THE CAMPAIGN group ‘openDemocracy’ has revealed evidence of a concerted campaign by a secretive government Freedom of Information (FOI) screening unit to interfere with and block inquiries about what actually happened in the Grenfell Tower fire that claimed the lives of 72 people in 2017.
The tragedy led to a massive surge in FOI requests as journalists and members of the public attempted to pierce the secrecy surrounding the issues of fire safety and building regulations in an effort to uncover exactly why this tragedy happened and who was to blame for the deaths.
This screening unit operates as a Clearing House for the government which advises government departments what information should be made public and how to respond to requests.
The government has refused to release this advice on the grounds that by doing so it ‘would unacceptably erode the thinking space’ of the officials involved.
In fact this Clearing House does more than offer advice. According to Labour MP Andy Slaughter, in the case of Grenfell information requested from the housing department it is now ‘deferring to the now infamous Clearing House for permission to respond to Freedom of Information requests’.
Slaughter added: ‘It is no wonder so little progress has been made to expose and rectify the mistakes that led to the Grenfell fire, when the government cares more about its image and news management.’
It is not a question of the Tories worried about their image but the overwhelming desire of the capitalist state to keep its dirty secrets hidden from the working class.
The Grenfell Tower fire exposed all that is rotten about capitalism.
A death trap for workers cladded in the most flammable materials in direct contravention of every known safety and fire regulation by companies that knew full well how dangerous it was but didn’t care.
Profit was the only thing that mattered, while all the local council was concerned about was getting the cheapest quote to shroud Grenfell in order to cover up what their wealthy constituents in Chelsea and Kensington regarded as an eye-sore.
It was this truth that the Clearing House was desperate to cover up. It is not just the Grenfell Tower fire that has been covered up and protected from FOI requests.
OpenDemocracy reported this year that the housing ministry told local authorities that they could block FOI requests that could identify high-rise buildings with potentially lethal aluminium cladding.
Previously the unit blocked releasing historic files about the contaminated blood scandal of the 1970s and 1980s which claimed the lives of thousands of people in the UK.
In July as a result of campaigning by openDemocracy a formal inquiry was set up by the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee into the operation of the Clearing House and its role in blocking information and blacklisting certain people making FOI requests.
This inquiry will get nowhere.
It will follow the same path as all the other inquiries including the so-called ‘independent’ Grenfell Inquiry. Documents will be withheld, redacted or simply lost as these inquiries drag on for years in the hope that they will be forgotten.
At the same time all the sops to ‘transparency’ like the Freedom of Information Act will be circumvented or just ignored.
The working class do not need FOI disclosures to tell them that the Grenfell Tower tragedy was the inevitable result of a Tory government working hand in glove with the cladding companies to tear up every health and safety regulation in the book in order to make the biggest profit possible.
These are not simple ‘mistakes’ that can be rectified if they are acknowledged, as Labour MP Slaughter maintains, but the inevitable consequences of a Tory government that governs only in the interests of capitalism and the profits of the bosses.
The only rectification required is to bring down this Tory government by demanding the unions organise a general strike to kick them out and bring in a workers’ government that will expropriate the bosses and bankers and advance to a socialist society that will put those guilty for capitalism’s crimes on trial.