In This Episode
Rishi Sunak endured one his toughest weeks yet as Prime Minister, as he faced the Covid Inquiry and tried to placate rebellious MPs. But he lived to fight another day – as does his controversial Rwanda Bill. For Westminster watchers it was all about the mooted rebellion that didn’t materialise, but for Nish and Coco, the real story was the death of an asylum seeker aboard the Bibby Stockholm barge. For Nish, this stark warning about the potentially tragic effects of inhumane policies, should be cause for introspection amongst our political leaders.
The news that the final report of the Grenfell Inquiry has been pushed back once again, has frustrated many of those waiting to see justice done. Journalist Peter Apps joins Nish and Coco to discuss the inquiry, and offer his analysis of the systemic issues that allowed the tragedy to happen…and whether it could happen again.
Welsh political journalist Will Hayward also pops up to offer an instant reaction to the news that the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is stepping down – what’s his lasting legacy, and what happens next? Plus find out what Climate Change Minister Graham Stuart has done to make him Nish’s villain of the week, while Coco brings some festive cheer with her hero of the week.
Plus we want your nominations for ‘the political moment of the year’ – good or bad, silly or serious – email them to PSUK@reducedlistening.co.uk
Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.
Contact us via email: PSUK@reducedlistening.co.uk
WhatsApp: 07514 644 572 (UK) or + 44 7514 644 572
Will Hayward, journalist for Wales Online
Peter Apps, journalist and author of Show Me the Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen
UK Covid 19 Inquiry
Peter Apps’ book: https://oneworld-publications.com/work/show-me-the-bodies-2/
Inquest’s campaign for a National Oversight Mechanism: https://www.inquest.org.uk/no-more-deaths-campaign
https://auraframes.com/PSUK (Use promo code PSUK)
Coco Khan Hi this is Pod Save the UK.
Nish Kumar I’m Nish Kumar.
Coco Khan And I’m Coco Khan.
Nish Kumar This week the right wing Tory white jobs are in a festive mood, promising Rishi Sunak an advent calendar full of shit.
Coco Khan So not that festive then. We’ll also be reflecting on all the drama around sunak’s were when the bill and the rebellion that never was.
Nish Kumar Plus, we’ll find out why the Grenfell inquiry’s final report has been delayed yet again with the help of our guest, the journalist and author Peter Apps.
Coco Khan Hi. How are you?
Nish Kumar Yeah, good. How’s your week.
Coco Khan When it’s just been? It’s been busy. Christmas party season. I was not prepared for it. This is the thing about being freelance is that some years you get no invitations to anything. And. Yeah, and for an office. And this year I got loads of invitations. So I’ve been doing the rounds. I’m on a circuit Christmas party circuit. So you’re.
Nish Kumar You’re celebrating the birth of Jesus the way only British people can by being hung over or drunk.
Coco Khan I am a wine soap, sausage. I would be a delicacy in Andalusia. I taste very good, very kind of mostly sick. I’m also very dehydrated. Like a prosciutto. I’m going to sell the best meat meat analogy, but yeah, that’s been my week. Although I did carve out some time at the weekend to, like, put the tree up, do, like, nice Zen things. Oh, actually, this is exciting. I tasted Nigerian Fanta.
Nish Kumar Oh, really? It was a delicious.
Coco Khan Oh, it was like I’m changed. I am. There was life before the Fanta and now this life after the Fanta.
Nish Kumar Why is Nigerian Fanta so much tasty? The normal Fanta?
Coco Khan Listen, I don’t know what the secret recipe is, but is it?
Nish Kumar I imagine it’s sugar only because that’s like, whatever people say, like, oh, Mexican coke is much tastier. It’s like it’s because it’s got way more sugar in it, Probably.
Coco Khan Yeah, But did you ever eat sugar cane when you were a kid?
Nish Kumar Did I ever eat sugar cane?
Coco Khan Yeah, that was like a sort of South Asian thing.
Nish Kumar I don’t remember seeing sugar cane. I’d say I ate quite a lot of extremely unhealthy things through my childhood, but I’m not sure that many of them were sweet. It was mainly the savory stuff. I mean, there was a carrier bag full of poppadoms just hanging off my grandmother’s kitchen door handle. So I mean, I just used to absolutely eat them like Pringles.
Coco Khan I felt like that. So I used to eat sugar cane until I was banned. Basically. My mum, I think she just caught me once, like pupils dilated, like gorging on on a cake. I mean, the kitchen is okay, we’re not having that anymore. But I think that set in motion parts of my sort of addictive personality now. So perhaps the poppadoms is what made you a balanced mind?
Nish Kumar I’d like to think so. I’d like to think so.
Coco Khan Yeah. This might. Maybe. Readers, Have you been shaped by your childhood snacks? Let us know. Readers are not read as a listeners read. Often they feel.
Nish Kumar Well, Big told him that we need to wrap him and I don’t think that’s because I want to hear my boss. The phrase It’s been a tough week for Rishi. Sunak has been trotted out so often that it’s completely meaningless at this point. But even by his low, low standards, this week has been somewhat trying with his very political survival at stake.
Coco Khan First, Sunak’s spent 6 hours giving evidence at the COVID inquiry, and then he had to spend the next day trying to persuade various factions within his own party not to torpedo his flagship Rwanda Bill.
