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Grenfell disaster raises questions of management and maintenance – not high-rise towers

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The horrific fire at Grenfell Tower drew parallels with the Ronan Point gas explosion in 1968 which became synonymous with halting the advance of Anglo-Saxon high-rise Modernism. The terrifying speed at which the fire spread has prompted an emergency review of all towers which have undergone similar retrofitting of external insulating panels.

While many are cautious to jump to unresolved conclusions, there are many who also feel this is sympotamic of a longstanding trend of ‘managed decline’ among London’s social housing stock. It is also necessary perhaps to treat this as an opportunity to clarify the standards which our industry currently adheres to with regard to fire safety.

1. The ‘stay-put’ policy

The most common fire strategy for any block of residential flats in the UK is a ‘stay-put’ policy meaning residents who are not directly affected by fire are advised to stay within their flats. This is in part to avoid common stairwells becoming blocked with people escaping the building while fire services move up to attend to the fire. This approach also heavily depends on an effective compartmentalising of individual flats which clearly failed at Grenfell.

2. Sprinklers are not common to most residential buildings

The installation of sprinklers, particularly retrospectively, is a costly process and is not a fundamental requirement for existing high rise blocks. New build developments above 30m in height now have to provide sprinklers as part of Approved Part B of Building Regulations. While their effect in the case of Grenfell could be argued to be limited, there is an argument to see these installed in all high rise social housing, particularly the vulnerable nature and limited mobility of residents living on upper floors.

3. Compartmentalisation of flats assumes the fire source is internal, not external

Residential flat walls, doors and ceilings are required to be provided to protect the flat from fire for a minimum of 30 minutes. Compartmentalisation assumes the source of the fire is internal rather than external thereby also highlighting the potentially disastrous effect of fire ingress from the cladding system.

4. Evidence indicates panellised systems are a major fire risk

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Celotex RS500 used at Grenfell Tower

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Chartered surveyor Arnold Tarling has been a recurrent figure in the media, highlighting an industry response which points to the cladding as a contributor to the rapid spread of fire across the external envelope of the building. Retrofitting towers is a common practice among social housing providers primarily to improve thermal performance and save on energy bills while also providing cosmetic upgrades.

However thin ‘tin-foil-like’ metal films which are attached to insulating panels do not provide significant protection from flammable insulation behind them polyisocyanurate (PIR). Installation of these panels include providing fire stops at each floor in order to limit fire spread however flames from cladding panels appear to have bypassed these. Fire safety experts also point to the cavities present in such cladding systems of 30-50mm which allows oxygen to encourage fire spread verically.

Examples in Dubai, Melbourne and Paris have been cited as dangerous examples along with the recent fire at Lakanal House in 2009.

‘The London Building Act, which was replaced in 1985 with the national building regulations, required panels to have fire resistance of up to one hour. Class O panels do not provide this level of fire resistance.’ Lessons from Lakanal – Inside Housing

Planning drawings for Grenfell Tower indicate a proposed zinc-faced cladding panel however this appears to have been substituted with an aluminium replacement which has a lower melting point at 600C.

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Aside from the technical aspects, the most alarming aspect of this process is the grim discovery of a history of concerns by residents about living conditions and in particular fire safety concerns through the ‘Grenfell Action Group.’ This record indicates a series of warnings regarding fire strategy, power surges, smoke alarms, communal lighting etc. which accompany fears that ‘only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord.’

It important not to use this episode as a call to demolish every tall building built in the 1960s or 70s. Tall buildings are typically extremely safe places to be and cities all over the world depend on them to allow higher densities. What Grenfell House should prompt is a more rigid check of existing buildings, specifically internal compartmentation, fire rating of common parts and the effect of retrofitted services such as gas piping. More importantly, it highlights the need for more stringent regulation of building practices, installation and the use of cheap building materials.

