Grenfell Tower fire exposes the injustice of disasters


Jason von Meding, University of Newcastle; Giuseppe Forino, University of Newcastle; J.C. Gaillard, and Ksenia Chmutina, Loughborough University

Decades of gentrification in London and other European cities (including Paris, Barcelona, Rome and Istanbul) have enacted a form of social cleansing. This has pushed away low-income and marginal residents, divided the rich from the poor, and generated inequalities among citizens.

The Hammersmith area, where the Grenfell Tower is located, has been gentrified. This previously working-class area has been transformed into a vibrant middle-class neighbourhood. Just a few residential social housing tower blocks remain.

As a cosmetic measure, the Grenfell Tower was refurbished in 2014. The choice of cladding material that appeared to fuel the fire is now subject to scrutiny, but with no understanding of the social dimensions of the building’s design regulation and safety measures.

Repeated warnings from the Grenfell Tower residents that this was a disaster waiting to happen were ignored.


Grenfell Action Group

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There has been an outpouring of grief and anger from the affected community and beyond and tensions remain high. While certain elements of the media rebuke those seeking to hold the ruling class accountable, it is important to emphasise a simple truth: disasters are socially – and politically – constructed.

Root causes of disaster

Disasters are often misunderstood as “natural”, or simply assumed to be extreme and tragic events.

This view draws on a century-old paradigm that puts the blame on rare and inescapable natural phenomena, an “act of God”, or technological breakdowns that lie beyond the everyday social fabric.

But there is nothing natural about disasters; disasters usually have root causes of vulnerability that we don’t speak about and that reflect the day-to-day make-up of society – inequality, poverty, political ideology, class and power relations.

These root causes are similar in London, New York, New Orleans, Port-au-Prince and Manila – a few of the world’s cities that have been stricken by major disasters in recent times.

The Grenfell Action Group couldn’t have been clearer in its warnings of disaster – this one is from November 2016.
Grenfell Action Group

Disasters as experienced today are often rooted in the historical development of societies. The impacts of colonialism, slavery, military conquest and discrimination based on class, gender, race and religion are visible today.

Billions of people around the world, in both wealthy and less affluent countries, are at this moment suffering under structural injustices. As demonstrated at Grenfell Tower, this is a recipe for disaster.

Structural injustice creates vulnerability

This disaster is quite a shock to British society. Although the contributing sociopolitical drivers (while sometimes not explicitly discussed) are perhaps more visible on this occasion, having struck a centre of wealth and power in London, we need to recognise that injustice lies at the core of almost all disasters.

At the Grenfell Tower and around the world, the poor and the marginalised suffer the most from disasters.

This injustice is not an accident – it is by design. There is no disaster that kills everyone in a particular locality nor one that knocks down all buildings in a single place.

Normally the resources to overcome the impact of natural hazards are available locally. The privileged have access to these resources while those at the margin do not.

Vulnerability to hazards, and related disasters, therefore mirrors how power and resources are unequally shared within societies. More often than not disasters affect people not because of a lack of knowledge about disasters, but because this knowledge is not applied.

Political decisions also put lives at risk. MP Chi Onwurah summarised appropriately when she wrote:

The residents of Grenfell were poor in a rich neighbourhood. They were those the market rejected, a burden on a borough apparently determined the rich should not pay to lift the constraints of the poor.

The British political class has failed to adequately represent the interests of its most vulnerable citizens for decades. That people are consigned to live in such conditions in a wealthy country is at best a betrayal of the vulnerable by the state. Some would call it criminal. It is not only the Tories who must swallow this bitter pill.

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Cities are battlegrounds

Cities tend to greatly magnify inequality. The Grenfell Tower disaster is a product of a deep societal divide in Britain, where wealth is increasingly concentrated among a small minority.

Gentrification is pushing already marginalised people out of sight and out of mind. This kind of urban development is a boon for housing market profiteers and supports the ruling class agenda, but neglects the needs of the most needy in society. Marginal people become resourceless, invisible to public policies, and disempowered in public life. This increases their vulnerability.

If cities are to reduce the risk of disasters like the Grenfell fire, we must focus on social justice in urban development. The benefits of development or redevelopment should prioritise the have-nots and provide dignity to people regardless of income or background. Cities that are able to provide opportunities for all citizens are also able to appreciate diversity rather than homogenisation.

The ConversationThe Grenfell Tower fire exposes the injustice of disaster, and this terrible moment must be learned from and acted upon. Pushing people to the margins and deeming them worthless is ultimately what causes them to perish.

Jason von Meding, Senior Lecturer in Disaster Risk Reduction, University of Newcastle; Giuseppe Forino, PhD Candidate in Disaster Management, University of Newcastle; J.C. Gaillard, Associate Professor, School of Environment, and Ksenia Chmutina, Lecturer in Sustainable and Resilient Urbanism, Loughborough University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Conservatives suffer shock loss of majority at UK general election


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

At the UK general election held Thursday, the Conservatives lost their majority. With all 650 seats declared, the Conservatives won 318 seats (down 13 since the 2015 election), Labour 262 (up 30), the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) 35 (down 21), the Liberal Democrats 12 (up 4). Northern Ireland (NI) parties hold 18 seats and five went to the Welsh nationalists and Greens.

