Some things never change. London’s poorest live in conditions unfit for the times, the rich ask for them to be hidden away behind shiny panels that reflect the sun enough to blind them, and the Tories cling on in power at the pleasure of the most reactionary elements in our society. Exhume Charles Dickens tonight, give him the animation of Frankenstein’s Monster, and show him the London of 2017. No doubt he would find much of its barbarous inequality darkly familiar.
The corner of West London where the burnt-out husk of Grenfell Tower still stands is one I know well. It is, like almost of all of London, a place of contrasts. The super-rich live alongside the deathly-poor, and the streets teem with a thousand different languages, and ten thousand different dialects. It is both typical and symbolic of the ‘Two Nations’ Disraeli described a century and a half ago, and which seem as far apart now as they ever were.
For all the rhetoric that has been spouted in the wake of this tragedy, the central issue is not fire service cuts, or Theresa May’s pathetic lack of leadership, or Jeremy Corbyn’s far more human reaction – although all of these things matter. No, the central issue is class, which pervades our society as much as it ever did. The great majority of the British people still remain as locked out of privilege as they ever were.
And Labour must acknowledge this fact. Perhaps the great surge in Labour’s support at the general election just gone was driven partly by the Party’s unambiguous stance that we were on the side of the many, not the few. For most people do feel that they are not getting their just deserts from life. Perhaps they are not all as cut adrift as the victims of what happened at Grenfell, but they certainly have far more in common with those innocents than they do with the people who asked for that tower to effectively be sanitised and forgotten.
As the Labour Party embraces a new spirit of unity – however long that may last – class politics must be the cornerstone of our analysis and our programme. Not vapid Liberal politics or fringe issues, but class, class and class. We forget the endless importance of class at our peril, and when we do, people like those who lost their lives in West London yesterday are forgotten too. And we cannot and will not forget them.