The uncomfortable truth however in response to the question fielded by reporters ‘how could this happen in the UK in 2017?’ is that it is a result of continued under investment in social housing. Politicians know that all over London similar resident groups have spawned with repeated concerns over living standards under the shadow of future regeneration plans. In response to a question regarding the living standards of London’s poor, David Lammy MP for instance described those living in designated social housing as the ‘lucky ones,’ highlighting the thousands of people who end up in B&Bs or the private rented sector in overcrowded flats unfit for modern day human habitation. Nick Cohen summed this up ‘In any tower block for the rich from Canary Wharf to Hyde Park, if the homeowners said they were in danger, their apartment managers would have jumped to reassure them. Comfortable people know how to complain, or how to hire professionals to complain on their behalf.’ Grenfell has shone an unavoidable light on the political undercurrents of London’s housing. Health and safety standards should transcend buying power or tenure and arguably be made more stringent for social housing. Now must be the time to change this model.

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2017 General Election housing guide

Here’s a last-minute summary of the main parties’ policies on housing.

Conservative

  • Implement the Homelessness Reduction Act to halve rough sleeping
  • Build 160,000 houses on government-owned land
  • New “Council Housing Deals” with “ambitious, pro-development, local authorities to help them build more social housing” which will be sold privately after 10 to 15 years with an automatic Right to Buy

Labour

  • 4,000 additional homes available for people with a history of rough sleeping
  • at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year for genuinely affordable rent or sale
  • Introduce controls on rent rises

Lib Dems

  • ‘Set in motion’ at least 10 new Garden Cities in England
  • A new national Housingand Infrastructure Development Bank, to increase housebuilding to 300,000 homes a year
  • End Right to Buy
  • Tackle developers guilty of landbanking 3 years after planning consent
  • Target ‘buy to leave’ homes with 200% council tax

Greens

  • Build 100,000 social rental homes a year by 2020
  • Introduce rent controls and ban letting fees
  • End Right to Buy

UKIP

  • Introduce locally-made, factory-built modular homes
  • Provide 100,000 homes for younger people
  • Launch a review into operation of Housing Associations

Analysis

The Conservatives initially set out with a positive plan to give ‘ambitious’ local authorities the chance to undercut developers for land and to form deals to develop social housing. However this plan has since been clarified that these homes would be built as ‘affordable’ rather than social rent which now infamously has come to mean they may be priced at 80% of market value. They would also be eligible for automatic Right to Buy after 10 or 15 years, a policy which Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens are all in favour of scrapping.

Given the break in Labour’s manifesto with the current economic model, the housing proposals could arguably have gone further, particularly on borrowing limits for local authorities. A plan to tackle homelessness is positive and target completion numbers are also highly optimistic.

The Lib Dems seem to be more motivated by individual elements of housing policy rather than an overarching political stance on the issue. It is notable that housing is classed alongside infrastructure and positive steps include addressing longstanding problems of landbanking. 300,000 homes a year however is highly ambitious and like many of these policies, prioritises numbers over quality for manifesto purposes.

How would Corbyn’s million-home programme actually work?

‘Mugwump’ or not, Jeremy Corbyn will continue to be cast over the coming weeks as a slippery pair of hands in which to place our collective trust. The monotone playlist of ‘strong and stable leadership’ sound bites will continue to percolate into the minds of a partially interested public. But what do we actually know of Corbyn’s policies which he so often strains to focus on in interviews?

Among the headline-grabbers of nationalising the railways, providing free school meals to all children and the idea of increasing taxes on the rich (those on more than c.£70,000) is the programme to build a million homes in five years. Half of these would be ‘council homes.’

Ever since the public sector stopped building housing during the 1980s, analysts have insisted repeatedly that the private sector is either incapable or unwilling to plug the supply gap. A giant national programme of housebuilding at affordable rent levels would of course be welcome by those, particularly the young, who on average need 48% of their income to afford a 1-bed flat (57% in London). However how would this policy work in practice? What funding vehicles would need to be set up to finance this vast ambitious programme?

Corbyn’s housing plan admits to these homes being commissioned by a ‘combination’ of local authorities, housing associations and developers. In reality this would mean either a large subsidy being paid out to developers or stringent 50% affordable housing targets being imposed on the construction industry. As it stands, training up local authorities to establish funding programmes and attract skills to build at this scale is an objective rather than a reality. Ambitious targets however, are of course be welcome given the lukewarm nature of present public policy towards the provision of affordable housing.