Nish Kumar Let’s start with his evidence to the COVID inquiry. Now, he started with what has become the absolutely default bog standard. They don’t really look like they made an apology. He then moved on to defending his flagship Eat Out to Help Out scheme, a scheme that he famously introduced as chancellor at the end of the first COVID lockdown in 2020, which invited people to visit pubs and restaurants to enjoy discounted meals. Government scientists say they weren’t consulted about the scheme and that it was highly likely to have increased COVID infections and deaths sooner. I told the inquiry it was designed to save jobs and took place after the supposed safe reopening of premises. Asked why he didn’t consult scientific advisers, he said the onus was on them to raise concerns in meetings, which they didn’t.
Coco Khan Surprisingly for our tech bro PM, it seems that sooner, just like Boris Johnson had lost access to all his WhatsApp messages from the time. He also repeatedly said he couldn’t remember key meetings, emails and conversations.
Peter Apps I’ve changed my phone multiple times over the past few years and as that has happened, the messages have not come across. As you said, I’m not a prolific user of WhatsApp in the first instance, primarily communication with my private office and obviously anything that was of significance through those conversations or exchanges will have been recorded officially by my civil servants, as one would expect. Evidence has been given to the inquiry to the effect that Mr. Johnson announced the initiation of this inquiry in May 2021, and around that time officials discussed.
Nish Kumar The need for ministers.
Peter Apps And others to retain WhatsApp. So it was a matter of debate, in fact in WhatsApp communications between officials themselves. Around that time, April and May 2021, didn’t even nobody say to you, Chancellor, it’s important that you do retain your whatsapps or we need to put into place measures for them to be backed up in case that they become relevant to an inquiry. No, I don’t recall either those conversations that you referred to between officials, but you might have been referring to officials in number ten role. Yes. The Treasury and know. Yes. And I don’t recall anyone in my office making that recommendation or observation to me at the time.
Nish Kumar So, I mean, obviously, the thing that strikes you about is evidence is the sheer volume of things that Rishi Sunak said that he can’t remember. Yeah. I would also quickly like to say, as an aside, not a prolific user of WhatsApp, please. Yeah, please. The guys I should. Are you telling me he’s not part of an enormous Asian family WhatsApp where aunties send you slightly racist memes without necessarily realizing that they’re racist?
Coco Khan How is he getting those gifts that look like they’ve been designed on Windows 95?
Nish Kumar There’s no way. I refuse to believe that any person of South Asian descent is not part of a WhatsApp group with at least 150 members.
Coco Khan I mean, because he kept saying, Oh, I kept upgrading my phone and it didn’t come across like he knew number who this. That’s his defense. I’m also just. On a serious note, I just don’t believe that there was no capability for people in his position to retrieve those messages. I just don’t believe it. I don’t know. Can’t MI5 do it?
Nish Kumar It does seem very extraordinary. And officially, you know, what we would say is we take the prime minister’s word, but obviously, unofficially, I think he’s a lying short trousered Fuck. Like, I’ve never been more confident of anything in my entire life that he’s talking out of his fucking ass. Pearce UK listeners who haven’t already done. So please go and check out the bonus episode we did last week with Susie Crosier. Flintham. For all of the political theater, it’s really important to remember that in amongst Rishi Sunak being able to not recall a single thing that happened seemingly between the years 2020 and 2022. The people that really matter in all of this are the people that lost loved ones to the virus. And Suzy in that episode talked very movingly about her father and also about the experience of being part of the group of COVID 19 bereaved families who was actually present for the evidence of Boris Johnson. And it’s a very, very worthwhile thing if you haven’t listened to it already. They deserve answers. And what they don’t deserve is somebody saying, I can’t remember anything and a conversation about phone upgrades. Yeah, it’s another staggering dereliction of duty from our current prime minister.
Coco Khan Yeah, absolutely. And I think actually, just because we’ll be talking about inquiry later on the show, we’re talking about the Grenfell inquiry. And actually I just think that’s like a really good note. Like whenever we see these proceedings play out, the circus as they sometimes can feel, just remember to be a victim of whatever catastrophe it was, how you would feel when you observe that, like when you see the mealy mouthed excuse making, it’s horrible and unjustifiable.
Nish Kumar After the COVID inquiry, Sunak’s next challenge was to get his massively controversial Rwanda bill through the Commons without being voted down for context. The last time the government lost a vote on the second reading of the bill was 1986. So the stakes were pretty high. The safety of Rwanda Asylum and immigration bill, which would designate Rwanda’s a safe country for asylum seekers, is a key part of the government’s response to Supreme Court judges who ruled that the original plan was unlawful. Now, his problem going into this vote was that various factions of the right wing of the Conservative Party don’t think that the bill is strong enough and want it beefed up. Whilst centrists Tories, who are sort of known as One Nation Conservatives, argue that the plan sends out the wrong message about the UK’s commitment to international law and its treatment of refugees.
Coco Khan So the big question was all the noise of the last few days just posturing or was there actual substance to the rebellion? The answer came just after 7:00 on Tuesday night when the result of the vote was announced in the House of Commons.
Speaker 4 The I’s to the right 313, the nose to the left, 269.
Coco Khan So after that result was read out, Rishi Sunak was seen hugging his chief whip, Simon Hart. After all the fuss the bill went through quite comfortably. We should add, with a majority of 44, not one Conservative MP voted against the bill. The 29 who chose to abstain included former Home Secretary 12 Provident and Robert Jenrick, who resigned as immigration minister last week.
Nish Kumar That’s quite a significant figure because that’s the exact number needed to overturn the government’s majority. So this bill now has to come back for a third reading. Rishi Sunak’s extremely damaged by all of this.
