Your Need To Know On The Last Week In Britain

What do you need to know about the last week's main news stories?

Your Need To Know On The Last Week In Britain

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

Rewind to this time last year. Britain hadn’t yet voted to leave the European Union, Donald Trump hadn’t won the US presidential election and we hadn’t experienced a terror attack in this country since 2005. We had also not witnessed the most catastrophic and unforgivable failure of government in the form of the Grenfell Tower fire, which is thought to be the deadliest residential fire in our country since at least 1900.

A lot can happen in a year from the murder of Jo Cox to the divisive referendum result that followed, from the attacks on Westminster, Manchester and Borough Market to an equally heart-wrenching Islamophobic terror attack on a mosque in Finsbury Park, and, from the uncertainty over this country’s future as Brexit negotiations begin to footage of our Prime Minister, Theresa May, being rushed away from a meeting with those involved in the Grenfell fire amid boos and shouts, right now, it feels as though the flow of bad and brutal news is rather relentless.

It hasn’t been a good year. It’s been one of considerable sadness and unease which has left many of us feeling heavy hearted. But, knowledge is power and as much as it’s tempting to look away from the news, arguably we need to engage with it now more than ever.

So, in that vein, what do you need to know about what’s going on right now? Here’s my Debrief…

WTF Is Happening with Brexit?

Brexit negotiations officially began yesterday. This news was, quite rightly, overshadowed by the Islamophobic terror attack. Britain’s Brexit Secretary, David Davis, is heading up our end of the table.

So far, the Guardian reports, British negotiators have been forced to give in to European demands for an agreement as to how much Britain’s divorce from the European Union is going to cost before proper negotiations on important things like free trade can actually begin. This comes despite the Prime Minister’s promises during the election campaign that she was going to be a ‘bloody difficult woman’ and assurances that it would be our way or the highway.

Davis has previously said that these negotiations were going to be the ‘row of the summer’but so far, it seems that the EU is standing firm on how this is going to happen.

What Does the Tragic, Avoidable and Unforgivable Fire at Grenfell Tower in West London Mean?

The fire at Grenfell Tower last week is a national tragedy which has shaken the country as a whole. Last night BBC’s Panorama programme investigated the causes of the fire and revealed that not one, two or three but four government ministers were aware of the potential fire risk in Britain’s tower blocks. As more details emerge, it’s clear that the political fallout of the fire is going to continue for quite some time.

The key questions that are going to need to be answered are how the fire was able to spread, why the cladding which encased the building was not banned in Britain because it is banned in Europe and the US, why the council ignored and dismissed residents fears and, more broadly, what the way successive governments in recent years have approached the quality of social and privately rented housing (Grenfell Tower contained both as well as privately owned homes) says about our society.

The bottom line here is that innocent people died in a fire which should never have happened. The burnt out wreckage of the building’s concrete skeleton, clearly seen against West London’s skyline stands as a monument to the injustice of the situation and the inequality it has exposed. The structural housing crisis in our country, like the structural problems which caused this fire, can no longer be ignored. A home is supposed to be your safe haven and sanctuary, regardless of whether you own it, rent it privately or from a local authority. Last week, it became clear that this most fundamental human right has been violated and it’s clear that things need to change.

For now, the final thing you need to know about Grenfell is that authorities are not concealing the number of people who died in the fire. At the time of writing the official figure was 79, this is still expected to rise and estimates range from 100 to 600. Celebrities, like Lily Allen, have been championing conspiracy theories about a cover up. The sad truth, though, is that the authorities cannot release an estimate and must painstakingly go through the building by hand to identify bodieswhich, given the severity of the fire, is taking a long time. More than this, the authorities believe that there may have been people in the building who cannot easily be accounted for like people on unofficial sublets. This is not providing anyone with any solace or comfort, and it's not good enough, but it is the procedure that must be followed in order to avoid giving people inaccurate information.

What Do We Know About the Terror Attack In Finsbury Park?

Theresa May has condemned the attack as an Islamophobic terror attack and said that it is ‘every bit as sickening’ as the attacks on Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge. The suspect is a 47-year-old man from Cardiff in Wales called Darren Osborne.

Islamophobic attacks in Manchester and London are reportedly up. Police have said they rose fivefold following the bombing at Manchester Arena.

Far right extremism is rising in this country, with the number of far-right extremists flagged to the Government terror unit rising by 30% in the last year. There is also a growing sense that the right wing media has a lot to answer for because they have encouraged tensions and shamelessly run Islamophobic front pages for years.

Finally, Has Anything Actually Changed Since the General Election?

In short, it’s too early to tell. The events listed above mean that Theresa May’s government is still in a sort of flux following the unexpected election result. Official figures from Ipsos Mori, who have compared the numbers over the last few decades, have confirmed that youth turnout was high, the highest in 25 years to be precise. This gave Labour a boost, with 60% of those aged 18-24 voting for Corbyn’s party. Young women were also more likely to vote Labour than any other group.

This means that we could well see a victory for the left the next time there is an election if the young people turn out in similar or even greater numbers. Young people are significantly worse off than older generations were at the same age 30 years ago and this is reflected in their political outlook. Could it be that the young are far less likely to vote Tory than their elders because they don’t have a stake in the system that older generations, with their valuable houses and debt-free educations, benefited from?

Indeed, as a report from the Resolution Foundation, released today, finds: those who were fortunate enough to own their own homes in the property boom of the 1990s and 2000s have, collectively, had a £2.3 trillion windfall. This has caused a huge and growing inequality gap between generations to appear. If the last election is anything to go by, the effects of this might finally be starting to be reflected in our politics.

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Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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