Building Genuine Solidarity in Leicester: From Terrorism to Grenfell

Since late 2015 Leicester’s very own Clock Tower has been the home of a weekly peace vigil (held every Friday night). This vigil started as a protest against the parliamentary vote that gave the green light to the bombing of Syria; a bombing campaign that Jeremy Corbyn opposed and that Leicester’s two Blairite MPs (Liz Kendall and Keith Vaz) both shamefully supported.

Although such instances of injustice certainly make me angry, it is not surprising that politicians who repeatedly put the needs of big business before ordinary people actively create the social conditions that enable terrorism to thrive, and for needless bloodbaths like the Grenfell Tower tragedy to occur.

Austerity

So with a saddened heart the people of Leicester once again gathered at the Clock Tower on Monday night to pay tribute to the victims of the Grenfell tragedy and the Finsbury Park mosque terror attack.

Although I was not able to attend the event, the Leicester Mercury reported that Leicester’s executive city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “it is important for us to be here tonight to show solidarity in the face of such tragedy.” (June 19) Yes, Sir Peter Soulsby, I couldn’t agree more, solidarity is essential.

The following day Guardian journalist Aditya Chakrabortty explained why:

“When four separate government ministers are warned that Grenfell and other high rises are a serious fire risk, then an inferno isn’t unfortunate. It is inevitable. Those dozens of Grenfell residents didn’t die: they were killed. What happened last week wasn’t a ‘terrible tragedy’ or some other studio-sofa platitude: it was social murder.” (June 20)

But despite Soulsby’s words about solidarity, his Council’s initial political response to this murder was a complete failure by anyone’s understanding of the word solidarity.

I say this because on Thursday the Leicester Mercury (June 22) reported Assistant mayor for housing Councillor Andy Connelly as saying:

“We will await the outcome of the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower tragedy and will seek to swiftly learn any lessons and enact any recommendations arising from the inquiry. While we await these recommendations, to reassure our tenants, we have agreed to explore installing fire sprinklers in our tower blocks.”

None of council’s six tower blocks are coated in cladding (flammable or otherwise), but nonetheless, this useless statement is noteworthy because it could not be construed as an act of solidarity at all. The Council was only committing to “explore” the potential of installing sprinklers, not to actually fitting them as other Labour Councils are doing up and down the country.

Furthermore, if the Council really wanted to show solidarity they could launch a public campaign to ensure that the Government paid the Council for any costs incurred in making all their Council properties safe, not just high rise flats.

Evidently this poor first response from the Council must have come under some criticism, as the following day the Mercury reported Cllr Connelly as saying something quite different:

“We have committed to sprinkler systems in all the blocks… We haven’t costed it up yet but we will find the money to do it because you can’t put a price on the lives of people. The paramount point here is the safety of our tenants.” (June 23)

To be fair to most of Leicester’s 52 Labour Councillors, solidarity is not something that they seem to understand — as exemplified by the shocking lack of support the majority of them have given to their own party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

But this shouldn’t stop the people of Leicester from demanding that our Labour Council show more solidarity with those murdered in their own houses. The Council could do this by launching a city-wide health and safety campaign that encompasses all workplaces and homes.

For now, at least, the ball now rests in our court to now come together and demand that our elected representatives are forced to do something meaningful for once in their lives! They might also help organise some coaches to get people down to London on July 1st for the public rally to kick the Tories out.

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