Coco Khan It’s kind of nerve wracking to imagine that this horrific plan could go through based on the One Nation Tories doing the right thing. Yeah, no One Nation, Tories, they won’t support it on a third reading if it is circumventing international law, I’m pretty sure it already. Maybe is. Do you know what I mean? So what is this? Moving goalposts consistently? The thing about the Conservatives, and I’m sorry to speak in, you know, broad brush strokes, but their sort of lust for power and clinging onto power will always trump everything.
Nish Kumar Well, some time before he’s home Secretary James Cleverly is alleged, though he says he doesn’t recall making this comment, which is different from denying it Regret to say he doesn’t recall describing the plot as batshit. But it’s quite illustrative, I think, that a Conservative MP would hold that opinion. And then, for the sake of their own career advancement, work to get the plan across. I find the whole thing sort of nauseating.
Coco Khan You know, while everyone’s focusing on this political drama, actually, I think it’s worth us not losing sight of the the human cost of what we’re talking about here. You know, we learned that on on Tuesday. An asylum seeker on board the Bibi Stockholm barge, which houses migrants off Dorset, has died. It’s believed the man died by suicide. The cruelty is the point. The hellish system is the point. And so it’s important that we don’t really lose lose sight of that. Like the Rwanda plan, the accommodation barge is like the baby Stockholm. You know, it is all part of that system to deter people from coming to the country in the first place. And it is quite chilling, actually, that no one in the conversations, in the discussions that were being had about this bill mentioned this poor man, which also just tells you that it’s everyone sort of focused on the the kind of the winning and losing rather than the human beings involved.
Nish Kumar Yeah, This is the most important point here. A person has died on a barge that exists to deter asylum seekers from coming to this country in the first place. That should be a cause for some introspection amongst our political leaders in the Conservative Party and the Labor Party. If you’re going to make everything a conversation about political calculation and poll leads, you are eradicating the human beings that are at the center of this conversation. And until somebody is willing to actually stand up and say that policy should be crafted with people in mind rather than abstracted appeals to different bits of the electorate based on polling data, we are never going to break out of a cycle of violence that we’re perpetrating on the most some of the most vulnerable people in our societies. The Refugee Council’s chief executive, Andrew Solomon, called for an independent review to be carried out following the appalling loss of life in order to avoid further tragedies of this kind, he said. And this, I think, is really important to bear in mind a new approach that always sees the face behind the case and treats every individual person with the dignity and humanity they deserve is urgently needed. Mr. Solomon added that the asylum system has more hostility than compassion built into it. You have to ask yourself the question What kind of country do we want to be? How do we want our institutions to be crafted? How do we want our policy to be crafted? And if you want the institutions of this country to be more based on hostility than compassion, then I don’t know how to speak to you. Yeah.
Nish Kumar As we record this episode. Mark Dreyfus has just announced that he’s going to stand down as Welsh First Minister after five years in the job. UK Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mark Drakeford was a true titan of Welsh and Labor politics.
Coco Khan He is grateful. Speaking at a hastily arranged press conference in the Welsh Parliament, the Senate.
Clips I said that if I were to be elected I would aim to serve for five years and exactly five years have passed to the day since I was confirmed as First Minister in 2008. Now, nominations for my successor as Welsh Labor leader will open shortly and I’m confident that the process can be concluded by the end of the spring term and that will enable the name of the winner of that contest to be put to the Senate before the Easter recess and set the bar high. Fell ice pretty wouldn’t eat dog. In the meantime, I will remain as first minister in the full sense of that job.
Coco Khan Here to talk us through what it all means is Will Haywood, journalist for Wales Online. Hi, Will.
Will Hayward Hi. How’s it going?
Coco Khan Good, thank you.
Nish Kumar Thanks for joining us, Will.
Will Hayward Will has this as this come out of the blue? Is this a surprise? In some ways, it’s one of the most unsurprising announcements ever because he actually announced before the last Senate election, which is in 2021, that he would not be seeing out this Welsh parliamentary term. So we knew he was going to leave at some point, but no one really expected it to work to come on the 30th December. I was at the centers when the rumors started to circulate, and I can tell you it blindsided nearly every person there. So you couldn’t describe it as a surprise overall, but the exact timing has wrong footed quite a few people.
Coco Khan So what happens now?
Nish Kumar And do you have a sense out of the runners and riders who the sort of presumptive favor is at this stage, given the circumstances? This is slightly he called everyone by surprise.
Will Hayward The only person anyone knows in Welsh politics is is now leading. That is pretty devastating. There are two main front runners. It’s Vaughan Gething, who is the former health minister, who is quite recognizable because he was the health minister pre-COVID. And then there’s Jeremy Miles, who is the current education minister. So those two are the two that are seen as really it’s theirs to lose. It will mean that we’ll have our first either black or openly gay first minister if one of those two was to win, because Vaughan Gething is black and Jeremy Miles is gay. Those two are considered the front runners because they have the most popularity with the the members of the seventies, the unions, and also with that with the membership.
Coco Khan So as you said, you know, Mark Drakeford is the the man that people know outside of Welsh politics. What’s his legacy going to be?
