Grenfell Victims Must Not Become Charity Cases

We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it.

Oscar Wilde

 

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Grenfell Tower, 2014

In the heatwave the volunteers still come, the aid continues, and the community can speak of little else.

The Grenfell fire is all that is happening in Ladbroke Grove and North Kensington. Everybody has been affected by it and, as the mass news media coverage has reflected, the response of ordinary people has been beautiful.

Even the mainstream media has allowed a platform for grief and anger, and have expressed their own rage and incredulity off camera.

We need them to stick around. One Sky News reporter told me his editor had vowed that the channel would “stay on this story all summer”- let’s see.

Waiting game

The silence and low-level response from Kensington and Chelsea council has been palpable. Could they be playing a waiting game?

Their actions, repeatedly and almost systematically continuing to mistreat Grenfell residents and the rest of the Lancaster West estate, suggests that there will be no change unless there is a change in personnel at the Town Hall.

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Graffiti from January 2013 on Grenfell Road, when the old leisure centre was demolished, before the cladding was applied.

Once the media go away, they will presumably step up the moves that are already underway:

  • The council giving survivors £10 each in aid despite the millions that have come in
  • One survivor who lost his wife being moved to an old people’s home
  • One surviving family being moved three times in the days after the fire
  • Residents of the low rises on Lancaster West being moved for an indefinite period to cheap hotels out of the borough
  • One friend of mine who lives in a nearby, almost identical, tower block called the council to ask when they would be installing sprinklers. She wanted to reassure her traumatised children who lost friends in the fire. The council’s response: “Just be grateful you have a roof over your head”.

And yet the Spanish government has given long-term, free of charge accommodation via their embassy to a member of staff of the Spanish school on Portobello road who escaped the fire.

 Kensington and Chelsea-20130127-01188

These stories are everywhere and as the media coverage fades, we in North Kensington fear that our cries of despair and defiance will become a localised echo chamber.

Richest borough

Already the media and authorities are suspected of lying about the death toll, which is presumed to be in the hundreds but my morning ‘paper had it at 79 “dead or missing”.

Something malevolently mundane and predictable seems to be unfolding before us: The richest borough in the UK will not use its obscene £300 million budget surplus to help survivors of a disaster it created. And so the relief effort has fallen on the community in the form of charity. The council, unable to relinquish its class based world view, is happy for the Grenfell victims to become charity cases.

The Royal Borough wants gratitude from the poor and the dispossessed – this is the price it demands for the provision of its philanthropic, feel-good, version of public service. Gratitude from a wretched, besieged community is the only thing that seems to arouse Nicholas Paget-Brown and this sociopathic council. Wilde’s words, written in 1891, could not be truer in 2017.

The community, so strong and undergoing such rapid growth and development in the wake of the disaster, must not fall for this perfidious trick. Reject any attempts to turn the Grenfell survivors in to charity cases.

Expect the council and Tory minority government to add insult after insult to their mess, but we must not back down from certain demands:

  • All the survivors to be immediately housed in high quality, low rise, permanent accommodation – stable housing provides human dignity. If this means requisitioning the unused homes of the filthy rich then so be it. This has been suggested already by Jeremy Corbyn,
  • All survivors to remain in the borough, and all children within easy travelling distance of school,
  • Proper investment in social housing in this area,
  • An end to social cleansing

Do not be grateful for the crumbs being thrown to the Grenfell victims. The council want to divert the community’s outpouring of compassion to serve their own tyranny, do not let them.

 

By Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

Lad Broke Groove

By Tom Charles

“In the heart of the Urban Dandy is the fate and the conflict of the bohemian, to become preoccupied with the things he/she shuns – materialism and money” (About Us)

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Art by Angel Lewis

Descriptions like this can be traced back nearly two centuries when the word ‘Bohemian’ was first used to define those who didn’t fit the mainstream, bourgeois view of respectable living.

Mid-nineteenth century bohemians were those associated with alternative lifestyles and world views, engaged in the arts, writing and philosophy. They were united in their rejection of bourgeois, materialism trivia and sentimentality. What was respectable to the bourgeois was, to the bohemians, banal.

The thinker Alain de Botton describes the “martyr figures” of the bohemian value system as those who “sacrificed the security of a regular job and the esteem of their society in order to write, paint or make music, or devote themselves to travel or to their friends and families”[i]

By favouring sensitivity over worldly attachment, bohemians found themselves destitute, unable to reconcile themselves to spending their time and energy in service of a job they loathed to secure comfortable material lives. They looked elsewhere, forming their own subcultures and alternative movements.

But while mainstream society has its status symbols (peerages, job titles, awards, bling etc.) the bohemians’ status is attained through social skills, poetry, choice of reading material and company kept.

In the 1800s, society reported only bourgeois achievements and alternative heroes were seldom seen. The bohemian response to this freezing out was to try to shock respectable society out of its complacency. The Dadaists and Surrealists provided alternative voices to the prevailing narratives of social conservatism and fear of difference. Similarly, the Beat poets challenged a culture dominated by those who believed society offered a just reward system.

Bohemians tend to gather in ghettos, a survival instinct and economic necessity. Inner city areas with low end rent have been the focal point, potential havens of freedom, liberation and creativity.

All well and good, but any Bohemian must operate within the laws of the land. And so, the fate of the bohemian is still to become preoccupied with what is ostensibly shunned: money and material comfort.

In North Kensington, a wind chill factor of poverty blows in. Over half of the Borough’s children attend private schools, while 41% of their peers live in poverty. Boho? Many of those who had enjoyed a degree of material comfort and predictable security can no longer rely on this. And the society is more atomised and less community-based than ever. The future is uncertain.

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Screen-grab from the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation

Under an entirely unnecessary sham economic policy called ‘Austerity’, brutal class war is being waged. For those leaving university with five figures of debt, fulfilling their life’s purpose and building a community that enables people to realise their own individuality is not an option. Neither is debt slavery an economic benefit to the country; it is a deliberate, class-based political decision.

The result is best articulated by Oscar Wilde: “There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor”[ii].

The confusion of the value of a human with the monetary value of what they possess has led the majority into tedious, demoralising work in a bid for respectability. Wilde said that our society has been constructed on such a basis “that man has been forced into a groove in which he cannot fully develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him – in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure and joy of living”[iii].

And this is the dilemma of the Urban Dandy; it is what is inside them that enriches life. But they must live outwardly. And that is why, in our hundredth post we declared our intention:

“Identifying with the downtrodden, the poor and the dandies, the human, those who won’t back down and those that capitulate under pressure”.

A final warning: Beware of the word Bohemian now. It has been bastardised, called Boho…Tory Bohemia

 

Vacuous

Been the king of Notting Hill, Lord of Ladbroke Grove

Seen new money flooding in, pretentiousness exposed!

All about the bag you hold, label inside your clothes

Even though it’s daddies cash you wanna be boho!

Without a picture painted, book or verse

A modern day hippy – but in reverse!

The queen of hearts has marked your card

Like me seen through the looking glass

Oh! Alice dear you’re lost in space

What’s really happening to this place

But Alice dear -don’t you understand

For most of us it’s not wonderland!

 

Poem by MC.Bolton, 2015

 

Endnotes:

[i] Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety, Penguin (2005), p. 280

[ii] Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, p.1180

[iii] Ibid p.1178