THE Grenfell fire is an awful indictment of neoliberalism; of what happens when regulations and controls over standards and safety are abandoned for the sake of bigger profits, and when the value given to a person’s life reflects the value of the money that they possess. It is a huge political wake-up call that cannot go unheeded, and the blame for this mass manslaughter goes right to the top.

We need both to address the technical details that turned what was originally a very safe form of construction into a towering inferno, and the political and managerial culture that allowed this to happen, despite repeated warnings from earlier fires across the globe and from the tenants who saw their homes and lives being put at risk.

This catastrophe in a poor enclave in one of the wealthiest parts of London seems to be so symbolic of what is wrong with our society that change is inevitable, but we cannot rely on this happening. Capitalism’s elite has proved adept at holding onto power and even turning disasters to its own advantage. Take Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster but amplified by culpable neglect of the levees that were supposed to protect New Orleans. The people who suffered in the flooding were disproportionately poor and black – but they then had to undergo a second attack as the subsequent rebuilding was used as an excuse for widespread gentrification.

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The tenants of the Grenfell flats have made it clear that they have felt under constant threat of being cleared away to make space for more profitable development. The media spotlight may ensure that the survivors can at least remain living in central London, but other tenants of social housing may find themselves under renewed attack as calls go out, in a knee-jerk response, to demolish all tower blocks. Clearly there is an urgent need to assess all blocks for fire safety, but mass demolition would further curtail the supply of social housing, exacerbate the housing crisis, and make rents even less affordable.

The last decades have already seen demolition of council housing on a mass scale and very few social homes put up in its stead. A great many people were happy in their homes and did not want to see them demolished, but government documents make clear that a primary aim of this policy was to shift the balance from social housing to the private market.

We can’t let this tragic and culpable dismissal of the rights and lives of social housing tenants be used as another blow to attack social housing.
Sarah Glynn
Dundee

I AM a great admirer of Cat Boyd but she is completely wrong to blame politicians for this disaster (If this deadly neglect is not political, what on Earth is?, The National, Jun 20).

The blame lies with engineers. I have worked in the engineering industry for 60 years as a fitter, draughtsman, and engineer.

The engineer is responsible for writing the specification of the material and equipment required for the job. He (or she) is responsible for raising the requisition that goes to the buyer. The engineer is responsible for specifying what specifications, inspections and tests are required for the equipment. The engineer is responsible for doing the bid evaluation to ensure equipment and/or material is of the required quality and specification. The engineer must sign to say he is satisfied with the vendor’s offer before the purchase order is placed.

I have been on many contracts where management have tried to shortcut the procedures. I would take the only action possible for a responsible engineer – write an email to the project manager saying I could not sign the paper to accept the offer, and resign.
Joe Stenhouse
Dunshelt, Fife

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Refreshing read about the art of talking to each other

IN the midst of these frenetic, splenetic times it was refreshing to read Vonny Leclerc’s article, (Now I have overcome my phobia, I’ve found it’s good to talk, The National, June 19). It was great to encounter honesty about a personal phobia surrounding the art of conversation, and the fear that it may have descended into all-too-brief “exchanges” built on brevity and utility.

I’m still amazed that the poet Basho would correspond with a friend using haiku, yet similarly see the capacity of two people to share silence meaningfully as an achievement we should earmark.

With this in mind it’s worth getting a hold of Polly Morland’s excellent The Society of Timid Souls, which takes its title from a 1942 Manhattan support group for stage-struck classical musicians. The members would give a recital, only to be ambushed by a cacophonous clatter of staged jibes and distractions fast-tracking them to their worst fear. In the absence of the most sensitive and comprehensive of debriefings this would ultimately rub salt in the wound but, strangely, the process seemed to work for many.

Is it right, then, to see conversation itself as a performance? Good talkers as good “performers”? Some peculiarly loquacious creatures might actually be the ones who possess the greater anxiety quotient. As Nietsche said, “to talk about yourself a lot is often a method of concealing yourself”. It can be stunning, the amount of effort and imagination that goes into avoiding saying anything meaningful: co-presence as reciprocal absence – a “comfort” zone. The deftness and complicity of that collusion.

However, a balance needs to be sought. Voltaire’s definition of a bore as “someone who reveals all” reminds me of Ruby Wax’s recounted experience of how some may tell you their whole life story in excruciating detail, yet leave us no closer to any essential kernel.

O Henry was surely right when he said, “the true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet his or her unknown fate”. Communication entails a threshold to be crossed. In this you may ultimately be encountering yourself, perhaps for the first time. Maybe this is worth bearing in mind at this strange, estranged moment we inhabit.
Alex MacMillan
Portobello, Edinburgh

THERE is a lot of froth bubbling up anent ship-to-ship oil transfer. I write as a former tanker officer albeit from long ago, and I was on several occasions involved in oil transfer at sea. This process is very little more hazardous than any other form of oil transfer. The parameters for the process must be set correctly, wind, sea state, tugs, standby vessel etc, and with competent seamen on the ships involved, risk of disaster is minimal. It us always possible there could be a minor spillage, a loose coupling or something of that sort, or a tank overflow, it can happen and I have experienced both.

With the proper back-up in place such things can be quickly dealt with, with only very minor environmental damage.

Obviously there are commercial advantages for the oil industry and given this there must also be some financial advantages either for the littoral communities or directly to the Scottish Government. My general views are quite green, in fact, but green hysteria I do not do.
Captain R Mill Irving
Gifford, East Lothian

SO the Anglo/UK delegation will carry on for a little while, looking stupid and complaining about the unfairness of those foreigners. Then when enough resentment has been seen to have built up they will walk away from any talks and with May still as PM will call an election and be swept back on a wave of “Rule Britannia “ and “They don’t like it up them” to strip us of our rights and liberties returning the precious United Kingdom to the 18th century where it belongs.
Richard Easson
Dornoch

I WAS most pleased to see my letter published by The National on Saturday but I was even happier yesterday morning to find the article written by Hamish about the 51st HD at Saint Valery en Caux.

I’d say that anyone with a family member who fought with the 51st could be well pleased by the contents of the article.
Archie Hamilton
Glasgow