Will Hayward You can’t really talk about Mark Drakeford without talking about so a bit for overnight almost. He went from an obscure former social policy professor who could walk down any street in Wales and no one would have a clue who he was. So that to the man who could decide whether you could visit your not in a care home and that status that you had was was really kind of unheard of for a Welsh political leader. And he really did ride that wave and he was really well positioned because whereas you had Boris Johnson probably lacks on detail asking if people could, you know, lower had a nose to get rid of COVID. And then you had Mark Drakeford, who is just a complete nerd, who read every single paper but Sage wanted to put out in forensic detail, you know, while Boris Johnson was know party in Downing Street, Mark Drakeford did a an interview about what his favorite cheese was. He is a very contrasting person. But I think what is actually hidden is actually COVID was handled in Wales quite badly. Mark Drakeford administration was slower to start testing people going from hospitals to care homes and that resulted in huge, huge fatalities. But why was this a very different prospect for handling a pandemic? Because it is older than England, not least because lots of people from England decide to retire here. But it’s also poorer and it’s got a lot of historical illnesses from, for instance, coal mining heritage. So it was it was a tough job. He is perceived to have handled it better than England, but I think that is a low benchmark.
Nish Kumar What do you think his sort of signature achievement is if COVID is something that complicates his legacy?
Will Hayward I was critical of the COVID response, but no one in Wales was remotely equipped or runs for office in Wales expecting to have to make those kind of decisions. And one thing I would say that he did more than any other politician I think in the UK is that he really explain in pretty forensic detail why he was going to do stuff. You might disagree, but, you know, I have shown my workings. I think it was an incredibly valuable thing for people at a time when really, really worried. And I think that will be probably the thing that he did best. I mean, he made Welsh politics matter. For better or worse. And actually, that was the biggest turnout we’ve seen in the last set of elections. I mean, not necessarily saying much, but making Welsh politics a thing and making a more unique sense of Welsh political identity, I think will be the overriding legacy of Brexit.
Coco Khan Thanks so much for joining us. That was Wil Haywood, a journalist for Wales Online. On June 14th, 2017, a 24 storey block of council flats in West London called Grenfell Tower went up in flames. Here’s an ITV News report from that fateful night.
Nish Kumar And we should say as a content warning. This is news footage of the fire, and it does contain sounds from the fire and people trapped inside.
Speaker 7 Beneath a still moon, a blaze of such ferocity, it is almost filmic. A vision as near as a hell is could be imagined as the flames soar through 24 floors engulfing all in that path. The warnings. This building was a fire trap, apparently went unheard, but it was impossible to miss the screams of those begging to be saved from it.
Coco Khan The fire climbed up the outer cladding, which turned out to be as flammable as solid petrol. Fire doors failed to self-closing. No alarm rang to warn sleeping residents as smoke seeped into their homes. All were told to stay put. Many did and they died. A total of 72 people lost their lives.
Nish Kumar Six and a half years later, the long wait for justice goes on. The findings of the Grenfell inquiry, which ended in November last year, have just been delayed yet again and are now due to be published until next summer. On Thursday, Assignment walks being held in London’s Notting Hill to remember those who died and to remind the world that no one has yet been held accountable for the tragedy.
Coco Khan It raises issues beyond Grenfell to such as the many people who own flats that are effectively worthless and dangerous because they have a similar type of cladding on the building. Meanwhile, in Bristol, residents have been forced to leave the city’s oldest tower block due to safety fears unrelated to cladding. Many of the 400 council tenants are now having to stay in the local Holiday Inn.
Nish Kumar Our guest today is Peter Apps, a journalist and author who reported from the inquiry over its four year duration and who’s written a book called Show Me the Bodies How We Let Grenfell Happen. Welcome to the show and thanks so much for joining us, Peter.
Peter Apps Oh, thank you for inviting me.
Nish Kumar Let’s start with obviously the most recent news this happened. The delay to the inquiry. How much of a blow is that to the families who’ve spent six and a half years campaigning for some justice to be done?
Peter Apps Oh, it’s a big blow. I mean, it was already a long wait. We’d expected the report to come out in January, and that was already, well, six and a half years on from the fire. So. So pushing that back a further six months just just adds the length of time which people have to wait for anything approaching sort of justice and closure because the police investigation won’t move forward until the inquiry report comes out and until the police have had time to digest that and filter its findings through that kind of investigations as well. So it just stretches out even further. And I think that’s that’s it’s always hard to take. And they’ve they’ve had so many delays that each one, I think is an additional blow.
Coco Khan It says they say is, you know, justice delayed is justice denied. And am I right in thinking that it’s because of the private contractors taking their time to respond to the inquiry’s findings?
Peter Apps Well, yeah, that’s right. I think there’s a there’s a role in inquiry reports in the UK that if you’re going to criticize anyone, you have to write to them with the criticism and give them the chance to respond. I think the Grenfell inquiry report is likely to criticize a lot of people and as I understand it, some of them are drawing that process out as far as I can.
Nish Kumar There’s so much to talk about, about the book and about Grenfell. And before we get into that, I just want to ask you briefly how you feel about the sort of processes of public inquiries. Having spent four years covering this inquiry, do you see the point in these?