Corbyn’s target refers only to ‘council housing’ with no specifics on tenure type or where these homes might be built. ‘Social rent’ is the most accurate definition for what most of the electorate refer to as ‘council’ housing, which is priced at between 30-50% of market rates. In 2015, local authorities in England built under 3,000 units of this tenure, illustrating the vast gap to reach Corbyn’s target. Councils are, after all, far removed entities from what they were in the 1970s and now are set up often with more sophisticated ALMOs in order to finance the development of council land for both private sale and affordable housing.

This proposed policy is tied into a more general mega-fund created through a so-called National Investment Bank. Corbyn proposes borrowing £15bn a year to service the construction of 200,000 homes, the principle being that that one-third of this would be partially recouped through taxation of the construction industry.

A National Investment Bank could support new build housing projects with low interest rates, both by councils and developers as long as tough new conditions were met on the proportion of genuinely affordable housing built. For every £1 spent on housing construction an extra £2.09 is generated in the economy.

Allowing councils to borrow more to develop long term income streams is  not something confined to a misty-eyed Socialism of the past. It is an active policy of some of the more progressive and financially able local authorities in this country. A recent article in the Financial Times revealed that local authorities are increasingly investing in commercial property with the aim of creating profits to meet the shortfall in social services funding. Councils are able to do this through the Public Works Loan Board, often at 100% of the property value to buy up shopping centres, warehouses or office space. Surely the much lower risk option of borrowing to build new, social housing to create a long-term stable income stream should also be extended to councils in the same way?

A slightly more individualistic set of policy-making might include a more substantial support for smaller scale developments, particularly for emerging sectors such as custom build and the financial incentives for struggling SME contractors to diversify the market. Such proposals may also provide a healthy political balance to ease the monotone nature of public policy dependent simply on heavy borrowing.

In summary, while it remains understandably vague,  Corbyn’s original 2015 document on housing provides very little on the surface to disagree with and in essence is merely fast-tracking the current trajectory of housing delivery. It would even be reasonable to suggest that the principles of these policies will be repackaged and sold in any governments’ future housing policies in that they represent, in broad terms, basic common sense.

Further information:

Corbyn’s Housing Paper (Aug 2015)

Paper by John Healey MP on local Labour council housing innovations > here

Ready for Khan: Does London’s new mayor have the means to implement his housing targets?

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In the end, it all turned out to be something of a formality. Sadiq Khan ran out as a resounding winner in the London mayoral elections, as Londoners managed to defy the tactics of fear used towards the end of his rivals campaign. In truth Zac Goldsmith campaigned with a set of coherent and optimistic policies which were inevitably overshadowed by the ill-conceived plan to link his opponent with extremism, most severely in one particular article which seemed to instantaneously backfire. However, Sadiq Khan will now be assessed on his ability to fight the forces which complicate his targets, especially on housing.

Khan set out from the start with a clear mission to crack down heavily on off-plan international investors buying up London property, to prioritise those already living in the capital with regard to availability of stock, and to make a target of 50% affordable housing. All of this is set within the context of inheriting the effects of Boris Johnson’s legacy. Housing, or rather the actual construction of housing, is in its nature slow or unreceptive to change. Change in planning policy has a lag time for the construction industry to catch up and adapt to any alterations meaning that any policy that Khan enacts, however good its intentions, will only be realised in a matter of years rather than months from now.

The immediate concern will be to buck the ongoing trend of housing in London being extremely expensive to construct. Take one small example from which you might extrapolate a wider issue, that of energy policy. The first port of call for any housing development in London is to refer to the London Plan. This document has been amended four times since its original publication in 2011 and sets out standards on floor space, density, scale and also energy. The application of this policy in London developments often highlights the disparity between national policy and the demands and desires of the GLA. The UK’s approach to ‘zero-carbon’ developments was altered when George Osborne scrapped this policy in 2011, mainly because developers insisted this requirement made housing too expensive and too laborious to be worth their while. This was criticised by Labour at the time as a small-minded decision.

