By Anna Noble
By this point, most people will have heard about Boris Johnson’s bad week. His “let the bodies pile high” comment, Dominic Cumming’s scathing attack, and his phone number being public knowledge.
In particular, the “cash for curtains” scandal has gained significant traction. The Electoral Commission announced an official inquiry into whether Boris Johnson received a ‘secret’ loan to cover part of the costs of his reported £200,000 refurbishment of Number 11 Downing Street.
The defence of the refurbishment by Tory allies such as Daily Mail columnist (and Michael Gove’s wife) Sarah Vine, is also problematic. Vine wrote that the Prime Minister should not be expected to “live in a skip”. Potentially Vine is unfamiliar with skips, but a publicly funded, large, four-bedroom flat in Central London is far from a “skip”, even if, God forbid, it does contain John Lewis furniture. Not to mention, the Prime Minister also has access to Chequers, which is as close to a skip as Buckingham Palace.
Furthermore, the extravagant refurbishment, which allegedly included “gold wallpaper”, is morally questionable, given the decade of Conservative austerity policies which have significantly increased child poverty rates in the UK, whilst also exacerbating the UK’s housing crisis.
The scandal is “Tory sleaze” at its finest and it is concerning. However, this week it has overshadowed the callousness of their policy. Tory MPs refuse to protect leaseholders from being liable for excessive charges for essential safety repairs that could financially ruin thousands.
The passage of the Fire Safety Act should be a reason to celebrate. The image of Grenfell Tower burning, with dozens trapped inside will forever haunt the UK. The fact that it has taken parliament nearly four years to pass such a bill following the tragedy is appalling in itself. 72 people died on British soil because they lived in a building which residents had warned was a fire risk. It has taken almost four years to pass laws protecting millions of others living in unsafe buildings.
To put it in perspective, it took Parliament less than 100 days to pass the controversial Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act in 2001 after 9/11. That was a terrorist attack that occurred over 3000 miles away from the UK.
The more pressing issue with this bill is that it leaves leaseholders liable for the tens of thousands of pounds in costs for making safety adjustments. It is significant to note that many of these residents will be lower income, and therefore, this will likely result in financial ruin for some.
Ministers have defended the move by stating that they will introduce a loan scheme to ensure costs are capped at £50 a month. However, many may still not be able to afford this. It does not negate the fact that residents are being asked to pay to remove a problem they are not to blame for. Thousands of people are trapped in unsellable flats coated in flammable cladding that could catch fire at any point. They all have a very real image of what that looks like.
This speaks to the consistently inadequate response that the Tories have had to the Grenfell tragedy. In September, Tory MPs voted against introducing the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry into law. They have refused to commit to spending the necessary money on removing unsafe cladding. So far, the government has committed £5 billion towards cladding removal costs, a third of the MP estimated total of £15 billion which is required. This will likely only cover the tallest buildings and is off limits to social housing providers who were instead given just £400 million.
The government has done little to protect or help those living in buildings which could become death traps within minutes, yet Boris’s dislike of John Lewis furniture justifies a £200,000 refurbishment that is alleged to have been partially funded by secret and unethical loans.
As usual, this week has proved that in Tory Britain there are excuses for the rich, and callous policies targeting the poor.
Image: mickyh2011 via Flickr