Peter Apps Yeah, I think certainly the Grenfell inquiry in some way shows the value of them because if you take organizations like Arconic who made the cladding and kingspan and sell it, you made some of the insulation and it’s very difficult to get any information at all out of groups like that. You know, you as a journalist, as a citizen, as a bereaved or surviving family member of the fire, how do you get a corporation? It’s not even based in the UK to to open their books or share their emails, answer difficult questions about what they did. They just hide. And an inquiry does actually provide this sort of statutory power to force them to disclose things to to send witnesses. You know, some of the iconic witnesses were able to avoid it because they’re not based in the UK, but a lot of a lot of people weren’t. They had to climb quite senior levels and answer these questions and they’ve had to put these emails out which are now in the public domain. I couldn’t have written my book, all those internal emails with the sort of shocking story they tell about the attitudes these companies had towards safety would just be buried on a server somewhere without this process. And you can’t discount that. Like that is valuable. And the organizations that are at the heart of these inquiries fear that, and I think that’s a sign that they do do some good. I think you’ve got to have balanced against that. The fact that it just does take so long. It takes a painfully long time. And the two problems are that one, obviously a situation like Grenfell today’s justice but also. The lessons that you would want to learn from it come along so late that chances are we’ve either already changed or we’ve missed the kind of political window where change might have happened. And so you end up the Grenfell Tower inquiry report will come out. It’ll recommend all of these changes to building regulations, to building safety and so on. But is there going to be political wind behind that by that point or is it just going to get buried?
Nish Kumar So these inquiries throw up so many issues and we talk so much about systemic failings. The charity inquest is actually calling for a new national oversight mechanism to ensure all of the recommendations are followed. Can you just clarify what this is and what you make of it?
Peter Apps Yeah, well, I mean, I’m a big fan of the idea of a national oversight mechanism, and I think the Grenfell Tower Tower inquiry and the whole Grenfell story actually is a good example of why that’s needed, because part of the investigations into Grenfell, why we didn’t follow a previous inquest, you know, there was an inquest in 2013, six people died, three of them children in a fire in South London which held, you know, not two bodies, right? I start my book startling parallels to what happened four years later at Grenfell Tower, and we investigated that in detail. The coroner sent a letter to the government setting out some changes that needed to be made to prevent that fire, that sort of fire being repeated. And it just wasn’t implemented because there was there was no force compelling the government to do it, and there was also no force holding them to account for their failure to do it. So they could just kind of gently park it on the back burner and no one would ask any difficult questions. A national oversight mechanism would change it. It would be a bit like the kind of National Audit Office or, you know, the OPR, where the Chancellor has to answer for the economic consequences of its decisions. The departments to whom big inquest recommendations are delivered or big serious case reviews or public inquiries would have to answer to this body and say, well, actually we haven’t you know, we haven’t quite followed it, we haven’t listened to the views, we haven’t responded to the letters, etc., and it would just bring some accountability into the process. That’s all. And I think that would be really powerful.
Nish Kumar I think it was worth taking a second to explain the title. Show Me the Bodies, because it’s such an extraordinary and indicative phrase.
Peter Apps Yeah, yeah. So quite soon after Grenfell happened, I was sort of I was interviewing people who’d who were interested in fire safety, some of whom had kind of actively lobbied government for tougher fire safety rules. And they kept saying to me, well, the reason we couldn’t get any traction is because government would just say there aren’t enough people dying in a fire to justify restrictions on industry, that that is how the government looked at it. They thought unless there are high volumes of people dying right now, we’re not going to change regulations to impose more cost in industry. It’s an accountancy way of viewing human life, basically, and that the phrase that was allegedly used by officials to express that was show me the bodies. Why would we impose what I would call red tape on business unless people are dying? And, you know, obviously the mistake there is that if you wait until a catastrophe to change the rules, you’re going to get a catastrophe. And so I think that phrase to me summed up some of the callousness, what the some of the Grenfell survivors have described, this sort of institutional indifference to human life. It’s a very cold thing to say. And it also just tells us something about how where the government’s priorities are. They will let us die before they impose restrictions on company profits, basically. And, you know, it summed up an attitude which I wanted to convey in the book.
Nish Kumar There’s a sentence in the book in the introduction where you say that it points to the deepest fault lines in our society. Yeah, there is a sense that this is total systemic failure because it’s the manufacturers of the cladding, an insulation that is essentially as part of cost cutting. We’re using a substance that is solid, essentially solid petrol like essentially that was being put in the buildings. The regulatory and oversight bodies were privatized and so it became dependent on profit. So like the right ratings agencies during the financial crisis, they were commercially incentivized to approve things that they might not otherwise have done. And then you have successive governments, you know, really sort of culminating in the post 2010, Cameron promise to get rid of regulation, emphasizing deregulation and suggesting that regulation was actually an impediment towards financial. It’s a portrait of total systemic failure. All of the measures and counter-measures that was supposed to protect citizens failed.
Coco Khan And not only that, because I think what your book does really well, it even talks about the time before what Anish is describing. You know, you’re talking about when. Hotel was built. It was part of a, you know, a large house building moment. But they did it on the cheap and they cut corners and that’s why they needed cladding in the first place. So it’s like decades and decades of this sort of by cheap by twice culture, even when it’s labor in power. Keep it going. You know.
Peter Apps I mean, I agree with everything you’ve said, really. I think, you know, you keep changing governments and changing politicians, but you’re getting the same outcomes, the same philosophies are actually at work. And that’s scary. I mean, there’s a quote from a guy who lost his uncle in the tower, a guy called Kareem Mosley. And he’s the thing he he tends to repeat is the system’s not broken. It’s built this way. And it does feel like that. It feels like it was designed to fail. It was designed to allow companies to to to make profit at the expense of human safety. It doesn’t feel like it was a mistake.
Coco Khan Yeah, something that I found really kind of stark is the just that sense of like, whose lives matter. And the fact of the matter is, is that there were a number of social housing tenants in that building, not exclusively. There was some who own their property and some of the private renters, but just generally the sort of disdain for the poor. A lot of them were probably immigrants and people of color. I grew up in social housing myself. You know, I’m brown and I. I recognize that disdain. I recognize the counsel that minimizes any complaint. When you talk talk about like the conditions of your home and the dignity that you want to have and the way they treat you. When we have this problem with poverty and when we have these problems with kind of racism, you know, to what extent are we ever going to be able to resolve something like this? Like, is it the conversation isn’t just about building regulations in this regard.
