded families live in buildings similar to the wrecked

The fire of the Grenfell tower, symbol of what is rotten in the United Kingdom

Citizens before one of the panels near the Grenfell Tower of London, where photographs and descriptions of the disappeared (Will Oliver / EFE)

Charles Dickens placed his History of two cities in London and Paris of the times of the French Revolution. But the title would fit perfectly with the Kensington of 2017, South Kensington and North Kensington. In the first, with the highest per capita income in the country, it has a David Beckham mansion and is the paradise of Russian oligarchs, sheikhs of the Gulf and millionaires from all over the world. In the second whole families live in blocks like the Grenfell tower, it is common for five children to sleep in the same room, for two renters with compatible jobs to share a bed – one by day and the other by night – or that the gardens Are rented as rooms with a cot, but without light or running water. They are the favelas of London.

“Everyone matters the same or no one matters,” is the catch phrase for Detective Harry Bosch, the protagonist of Michael Connelly’s crime novels. But in Kensington, as the fire of last Wednesday showed, not everyone matters the same. The poorest, including immigrants and asylees, are left out of the hand of God. When they notice that there are security problems in their home, complaints are ignored. When the tragedy occurs, the prime minister (unlike the queen or the head of the opposition) does not deign to talk to them, the councilors are not locateable, let alone the administrators of the building. They are threatened to move them up to ten kilometers away to give them a new home. They are lodged in unfortunate conditions. They run into a wall of silence when they ask about their friends and missing family members. It is the local community groups that are organized to have roof, clothes, food, some money. The Government does not appear anywhere.

The right-wing press, with its infinite lack of scruples, has tried to blame the tragedy on “European Union regulations and environmental lobbying.” But Grenfell may be to British Conservatives what Katrina, on a scale of much greater destruction, was to the Bush administration, a symbol of all that is rotten in the UK. A small state trial that the Tories sponsor from Thatcher, to 15 billion euros in cuts, to rampant inequality in which 1% of the population accumulates more wealth than the remaining 99%. The impeachment may be more complicated, but the verdict of popular judgment is already on the street. Austerity? Guilty of all charges. Deregulation? Guilty. Privatizations? Guilty. Relocations? Guilty. Free market without controls or restrictions? Guilty. Speculation and subcontracting? Guilty.

There are whole blocks of empty luxury floors, bought only as an investment

St. Ann’s Road divides, in great strokes, the rich Kensington of the poor Kensington. In one are the Greek Embassy, ​​Holland Park’s Regency-style mansions, two-bedroom Victorian apartments that sell for nearly two million Euros, the Royal Crescent, Whitefield Mall, private gardens such as Hugh Grant Jumping a fence in the movie Notting Hill. On another, Latimer Road, skyscrapers for immigrants like the Grenfell Tower or the Lancaster Estate complex (in England when something is called estate, bad affair), the sinister passages below the A40 motorway, and the favelas. And the inhabitants of the poor side denounce a campaign of “social cleansing” to expel them from the neighborhood, tear down their homes and instead build other luxury to the delight of speculators. It is a form of apartheid, not by race but by money.

The streets have their official names, like Ladbroke Road, Pembury Villas or Portobello Road, scene of the iconic market. But also unofficial names such as “ghost avenue” or “the walk of the lights out”, in reference to they are full of luxury floors bought as investment and virtually abandoned by their owners, whether pension funds, English millionaires or characters Linked to the ruling class of Azerbaijan, Ukraine or Qatar. The Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has proposed putting the survivors of the fire in them.

It is particularly infuriating for the Kensington poor that building managers save € 6,000 on not using an anti-flammable coating when it comes to the richest municipal authority in the country, with € 350 million in reserves, largely thanks to Real estate speculation But Kensington was not always such a rich neighborhood. In the middle of the nineteenth century was a working class, and later, in successive waves was populated by Irish immigrants, Spaniards who fled the Franco dictatorship and settled in Notting Hill (where is the school Vicente Cañada Blanch and the supermarket Garcia And Sons), by Czech and Hungarian dissidents, and by Caribs from the British colonies brought in as cheap labor. The result of this mixture is a culture of diversity and multiculturalism before those terms were incorporated into the political language, which is reflected in the carnival that takes place the last weekend of August.

This does not mean that there have been no tensions. After the racial riots of 1958, the London fascist leader Oswald Mosley appeared to the seat in the Parliament of Westminster and was defeated. Terrorists who dropped bombs on London’s underground and buses in 2005 lived on North Kensington flats, not far from the Grenfell Tower. And that idyllic neighborhood of the working class, in which the doors were left open and mothers took care of the children of others, has long gone into oblivion. Today St. Ann’s Road divides the ethnic, Afro-Caribbean and Islamic side, that of the dispossessed, white, partly bohemian and youthful (Notting Hill), partly ostentatiously rich (Holland Park), where instead of pubs there are bistros and Wine bars.

“Stay away, Theresa May” (Theresa May) is one of the most loud cries in the community center and Methodist church that caters to the victims of the fire. It is a denunciation of the apparent indifference of the prime minister, of the contempt with which the upper classes look to casualties, but above all of a system in which no one assumes responsibility, the authorities close fire stations to save, do not know Install fire extinguishers because it is very expensive, the budgets of municipalities have been cut by 40%, the rich accumulate more and more wealth, and everything is outsourced. Even guilt. North Kensington, South Kensington. The history of two cities.

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