As the Daily Mirror observed on Monday, Kensington and Chelsea council has – unsurprisingly – been relieved of any responsibility for the response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy:
The Mirror also mentioned, in passing, that the Gold Command that has taken over the operation is headed by Chief Executive of the City of London John Barradell, but without any further comment on the matter.
But should survivors and local residents be concerned at this development?
Theresa May spoke in Parliament about the urgency of restoring the faith of those affected by Grenfell – and the wider population – in government and distrust of authority is a serious issue for those hit by the fire and its aftermath.
But the City of London’s (CoL) involvement in the operation raises serious questions about levels of accountability and transparency – because it has few obligations to either and a long history of exploiting its special status to avoid them.
Few people may realise the CoL’s special status in British law and democracy. It is a corporation – one which boasts it is the oldest continuous municipal institution in the world and is far older than Parliament. It is both a city and a county – the only one in the UK in which businesses can vote. In fact, the voting power of businesses dwarfs that of the City’s 7,400 human residents (as of the 2011 census).
It is also alleged, by a 2016 Guardian article, to be a closed, habitually secretive corporation with arcane powers, riddled by corruption and beyond the authority of Parliament, in which even attempting to take a picture of a building will meet with a strong response by armed guards:
The opacity and complexity are not accidental, and do a lot to serve the interests of [the City as a financial entity], which is, among other things, the world’s leading centre for offshore capital, much of it stolen, much of it hidden from all governments and tax regimes via the use of trust mechanisms…
It’s difficult to stress just how opaque, how closed off, this system is. Anyone can prove this for themselves by going anywhere in the Square Mile, standing in front of a building and taking out a camera. Within seconds, a security guard, or guards, will come out and ask you to move on. The requests will rapidly escalate in force…
to many observers the City also has a predatory, antagonistic relationship with the rest of the UK’s body politic. The City has its own form of democracy, one in which the majority of votes are controlled by corporations rather than by individuals. It is both a city and a county; it has its own police force
Hardly an organisation whose involvement you’d expect to be invited by a government with any serious intention of ensuring a transparent and accountable process – nor to be welcomed by residents who feel that the terrible toll they suffered last week has resulted from the Establishment’s contempt and lack of concern for them and their neighbourhood.
There is no indication that anything untoward has taken place. But that’s the crux of the problem. Even if anything was untoward, we’d be highly unlikely ever to find out.
That’s not news that will reassure the survivors, families and neighbours of the Grenfell Tower disaster or increase their trust in the authorities and their expectation of justice.
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