Peter Apps Grenfell came from a lot of things. It came from a lot of places and a lot of things contributed to what happened. But this stigmatization of of the residents of the estate and Grenfell Tower and social housing in general contributed to the lack of investment and the lack of care being taken in, in, in treating those places like people’s homes instead of just, you know, why would we want to invest money in that? One of the things one funny things about Grenfell, there’s 500 old buildings with similar sorts of cladding on. Not all of those are social housing. Quite a lot of them are private housing. Some of them are very high end private housing. But the place where the disaster happened is the place where it’s a majority minority ethnic community. It’s a majority poor community, like you say, not everybody buy it. That is it. It was it was primarily social housing. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence because it different types of things get layered over each other. So, yeah, you’ve got the cladding, but you’ve also got fired or broken. You’ve also got a left that they’ve decided wouldn’t be a fire fighting one because they’re scared of anti-social behavior. You’ve also got this long history of poor maintenance and cost cutting, and once you put all of those things together, you suddenly have a really serious the conditions together for a really serious disaster.
Nish Kumar I think it’s also really important to know that the people in Grenfell Tower were a lot of them were low income families or people of minority ethnic backgrounds. They’re also in an extremely wealthy, affluent part of London, and a concern about the esthetics of tower blocks played a part. Yeah. Can you just explain because this bit I found jaw dropping, can you just explain the premise of the Crown?
Peter Apps So going back a little bit before that, the refurbishment, there’s a, there’s a masterplan drawn up which discusses the wholesale demolition of not just Grenfell Tower but the estate surrounding it is written for the council. So the landlord of the property described the Grenfell Tower as a blight on the surrounding neighborhood and it said, particularly when viewed from the conservation area, the conservation area being the sort of mansion style blocks that rich residents in are because they live. So that was that was over. It was said.
Nish Kumar The Royal borough of Kensington, Chelsea.
Peter Apps And then they got into the the the design and the recording of the block and has good reasons to to record a tower block concrete tower blocks over time do need a bit of help insulating them. It can make them more comfortable to live in. But they also wanted esthetics. They wanted to make this look like a modern building. I wanted to make it look nice from the outside. And so these sort of wings are kind of like half an airplane wing, kind of designed in at the top of the tower. And then not they’re serving any purpose. They’re just there to add flair and adds, you know, architectural esthetic additions to to to the designs. But they’re made out of the same aluminum composite material, which, as you correctly said earlier, is chemically basically the same as petrol, at least its core is. So what’s happened a lot of cladding fires around the world is that the fire is going up in a straight line and directly vertical column and then it’s reached the roof of the building. It’s run out of fuel when it’s just burned out. So you’ve got one straight line of fire damage and that’s you a Grenfell of. We see the fire spread all the way around the building. And that happened because when it reached the roof. Instead of running out of fuel, it hit this crown and so it spread the fire laterally around the building. One expert described it as being like a fuze. And so that took that that fire round. And then that sends molten plastic down to the bottom of the building, which starts new fires and spreads back up again. And you know, what’s particularly tragic about that is the a lot of the people who are unable to escape down the stairs had gone up to the top of the building so that those those flats on the top floor were the most crowded. And so the crown took the fire directly into the flats where the loads and loads of people were sheltering. And a large proportion of the 72 people died at the top of that building. That came from trivial esthetic reasons that had nothing to do with the improving the building for the people who lived in it and everything to do with improving the the the appearance of it for people who would be glancing out their window. They didn’t know that what they were doing was undermining fire safety by doing that. But they also weren’t asking any questions about whether it would or it wouldn’t. And yeah, I mean, you’re talking about the priorities and talking about the way people were stigmatized by the tower itself was stigmatized as it’s harder to get stock often enough.
Will Hayward Mm hmm. Done. Yeah. It’s almost 2024.
Coco Khan So let’s talk about Bristol. So Barton House, the oldest block of flats in Bristol, the residents have been evacuated and they are currently staying in hotels. That’s not related to fire, as I understand it. But there is concerns with that building, concerns about the safety of the building. So do you know what’s what’s the issue here?
Peter Apps Bristol is one of an important house in Bristol, sorry, is one of about 500 buildings around the UK that were built using this method called large panel systems construction. And that basically means taking big chunks of concrete and stacking them up like, you know, almost a child’s play blocks to build a tower in a sort of postwar periods, fifties and sixties. It was a very popular way of building high rise buildings. You could do it very fast. It’s quite cheap, make the blocks offsite and then stack them all up like that. They’re supposed to be bolted together. But there was a tower block collapse. Not for where I’m from. Where I’m from in London actually wrote in Point in kind of town in the sixties where someone’s gas oven exploded. And because once you knock one of those slabs out, you’ve now got a sort of house of cards type situation. And the whole side of the building came down. That collapse happened in 1968. So we’ve had 55 years of knowing that these buildings are unsafe potentially. And we’ve done some things. Most of them have had their gas supply taken out, but they should really have had long term care and attention and should have been having structural, I think, structural surveys every year, you know, make sure that this place is safe for someone to live on. But most of those 500 buildings have largely been neglected over that time. And there’s been sort of water ingress. The joints between those big lumps of concrete have been getting weaker and weaker. And so Bristol was actually one of several around the country that have now been evacuated because when they send structural surveyors in to look at the the safety of that building, they’ve suddenly realized it’s unsafe and it could collapse and is not the first it won’t be the last. But it comes from very similar roots to the Grenfell Tower fire. It’s about industry prioritizing profit pushing new building methods that are cheap aren’t necessarily safe. And then it’s about us neglecting the buildings that have been built for years afterwards. If we’re evacuating that building before a tragedy, that’s good. But you’ve then got to take care of that. The population that have been evacuated from that building and make sure that they’re rehoused properly.
