Blame the System

The government has set up an enquiry headed by a retired High Court judge to examine the circumstances behind the Grenfell Tower massacre. No doubt he will end up blaming some individuals and a few heads will roll but we can already identify the culprit – it’s the capitalist system of production for profit.

Grenfell Tower was ‘social housing’ as housing for the poor is called these days so, in any event, standards were not going to be high. This was compounded by the fact that capitalism went into a slump in 2008/9, obliging the government to cut back on its spending with a view to reducing taxation on profits.

This began at national level with the government deciding to slash spending on everything in sight. As local government gets most of its money from central government, its funding was slashed and local councils had to cut their spending too. Spending on old people’s homes and outings, day care centres, play groups and playgrounds, even street lighting and waste collection was cut – and also on the maintenance of council-owned properties.

Some reformists urged councillors to refuse to do this but councillors everywhere – whether Tory, Labour, Liberal, Nationalist or whatever – took the view that there was no alternative. In fact there wasn’t. Or, rather, the one that there was would have been just as bad. A refusal to cut council spending by setting an illegal budget would have resulted in the council being suspended and the central government sending in commissioners to do the job instead. Either way, the capitalist economy’s edict to cut spending to save profits would have been implemented.

Grenfell Tower used to be council housing but had been hived off to a ‘tenant management organisation’ – an organisation to manage tenants, that is, not one managed by them – but which was still responsible to the local council even if at ‘arms length’. So, when it came to spending on the building it was the council that had to find the money. Given the cutback in central government funding, the council had no choice but to choose the cheapest option, even if it involved cutting corners. Building contractors and sub-contractors, eager to make a profit out of council business, sought to pare costs even further.

The investigating judge will no doubt find some councillors, council officials and building contractors to blame, and individuals will be named, shamed and maybe even prosecuted. But we can be equally sure that no Cabinet minister will be named even though the Cabinet and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in particular took the decision to cut funding for local government. But blaming individuals will be unfair as they were only working within the limits imposed by capitalism and so making the best of a bad job. Even the members of the Cabinet cannot be blamed personally as they too were only carrying out the dictates of the capitalist economy to put saving profits before spending to meet people’s needs.

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