Vote shares were 42.4% for the Conservatives (up 5.5), 40.0% for Labour (up 9.5), 7.4% for the Lib Dems (down 0.5) and 3.0% for the SNP (down 1.7). This was Labour’s highest vote since 2001, and the Conservatives’ highest vote since 1983. The total major party vote share was the highest since 1970. Election turnout was 68.7% (up 2.3 from 2015, and the highest turnout since 1997).

In NI, the very socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won 10 of the 18 seats on 0.9% of the UK-wide vote. As Sinn Fein, which won 7 seats in NI, will not take its seats owing to historical opposition to the UK government’s rule of NI, the DUP and Conservatives have enough seats for a majority. PM Theresa May has come to an arrangement with the DUP, and the Conservatives will continue to govern.

The tweet and pictures of the right wing Daily Mail below show how shocking this result was. When Theresa May called the election, the Conservatives had a 15-19 point poll lead over Labour.

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While the Conservatives lost many seats to Labour and the Liberal Democrats in England and Wales, they gained 12 seats in Scotland. The overall Scotland results were SNP 35 of 59 seats (down 21), Conservatives 13 (up 12), Labour 7 (up 6) and Lib Dems 4 (up 3).

If the Conservatives had not performed so well in Scotland, it is likely that a progressive alliance of Labour, SNP and Lib Dems would have taken power. The Conservatives’ 13 Scottish seats are their most in Scotland since 1983.

There were several reasons for the Conservatives’ shocking performance. First, Labour’s manifesto had many popular measures, while the Conservative manifesto had a highly controversial proposal.

Second, US President Donald Trump is very unpopular in much of the developed world. Even if Trump had kept out of the way, there would probably have still been a “Trump Factor” in Labour’s rise. But Trump exacerbated this hatred by withdrawing from the Paris agreement a week before the election, and then by attacking the Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, after the London terror attack. The lesson for mainstream conservative parties is: keep your distance from Trump.

Third, I believe the Conservatives focused too much on Brexit in their campaign. The Brexit question was decided last year, and it probably did not have a great impact on voting. In my opinion, the Conservative campaign should have focused on the economy.

Conservatives win elections when in government by claiming that the opposition will wreck the economy through its reckless spending and increased taxation. The Conservatives should have focused on this message, and not on Brexit.

After beginning the campaign as a massive underdog, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation has been greatly enhanced. Virtually all commentators assumed that radical left wing politics could never work, but he has proved them wrong. If not for the Scottish Conservative gains, Corbyn would probably be PM.

The best pollsters at this election were Survation, with a one-point Conservative lead, and SurveyMonkey, with a four-point lead (actual result 2.4 points). Other pollsters “herded” their final polls towards a 7-8 point lead. The worst results were from ComRes (a 10-point lead), ICM (12 points) and BMG (13 points). These three pollsters made large adjustments to their raw votes, and ended up overcompensating for the 2015 polling errors.

French lower house elections: 11 and 18 June

The French lower house has 577 members, elected by single-member electorates using a two-round system. The top two candidates in each seat, and any other candidate who wins over 12.5% of registered voters, qualify for the second round. Candidates sometimes withdraw before the second round to give their broad faction a better chance, and/or to stop an extremist party like Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

The key question is whether President Emmanuel Macron’s REM party will win a majority. Polling has the REM on about 30%, the conservative Les Républicains on 21%, the National Front on 18%, the hard left Unsubmissive France on 13% and the Socialists and Greens on a combined 11%.

The ConversationThere has been little movement in the polls since I last discussed the French lower house elections ten days ago. If the current polls are accurate, the REM will easily win a majority of the French lower house after the second round vote on 18 June. Polls for both the first and second round close at 4am Monday Melbourne time.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Rise of ‘anti-politics’ produces surprise result in the UK election – and it’s playing a role in Australia, too



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Theresa May’s gamble on calling an early election has not paid off.
Reuters/Toby Melville

Brenton Prosser, Australian National University and Gerry Stoker, University of Canberra

A little over a week before the 2017 UK general election, the improbable occurred. A poll indicated that Prime Minister Theresa May could lose the Conservative majority. The shadow of a hung parliament was cast over the UK parliament again. It was a claim credible enough to the markets for the sterling to drop. Most political analysts, however, did not take it seriously.

But these are unconventional times. There is an unlikely president in the White House. No pundit predicted Brexit. And now, a Labour Party led by an “anti-politician” in Jeremy Corbyn has delivered a hung parliament.

While Theresa May will soon be on her way to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen’s permission to form minority government, the unlikelihood of a stable coalition government means Britons may be heading back to the polls much sooner than they expected.

A win for anti-politics?

“Anti-politics” is often used to describe:

  • a growing distrust of career politicians;

  • hatred of partisan politics; and

  • disaffection with democracy.

