LIKE many I’m struggling for words in response to the Grenfell fire. It was like watching the news of a disaster somewhere in the Third World – like when an earthquake strikes, ravaging the shanty towns while leaving the sleek apartments for the wealthy unscathed.

But this wasn’t Asia, or Africa or Latin America. This was the wealthiest district of the wealthiest city in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We still don’t know how many people have died – and perhaps we never will. Whole families have probably been incinerated leaving no-one alive who even knows they are missing.

The smoking ruin now stands as a monument to dozens of men, women and children who died because they were poor.

They lived their lives in an island of poverty surrounded, by an ocean of riches. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has the greatest proportion of high earners anywhere in the UK. It is populated by bankers, stockbrokers, Royals and wealthy celebrities. It has the highest average life expectancy of the UK.

Terraced houses in the area change hands for an average of £4.3 million. Many stand empty because they are not homes – they are investments. The idle properties of the idle rich.

The poor of this borough die 12 years younger than their affluent neighbours. They are packed away in dismal, dilapidated, overcrowded tower blocks that for wealthy residents of the borough were nothing but an irritating eyesore, a blot on an upmarket cityscape.

“How good it is to dwell in unity” is the grimly ironic motto of the Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council.

No doubt it will emerge there were many failures that led to the catastrophic loss of life at Grenfell. Most of them could probably be summed in two words. Greed and incompetence.

The people on the ground don’t need a public inquiry to let them know that wrapping a 24-storey tower block in a flammable blanket was a reckless, potentially criminally irresponsible gamble with the lives of hundreds of people. All to save a paltry £6000.

Scores of Grenfell residents were killed by inequality, deregulation, privatisation and austerity. And they predicted it would happen. Their pleas were ignored by the politicians, the bureaucrats and the profiteers. The lives of people on the margins are cheap.

Social housing was pioneered in Glasgow by Red Clydesider John Wheatley, an Independent Labour Party councillor and later MP in the East End of Glasgow. Under his influence, graceful council housing schemes such as Riddrie, Mosspark and Knightswood were built in the 1920s and remain to this day some of the finest examples of municipal housing ever built in this country.

Many, probably most, have since been sold and resold as result of Thatcher’s mass privatisation of social housing, which was continued under the Blair government (and recently halted by the Scottish Government). SO why in the 1920s, with national wealth and GDP a mere fraction of modern levels, were we able to undertake such visionary, far-reaching social projects that transformed the lives of the poor? And why, in the infinitely richer society we live in today, do we still tolerate slums, overcrowding and homelessness?

Before Thatcher, more than a third of people across the UK lived in social housing. In Scotland, the figures were much higher. Two-thirds of Glasgow’s housing stock was owned and run by the elected and accountable council. But then the right to buy was introduced, social housing estates became ghettoised and people who needed social housing were stigmatised.

Then we had arms-length housing associations, with tenants passed around from one landlord to another, while all the works associated with maintaining the stock was privatised, contracted out, then further sub-contracted to a multitude of private companies. A visionary idea by pioneering socialists evolved into a profiteer’s dream. As the full horror of Grenfell began to unfold, I was struck by the absence of stirring ministerial announcements telling us that “enough is enough” and that “the first priority of government is to keep people safe”.

After the London Bridge and Manchester terror attacks, money was no object. The Army paraded the streets, armed police appeared on every corner and huge resources were allocated to intelligence and surveillance. So where are the raids on the offices of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation, which ignored the fears and warnings of Grenfell tenants? Who is rounding up the leaders and officials of Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council and interrogating them? Who is seizing the contracts, documents, risk assessments, email accounts and telephone records of Rydon and the eight companies to which it sub-contracted the Grenfell refurbishment work?

Who among this lot are responsible for the deaths of twice as many people in one night than have been killed in terrorist attacks in the UK over the past ten years?

When will the ideological warriors who called for a "bonfire of red tape" be called to account for incitement to send people up in smoke? Like David Cameron, for example, who boasted he wanted his to be “the first government in modern history to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation, rather than increasing it”.

When will the war on the terror of capitalism get under way?

The answer is it won’t – not by the Westminster government anyway. The first priority of successive UK Governments over the past 30 years has not been to keep people safe but to keep profits safe.

In my various jobs and when I was involved in trade unions, management-speak often frustrated me. It talked of "empowering" people – workers, tenants and members of the community. What that meant in practice was perfunctory “consultation” and token “participation”. It was a sham designed to disguise the fact that the middle-class elite who knew better were running the show from top to bottom. Yet when disaster struck at Grenfell, it was the community that rallied around and provided the emotional support, the food, the clothing and the infrastructure on the ground, while the myriad of arm's-length organisations, contractors and sub-contractors were nowhere to be seen.

It is horrendous that it has taken a real bonfire, an inferno, to expose the reality of deregulation, privatisation and austerity. All the protests, all the warnings went unheard.

But now the radicalised right, who led us to the burning embers of Grenfell, are being forced, finally, to confront the consequences of their ideology.