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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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%.
There 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
However, 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”.
On Sunday, Ariana Grande played to a packed house of 60,000 fans at Manchester’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground, in tribute to the 22 people killed at Grande’s Dangerous Woman concert in the same city two weeks ago. She was joined on stage by pop stars including Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Pharrell Williams.
One Love Manchester aimed to counter the effects of terrorism by spreading messages of unity and love through music, harnessing pop as a personal and collective coping mechanism in the face of tragedy. But in troubled times, can music really heal?
The Manchester bombing is the latest in a line of assaults on entertainment venues, including the attack on the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Paris’s Bataclan Theatre in 2015, and at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last year. These are seemingly inspired by a desire to curtail Western liberal freedoms, and specifically the freedom of women, the gay community and the young people who are celebrated in pop music.
Given the sentiment of the event, Grande drew some backlash on Twitter for performing her risqué song Side to Side. But as she revealed during the concert, she had changed her set list after talking with the mother of 15-year-old Olivia, who was killed in the bombing. During their emotional meeting, Olivia’s mum said that she “would’ve wanted to hear the hits”.
Evidence shows that bereaved families increasingly choose to commemorate loved ones with contemporary songs with which they, or the deceased, personally identify.
An Australian funeral services provider reported Queen’s The Show Must Go On or Another One Bites the Dust were increasingly popular funeral songs. In the same way, pop concerts are built on a known repertoire of songs, which the audience predicts. This assists in the ritual communication of emotion.
It was music’s capacity to arouse different emotions that allowed One Love Manchester to achieve Grande’s aim for her concerts to be, “a place for them to escape, to celebrate, to heal, to feel safe and to be themselves.” It is now well established that mechanisms such as rhythm, shared emotions and the memory of specific events make music a powerful tool for connecting with other people.
Pharrell Williams’ upbeat Happy embodied the concert’s defiant stance on terrorism, suggesting that fear can be triumphantly overcome through the enactment of happiness and joy. Coldplay’s touching performance of Fix You allowed for the expression of mourning and collective grief.
Robbie Williams led the audience in a version of his song Strong, changing the lyrics to, “Manchester we’re strong, we’re strong”. Cultural studies theorist Graeme Turner has argued that this sort of sharing brings with it a temporary experience of equality and comradeship between many people.
Black Eyed Peas’ Where is the Love?, inspired by the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, has become an anthem for countering terrorism and related anti-Islamic sentiment. It provided the Manchester audience with an emotional bridge to the larger, global community of those affected by terrorism.
We need to do more research to understand how these shared emotions and experiences can be galvanised to create longer-term resilience and solidarity. But for this night, One Love Manchester demonstrated the power of music to heal an urban community and bring people together.
Samantha Dieckmann, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Music, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Melbourne and Jane Davidson, Deputy Director ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Melbourne
The US president’s impetuous reaction was to tweet that the attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market proved that American courts should “give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” Note the exemplary use of the exclamation mark. However, Trump did have the grace eight minutes later to offer a form of condolence to the British people – “WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!”
The capitals presumably mean either that he was shouting or that he really means it. Not so the One Nation leader, who chose to use Twitter to desecrate the warning from the British authorities for people to “run, hide and tell” by declaring that it was time to “stop Islamic immigration before it is too late”.
Labor’s Penny Wong rightly declared Hanson’s eructation “irresponsible and crass”. One of Australia’s foremost counter-terrorism experts, Greg Barton of Deakin University, went further, telling me that what the One Nation leader was saying was “downright dangerous” on at least two counts.
One, in this age of postmodern terrorism, Islamic State operates as the first metaphysical nation with no dependence on physical territory or traditional communication to wield its power. In that environment, the security authorities rely on tips from the communities from which impressionable operatives emerge.
Maligning those very communities, Barton says, tends to make its members turn inward, reducing their trust in the authorities and diminishing the likelihood that they will report the wayward behaviour of people they know. Witness the bizarre spectacle of the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, praying loudly in the street.
Second, it encourages the very sense of alienation, the feeling that they are stigmatised outsiders, that leads people to lose their sense of belonging. That makes them more vulnerable to the brutal siren call of murderous extremists.
Hanson either does not know this or does not care, because it is likely that her anti-Muslim message, basically a reworking of her initial hostility to Aborigines and then to Asians, appeals to much of One Nation’s base. What more would you expect from a person who over two decades has used the public purse to turn politics into a highly successful small business?
There are legitimate questions, though, about this latest attack in the UK, the third in as many months. One is whether Britain has a peculiar problem when it comes to these apparently autonomous acts of ghastly violence. The other is whether the London Bridge/Borough Market attack had anything to do with the UK election, now only days away.
The answer to the latter is probably not. As Barton points out, if the perpetrators had wanted to influence voters, they or their sponsors would have made a statement to that effect in some form, either direct or allusive.
That is not to say that the violence of Saturday night won’t affect the result of Thursday’s poll. Conventional analysis has it that assaults on security tend to favour the incumbent, especially if they are from the centre right.
Theresa May’s Tories consistently poll as “better for” national security than Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. But this has not been a conventional UK election campaign and there are also questions about whether a sense may take root within the electorate that the government is failing to protect the community, following two fatal acts of terrorism in just a fortnight – Manchester and now London. May was, after all, home secretary, responsible for domestic security, for six years before she became prime minister.
She has not had a good election. Gone are the days, less than two months ago, when it looked as if she could gain a majority of 100 in the House of Commons, knocking Corbyn for six. Her refusal to engage with Corbyn was seen as arrogant, and UK voters are sick of going to the polls (three times in less than two years). There was also her blunder on a “dementia” tax, essentially a proposal to make the elderly contribute to their health care if they have combined assets of more than £100,000.
Immediate public outcry forced a U-turn, but the damage had been done. As campaign managers would say, May had gone “off-message”. The election was no longer a plebiscite on her managing of Brexit, but an argument about health and welfare, traditional Labour turf.
It was a surprising mistake, especially given that as a political up-and-comer May warned the Conservatives back in 2002 that it had become the “nasty party”. Its base was “too narrow” and on occasion so were its sympathies, a sermon this child of the manse had clearly forgotten delivering.
On the question of security, the message from the voters is decidedly mixed. In the wake of the Manchester attack Corbyn boldly, but deliberately, stated:
Many … professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported … and terrorism here at home.
From the G7 summit, May went thermonuclear:
I have been here with the G7, working with other international leaders to fight terrorism. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault.
Corbyn was “not up to the job”, she said. He also faced criticism from within his own ranks, but it seems May’s decision to play the security card was not as effective as she might have hoped, because the opinion polls continued to tighten in Labour’s favour.
None of this means May will lose when the votes come in on Thursday. Rather, it shows that national security is a more complex issue in the UK these days, after a decade and a half of unpopular wars and years punctuated by regular, fatal terrorist attacks.
It is not clear whether the story is the same in either the United States or Australia. It is possible this is one way the UK is grimly unique.