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Opinion

John Bird: Grenfell teaches us that we need local powers more than ever

Leaving others to take care of local democracy leads to municipal neglect, as the Grenfell Tower tragedy has shown

In 1940 we faced a formidable enemy that could if more single-minded have annexed us to their evil empire. They didn’t and the dictator came to rue the day that he did not kick us and walk all over us when we were down.

Now 77 years later we are potentially down as we wait before the gates of Europe with our pleas to treat us nicely. We can’t remind them that they owe this beautiful post-war realm of their plenty to an alliance between Russia, the US and us, and bugger all to do with their own efforts; because to remind them is to be reactionary and harping on about the past.

But we stand in a crippling world full of threats, as in 1940, and we have a need to strike a deal with people who are not impressed with the numbers who voted to exit their club.

Their ever-changing club that started as a free-trade regime and ended up as a regime-changing club: for the UK has changed unrecognisably. Now cap in hand, or nonchalantly, depending on our stance, we negotiate through the perils and wrath of our European masters. They can sustain us or constrain us, depending on the deal.

The community may exist in all of its vitality but if the municipal masters see differently then the community can take a running jump

The fact that the lights nearly stayed out all over Europe nearly eight decades ago, if it were not for our separateness, our sea walls and island mentality, will not win brownie points. It’s all about the trough now, not how it could have been.

I would suggest to the masters of Europe, bear in mind that many of us did not vote to leave. And that a vast part of those that voted to leave was because 44 years of Europe did not refresh all the parts of our sceptred isle. And that many people who voted to leave saw the club as for others rather than themselves.

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The tragedy of Grenfell Tower seemed to underline the point that the largesse was not evenly distributed. That social engineers had been hard at work shifting people in need into abysmally designed death traps. That a rich-in-parts borough didn’t quite know what to do with its poor parts. And that Europe would for some be seen as contributing to that problem because it created a false sense of dealing with these issues. With its endless changing of internal laws in the various countries by centrally decided laws.

Grenfell Tower’s tragedy is home-made. It is the neglect of our municipality mentality. That we leave others to make our decisions because most people don’t get involved in local democracy. The community may exist in all of its vitality but if the municipal masters see differently then the community can take a running jump.

When I saw the tower burning, like most people I was appalled. I could not help but remember the Latimer Road that I lived in and worked in. And how there was always this north-south divide in the borough, seeming to mimic the nation.

Going back to North Kensington to see parts tarted up, and others often depressing reminded me of the intractable problems of a part-rich, part-poor borough. That the lifting up of all is not likely to happen if your rich neighbour does not see your prosperity as theirs.

Outsourcing may well come to be seen as a short-term cost-saver but also a bill to be picked up by a future ratepayer. The borough may now have to spend more of its ratepayers’ money on making up for its abysmal monitoring of what was happening in its less prosperous parts.

Having starred as an extra in Leo the Last, the film that saw the blowing up of the slums of Latimer Road as part of the script, in 1969, I should have realised they were not going to do any restoration; only detonation. And that’s where many of our social housing problems begin. Designers’ blight was the result. Combined with municipal neglect. Between them they conspired to usher in this terrible indictment of municipal indifference.

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