Among its causes is complacency in rich Western nations, as well as disinterest in institutions (especially from the young). Many see anti-politics as a tide sweeping away much that was previously taken for granted.

According to leading UK scholars, anti-politics is not a democratic de-alignment as much as the result of political realignment. In other words, it is not that we are turning off democracy – but that we are turning away from political elites and major party politics.

A recent Australian survey found righteous indignation among its citizens. This anger is directed at parties and politicians who are swayed by the quest for power and seem to break promises without impunity.

One of the significant lessons from the 2017 UK poll is that “anti-politics” voters are no longer welded on to any one party. There is growing volatility in the UK electorate. In the 1960s, less than 10% of voters changed their allegiance between elections. In yesterday’s poll it was closer to 40%.

Thanks to anti-politics, gone are the days when voters supported a political party in the way they might support the family football team.

But how then do we explain the strongest combined major party vote for two decades (Conservative 43 / Labour 40)? Does this suggest a return to two-party politics?

No, because one side – Labour – was playing anti-politics.

Corbyn’s success in context

There is no doubt that no-one expected the dramatic growth in the Labour vote. But there are two stories to tell.

First, the support for Corbyn came against economic and political convention. Labour focused on larger cities and university towns, targeting students, service industries and the public sector. It promised to end austerity, nationalise utilities, increase taxes, and invest heavily in public services. It was an anti-political appeal.

Second, the Labour vote was a big enough to hamper the Conservatives, but not much more.

Despite Labour’s celebration over approximately 30 seats, the 2017 result is only eight seats more than when it lost power in 2010. The reality is that Labour is little closer to the 60-plus seats it needs for power than it was last week. What will make this a potentially insurmountable gap is an unacknowledged divide in the UK electorate.

A deeper UK divide

Recently, UK researchers analysed the 2015 UK election results. They found that anti-politics attitudes spread across all voter groups. But what was really challenging for parties was not a traditional split along class lines, but a growing “bifurcation” in the vote of cosmopolitan and provincial England.

Cosmopolitan voters had benefited more from globalisation, were more outward-looking, pluralist and open to the EU. In contrast, those in provincial regions of economic decline were more inward-looking, illiberal, and negative toward immigration.

Perhaps there are no great surprises here. But what is interesting is that this division had real effects that challenged political parties. In other words, these shifts made it harder for larger parties to develop a platform that spans these “two Englands”.

In 2015, this resulted in cosmopolitan votes for Labour and the Greens. It saw provincial support for UKIP and an element of both for the Conservatives.

This suggests that the Conservatives’ 2015 success was due to being more adept at targeting appeals to both cosmopolitan and provisional electorates, while being more pragmatic around taking nationally consistent positions.

What happened in the 2017 general election?

While the Conservatives won 5.5% more of the vote (but lost a dozen seats), Labour won a 7% swing in cosmopolitan areas that had voted Conservative and “Remain”. While participation was up 2.6% overall (up from 66.1% in 2015), it rose by over 5% in seats Labour won.

On the back of record youth enrolment to vote, Labour surged in the youth vote in cosmopolitan areas. Meanwhile, Conservative London cosmopolitan seats changed hands, while Labour won university seats like Sheffield Hallam from the Liberal Democrats.

Yet the challenge for Labour remains. Its wins were cosmopolitan, with little progress in the provincial areas that it needs for a majority in the future.

Meanwhile, the Conservative appeal to provincial England through an emphasis on Brexit and bringing down net migration were successfully targeted at a collapsing UKIP and winning some SNP seats. But it compromised the Tories’ cosmopolitan wins from 2015.

Here lies the challenge for all large party leaders: how do they connect with prevailing moods in both cosmopolitan and provincial areas when they diverge in such opposite directions?

What might this mean for Australia?

It is not unreasonable to suggest Australia may be seeing its own version of the “bifurcation” challenge.

Australian demographer Bernard Salt has already identified a tale of two nations. And as Ken Henry recently observed, the Australian population continues to grow beyond the capacity of existing capital cities and puts pressure on economic performance and infrastructure planning. This can only contribute to “two Australias” that are divided by geography, economic opportunity and even identity.

Meanwhile, some states (hit hard by globalisation) have turned to provincial, protectionist and issue-based politicians. And, as national votes become harder to span, the notion of slim majority as mandate will become even more problematic.

Many argue that former prime minister John Howard’s ability to win traditional Labor voters was at the heart of his sustained electoral success.

The ConversationHowever, the challenge for today’s Australian leaders is more complex than it was during the Howard era. Not only must they manage competing ideologies in their parties and span diverging nations, they must also respond to a volatile electorate that is decidedly “anti-politics”.

Brenton Prosser, Senior Fellow, Australian National University and Gerry Stoker, Fellow and Centenary Professor, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scotland: Accepts Ministers in Same-Sex Civil Partnerships


The link below is to an article that reports on another denomination of the church moving further away from biblical norms.

For more visit:
http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/may/16/church-of-scotland-votes-accept-ministers-same-sex-civil-partnerships