Nish Kumar And the other sort of scandal and I thought know about this because it’s sort of a close friend of mine is kind of caught up in it, is that there are people unable to move out of their flats or sell them because people won’t put mortgages on them because they’ve got cladding. That’s either the same as or similar to the cladding that was on the Grenfell Tower is referenced in the book and there’s been lots of campaigners trying to work around it because nobody’s accepting responsibility for dealing with the cladding. Where we at with this.
Peter Apps Grenfell Tower was part of a huge building safety failure, right? It was. We used that one particular type of cladding in Grenfell, but we used like at least half a dozen other types of cladding material that are also dangerous, you know, things like high pressure laminate, which is sort of cardboard for want of a better word. And we also stuck balconies to the outside of people’s tower blocks, which are made of wood or made of, you know, all the things that are going to burn quite ferociously in a fire. We never really monitored the way people were fitting the fire barriers. So blow to those aren’t there when they should be. Just a whole range of things are wrong. Yeah. After Grenfell, the sort of insurance mortgage market have woken up to that and so they’ve been asking people to look into what is on the outside of buildings and all these cladding systems actually built in the way that they should have been. And more often than not they’re finding that they’re not, Yeah, they’re unsafe and unfortunately legislative system, at least not. Until recently didn’t really provide any way of holding anyone to account for that. In fact, often the cost of fixing it is going to fall on you as a lease holder. And so we’ve been through this really long process over the last six years of campaigning, of debates in parliament, of all kinds of newspaper campaigns, trying to get somebody, whether it’s the government or whether it’s industry, somebody who’s responsible for this kind of industry wide failure to put their hand in their pocket and start paying for it. We’ve seen a little bit of that now. There has been some movement towards getting the original developers to pay. Some of that is working, but it’s going to be a really slow process. I mean, Barratt, one of the largest builders in the UK, reckon it’s going to take about ten years for them to fix all of their flats, and that’s ten years when people won’t be able to move. Yeah, it’s ten years that people are not going to be able to buy a big house and have kids move to have a job. You know, that’s people’s lives put on hold, people. And also, you can’t forget living in buildings that may well be dangerous. So it’s a really serious situation. You can’t really understate the impact it’s had on the lives of the people who live in these buildings. You know, the mental health implications of of potentially being financially ruined, not being able to move. Having these kind of huge costs bearing down on you has genuinely ruined people’s lives.
Nish Kumar Thank you so much, Peter, much.
Peter Apps You’re welcome. Thank you.
Coco Khan That was Peter Apps, author of Show Me the Bodies How We Let Grenfell Happen. We’ll put a link to the book in the program. Information will also put a link to inquest petition for a national oversight mechanism. It’s time to name our Pod Save the UK hero and Villain of the Week on YouTube. Vocal Nerd had this to say about last week’s hero and villain. An angry Coco and a happy Nish are a reversal of the natural order of the universe. An abomination made real. I demand that by the next podcast we have our usually angry nish and bubbly Coco. Well, you have spoken at Vulcan, Nerd, and we have listened. So, Nish, who’s your villain of the week?
Nish Kumar I’m going to go for Graeme Stewart, who’s the UK’s Climate Change Minister. So on Tuesday, the delegates at the COP 28 climate summit in Dubai were desperately scrambling to put together a meaningful deal as they faced a draft text that crucially omitted the key goal of phasing out fossil fuels. So where was Graham Stewart, our climate change minister, at a key moment when the UK’s leadership was needed alongside strong minded allies like the US, the EU and the island nations? He was nowhere to be seen as he had jumped back on a plane to the UK to vote for Rishi Sunak’s stupid fucking Rwanda bill. It was deemed more important for him to return to trying to help save the Prime Minister’s blushes in getting through a profoundly racist political policy that it was to stay in the UAE and try and help save the planet. So he did eventually go back to the talks. But this means that our climate change minister in the middle of a climate change conference did a 6824 mile round trip just so that he could vote in a absolutely pointless and idiotic bill?
Will Hayward It’s obtuse.
Nish Kumar Beyond belief. The COP 28, did eventually agree a deal that has called on nations to transition away from fossil fuels and to avert the worst effects of climate change. But there are huge loopholes and there has been huge amounts of criticism. But if Rishi Sunak’s government’s aim was to show that it is taking climate change seriously, the Climate Minister would not have hopped out at quite a key phase of the negotiations to come back to settle a piece of political point scoring for his boss. Then the optics got even worse because he obviously went straight back. So he’s leaving the carbon footprint of this guy’s non contribution to a climate change conference is absolutely astonishing. At the start of this process, the Conservative Party was facing huge criticism, rightly for sending at best, a mixed message on net zero. It has continued to send a mixed message on net zero. I guess we have to applaud them for being at least consistent, even though what they’re consistent as is being absolutely of no fucking use to anyone. Coco, take us home on that note of positivity.