Since that time the GLA have pursued a reduction of 35% carbon emissions on any new development as acceptable. However the GLA have recently gone against this relaxation of policy by proposing that all new developments be ‘zero carbon’ by 1 October 2016. There is much confusion in the industry about the specifics of this decision, but in any case the effects of this decision will be to undoubtedly make housing more expensive to deliver and thus reduce by default the proportion of affordable housing, whatever your definition of affordable might be. This change will then be seen as taking place on the watch of the new mayor at a time when numerical output is seen as more important than performance. Khan then is faced with a dilemma of how far his revision of the London Plan will go in raising compliance standards in housing while also aiming to deliver his optimistic promise of 50,000 units a year by 2020 at a rate of 50% affordable.

It is clear that Khan has a safe fall back on these targets, with the easy scapegoat of a majority Conservative government to blame should things not go to plan. Within the current climate and parameters of an industry where construction costs have soared, these targets are as it stands currently unachievable. In order for these targets to be met, one or all of the following will need to happen; land values will need to start to decrease, the supply of labour will need to increase or density may have to be increased. However it will be fascinating to see Khan’s stance on the GLA in general as it becomes an increasingly autonomous force. Whatever happens, it will be vital for London’s new mayor to not be seen as a mere continuation of the present and to challenge current trends in London’s housing.

What the mayoral hustings revealed about the complexities of London’s housing problem

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Last week the Royal Institute of British Architects hosted an event which placed major players from the fields of architecture, engineering, surveying and planning in a room to hear mayoral candidates present their visions on the future of London’s built environment. Tellingly, both frontrunners Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan were absent, allegedly to distance themselves from the RIBA’s public opposition to the highly contested Garden Bridge development. The evening served as a reminder that while arbitrary figures on housebuilding targets can easily be fired across a lecture hall, the complications of taking action on London’s endemic affordability issue while reassuring the various vested interests of the construction industry that London’s status as a global powerhouse will remain intact became all too clear. In a mayoral race which now looks set to be determined by Zac Goldsmith’s decision to jump aboard the ‘Out’ campaign in Britain’s upcoming EU referendum, it is easy to see how the matter of housing could be pushed to the sidelines.

Candidates and their representatives skimmed over unsurmountable issues of infrastructure, tall buildings, apprenticeships and were predictably unanimous in their opposition to developing the greenbelt. What seems a crucial, as yet unclear, difference between the parties is their position on the powers of the GLA within a backdrop of local boroughs being outmuscled in determining the fate of particularly contentious developments. Boris Johnson’s reign as Mayor of London will be characterised in its built form by a period of relentless vertical development fuelled by the all important attraction of international capital. The 260 proposed towers in the pipeline for the banks of the Thames may prove to serve as relics of Boris’ term. Zac Goldsmith’s campaign, at least on the basis of last weeks hustings, will be packaged up and presented as a continuation of the ‘good work’ done by Boris in advancing London’s global reputation as it continues to grow. That said, what was also telling about the event was how drastically different the political landscape is in the capital as opposed to elsewhere in the UK. Very generally, London is the most pro-EU, pro-immigration part of the country and, crucially, while the majority of the UK consider rising house prices to be an undoubtedly good thing, for the millions of those in London unable to buy their own property, this is not necessarily the case. The candidates reflect this growing social divergence of London from the rest of the country by representing policies which do not present them as direct disciples of their party leadership. This is most evident in the campaign of bookies’ favourite Sadiq Khan, who will look to isolate himself from any accusations from the opposition of being ‘Corbyn’s man in London.’

As Britain slides into uncertainty over Europe, London remains detached, with its own unique challenges and opportunities, none more urgent than that of housing. Whether the incoming Mayor chooses to pursue a policy of higher density, suburban enhancement through infrastructure or the forced extinction and redevelopment of London’s council housing remains to be seen.

