The horror of the fire at Grenfell Tower had been politicised before it began. Indeed that is the nature of this tragedy; Conservative ministers and Councillors failed to listen to the serious concerns of experts, politicians and residents.
An organisation of tenants made repeated attempts to warn the property management company responsible for Grenfell and the Council who own the tower about the risk of fire. In a now haunting blog entry written in November last year they warned: ""It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders." Their outcry went unheeded.
But they were not the only ones. A coroner's investigation into the deadly blaze at Lakanal House in South London in 2009 showed that building materials and risk assessments had been substandard. This prompted Gavin Barwell, the former Conservative Minister for Housing now Theresa May's current chief of staff, to promise a review of fire safety regulations – yet that review never appeared.
In the wake of Lakanal, Ronnie King, secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and a former Chief Fire Officer, pleaded with the government to install fire suppression systems in 4,000 tower blocks across the county. Grenfell was one of them.
And in my former capacity as the Shadow minister for Fire and Communities in 2011, I advocated for the government to roll out legislation in England that would see fire prevention sprinklers installed in new homes. Such a scheme had proven to save both lives and money when was adopted in Wales. I also called on the government retrofit high-density accommodation – like Grenfell – with the resources needed to save lives.
Why did these repeated warnings fail to solicit a response from the government? At stake in this question is the horrific and needless loss of lives.
Let me offer one answer right away. Last year Labour proposed an amendment to the Government's Housing and Planning Bill designed to ensure that all properties were "fit for human habitation." Among other improvements, this legislation would make electrical testing to prevent fire a legal requirement of all landlords.
Each and every Conservative politician voted against that amendment. Without a Labour majority in the Commons, it failed to pass. Every single one of those Conservative MPs should this week be hanging their heads in shame. What is so shocking about that decision is that of this group are 72 Conservative MPs – including the current Police and Fire Minister, Nick Hurd – who are also private landlords.
These 72 MPs should be expected to explain how profiting from the basic human need for shelter doesn't interfere with their public duty to provide the best life chances and security possible to people in Britain. I would argue that it does.
The Tories obsession with their laissez faire approach to the market promotes all this neglect. Not only this, but the private enterprises of Tory landlords shows a clear conflict of interest when it comes to keeping people adequately housed.
It cannot be right that every effort to warn the government and promote safer regulation went unheard. Britain is the sixth richest nation in the world and Kensington and Chelsea is the richest borough in the country. There should be no excuses for what can only be described as violent neglect. But one thing is abundantly clear: there exists a political explanation for this tragedy.
Chris Williamson is Labour MP for Derby North