Coco Khan So in sharp contrast to Graham Stuart, I’d like to give a shout out to Jason Warriner. He’s a nurse and he volunteers for the homelessness charity crisis. So every Christmas crisis provides accommodation and support for people across the country. This year they’re taking over three hotels in London to put up over 570 people who would otherwise be sleeping rough. Christmas is a particularly difficult time for homelessness. You know, anyone sofa surfing, you know, people might be like, Look, I’ve got visitors coming over. You can’t really do that. Many of you may have seen the shocking video being shared of a security guard soaking the belongings of a man sleeping rough in London. So it’s a really critical time for homelessness and it requires all hands to the pumps and it needs lots of volunteers. And Jason is one of them. He volunteers as a health care manager overseeing all the volunteer GP’s nurses, physios and podiatrists supporting their guests. It’s the 20th year he’s done this, that he’s given up his Christmas to do it, and here he is telling us why it’s so important.
Clips Health is often forgotten. People sort of thing of somebody is homeless, let’s get them food, let’s get the blind takes, you know, let’s try and get them somewhere. House. But health is a vitally important piece of that. We know that the death rate people die in the forties. Health conditions are not managed. It can be really difficult to access health care services, A&E departments trying to register with a GP. It’s about giving people opportunities to talk to us. You know, somebody seeing a podiatrist and having half an hour with a podiatrist and getting the fee sorted out and a new pair of shoes and socks that can change their life. But when they’ve seen that, they say, well, about seeing the physiotherapists you mentioned you’ve got some shoulder problems. I keep the Christmas time up every year because you know, it’s about a lot of services are closed down then. So it’s hard for homeless people, anybody to access health services and support an eight. You know, I think the biggest misconception is and we’ve seen it over the last few weeks that people choose to be homeless. We’ve had a previous home secretary say an information like that. They’ve stood in London at the weekend. Anybody who is homeless is a person. They’re human being. There’s a political element to all achieving as well, which people often forget about the Eastleigh you make. In a stunt. You being political. Making a difference by doing something. An advocate.
Coco Khan So, look, I’ve picked Jason as a representative of the thousands of people across the country who volunteer with all sorts of different charities. They give up their time. They make such an effort to support people experiencing homelessness. I honestly wish I could name all of you, but for now, I just want to say thank you. And also a massive shout out to Jason Warriner, these volunteers, All the best of us. And even though the political system tries to pit us against each other, human compassion can always win. And he he exemplifies that. And all the all the Christmas volunteers do so. Big up to you guys. You are heroes of the week.
Nish Kumar That’s real Christmas spirit. Yes.
Coco Khan Yes, it really is.
Nish Kumar You can get in touch with us by emailing PSUK@Reduced Listening.co.UK. We also love hearing your voices, so do send us a voice note on WhatsApp. Our number is 07514644572. Internationally, that’s +447514644572. We’ll also be putting out because this is actually our last episode officially before Christmas. However, don’t worry, we will be recording a very special review of the episode for you to enjoy in the week between Christmas and New Year. We would absolutely love to include your contribution, so please get in touch to nominate your political moment of the year, whether that’s good or bad. But let’s face it.
Coco Khan Bad, bad, bad.
Nish Kumar Bad or fine.
Coco Khan Yes. Yeah. Yes. Bad or fine. Or funny.
Nish Kumar Or funny. Yeah. Maybe it was Keir Starmer getting glitter bombed to the labor conference. Or maybe it was the return of the UN flushable turds, David Cameron. Or maybe something else entirely. Coco. Anything that springs to mind for you at the moment.
Coco Khan No, I was. I was a big fan of Justice Powell’s summer of protest.
Nish Kumar Yes, just a full summer protest.
Coco Khan This has been quite a good year for for protests. Yeah. I feel like it’s a kind of politically awakened year. I also wanted to chuck in something, you know, for the women. Yeah. So I googled, like, my best moment.
Nish Kumar Just Googled women.
Coco Khan Googled like best moments for women. And apparently a weird thing to think to Google. I know, but Dame Sue Carr was sworn in as Lady chief justice, becoming the first woman to head the judiciary of England Wales this year. Boom. Also the Bobby movie.
Clips The Bobby movie was on the list?
Coco Khan Well, it was on my list.
Nish Kumar I think is desperately sad. And I know that you’re inherently quite an optimistic person, but I think it’s desperately sad that you had to Google good things that have happened this year. I think that’s a terrible I don’t think that’s evidence that it’s been a good year at all.
Coco Khan No, I know.
Nish Kumar Of course it’s not been a bad year. I mean, yesterday I found myself Googling hope, but other than that, it’s been wall to wall positivity.
Coco Khan It’s like a feeling of elation in regards to the future. Like, Oh, interesting. Hope. I see. Yeah, I think I had that. I’m looking forward to lunch, so don’t forget to follow Pod Save the UK on Instagram and Twitter. We are at Pod Save the UK. You can also find us on YouTube for access to full episodes and other exclusive content. And if you’re as opinionated as we are, please consider dropping us a review. Five stars only. Thank you.
Nish Kumar Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.
Coco Khan Thanks to senior producer Musty Aziz and digital producer, Alex Bishop.
Nish Kumar Video editing was by Will Duncan and the music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.
Coco Khan Thanks to our engineer David Degahee.
Nish Kumar The executive producers are Anushka Sharma, Dan Jackson and Madeleine Heringer with additional support from Ari Schwartz.
Coco Khan And remember to hit subscribe for new shows on Thursdays on Amazon, Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.