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    UK: Is the Grenfell Tower Tragedy a Game-Changer?

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    Andrew Korybko
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    The tragic deaths of an ever-rising number of people after a sudden fire in London’s Grenfell Tower high-rise have galvanized political activists and become a political firestorm for Prime Minister May.

    The exact details and death count are still emerging even to this day, but what’s known so far is that cheap and fire-prone cladding was recently installed on the building as part of a gentrification policy, and that local officials tried to gag a blogger for warning about the danger that new works on the building presented. Some voices are already alleging a deliberate cover-up, but it’s far too early to know for certain whether one occurred or not. That, however, hasn’t stopped people from protesting for a variety of reasons, be it the perceived neglect that the government has shown to disadvantaged communities over the years or what they believe to be the rampant corruption which allowed the cheap cladding to be installed in the first place.

    What’s important to keep in mind is that these disparate but increasingly converging protests are coming at a moment of political instability in the UK. Prime Minister May is struggling to prepare for contentious Brexit talks after forming a controversial ruling coalition with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party. The whole reason why the Tories had to join forces with this group is because May unceremoniously lost her party’s previous parliamentary majority after a failed gamble to hold early elections at the beginning of this month. This in turn emboldened the political opposition, which feels that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stands a very realistic chance at replacing the Prime Minister if her government falls, as some people think it might in the face of the unexpected Grenfell Tower tragedy and attendant protests. Moreover, many people are concerned over the rise of terrorism in the UK and the authorities’ questionable response in threatening to censor the internet because of it, so a critical mass of anti-government discontent is evidently brewing.

    While it’s ethically improper in most cases to politicize a tragedy such as this one, there’s no avoiding the fact that it is inherently political because of the specific circumstances and overall context in which it’s occurring, as the reaction that civil society groups have had to it holds the chance of catalyzing far-reaching political consequences for the country if the present protest trajectory remains on course.

    Dr Richard Wellings, Head of Transport at the Institute of Economic Affairs (London) and Robert Brenchley, Local community activist from the UK, joined us to discuss the issue.

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    Grenfell Tower fire, Theresa May, United Kingdom
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