A summarised version of the candidates’ policies on housing:

Sadiq Khan (Lab)

  • Target of 50% for all new homes to be affordable
  • Committed to stopping Buy to Leave and the selling of homes offplan to overseas investors
  • Amendment to Housing Bill – ringfencing money generated from sell off of council homes to reinvest into housing within the same borough
  • London Living Rent – A new form of affordable housing rent linked to one-third of the average local incomes rather than market prices
  • Establishing a non-profit lettings agency
  • Local boroughs consulted on landlord licensing schemes to name and shame rogue landlords and promoting good ones

Zac Goldsmith (Cons)

  • Claims housing is ‘number one priority’
  • 50,000 homes built a year by 2020
  • Amendment to Housing Bill for London – claiming two affordable properties will be built for every one sold off from housing associations
  • Defends government’s continuation of the Right to Buy for residents of council  and housing association homes
  • Londoner’s First rule promises any homes built on Mayoral land will only be available to Londoners
  • Gives green light to Crossrail 2
  • Support of govt’s London Help to Buy – 40% interest-free loan to first-time buyers

Sian Berry (Greens)

  • Proposes setting up a Community Homes Unit in City Hall to promote smaller scale developments including co-operatives, self-build projects etc.
  • Will seek to restrict developments catered for the Buy to Leave market and those with particularly low percentages of affordable housing – namely the Earls Court development and Canaletto tower on City Road
  • Limiting car spaces in London and using this land for housing
  • Close London City Airport and redevelop it into a new housing district
  • Supports maximising existing housing stock as examined in Darren Johnson’s report Where can we build more homes?
  • Against demolishing existing housing estates in London
  • Proposes creating a London Renter’s Union to help London’s 2.3 million private renters to control rents.

Caroline Pidgeon (LD)

  • Promising 200,000 new homes over the next 4 years, including market sale, intermediate rent and Rent to Buy – currently unclear how this will be delivered, potentially depending on the availability of public sector land
  • 50,000 of these to be built by a new house building company directly owned by the GLA
  • Highly supportive of apprenticeships through GLA funded academy
  • Establish skyline commission to advise on tall buildings

Did Milan’s Expo achieve its aims?

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The Holy See Pavilion, Milan Expo 2015

Working in Milan as I was in 2010, a time in which the global recession had its claws firmly gripped around Europe, the presence of Expo 2015 on the horizon was enough to maintain a sense of optimism around the city. At that point, the acclaimed Italian architect Stefano Boeri had been appointed to oversee the masterplan, collaborating with the architectural office of Herzog & de Meuron and professor of Urban Studies at LSE Ricky Burdett. Now, five years and 1.3 billion euros later, these three prominent figures departing midway through the project amid intense controversy, the Expo attracted over 20 million visitors during its six-month period in what was predictably deemed a success by its organisers. In a country which has now made a habit of complaining about itself, the Expo was treated domestically as a genuine opportunity for the city and nation to rebrand itself and shake off its long struggle (albeit with good reason) to detach itself from its past.

Awarded the title in March 2008, beating the Turkish port city of Izmir by 86 votes to 65, a mere six months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the US and the onset of a fully-fledged global economic crisis, the grounds for the Expo were based on urgent economic hopes. Fraught with inevitable delays and overspends, the all too Italian affair saw the process for selecting lucrative contracts for the Expo tainted by numerous corruption scandals. Three construction firms working on the site were suspended in November 2014 amid suspected links to organised crime networks despite the stubborn efforts of current Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to enact cultural change in Italy.

However now that the site lies eerily quiet on Milan’s periphery, what does the future hold for the Expo site and for Italy as a whole? Ever since the economic crisis began it has been clear that the demand from nouveau riche consumers from the East provide a huge opportunity for Italy’s renowned luxury fashion and car brands. However as a result Italy now finds itself in an awkward position, opening itself up to Asian and Middle Eastern markets for the export of its treasured goods, further strengthening its reliance on its own heritage and traditions. It is a country whose future seemingly relies heavily on its past.

Despite the superficial level of nostalgia at play regarding Italian food, drink and culture at the Expo, the title ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’ may be pointed towards a far more pressing issue with regard to the demographic shifts in global population, food consumption and waste. By 2050, the world’s population will stand at an estimated 9.6 billion. By then, the assumptions and standards we have come to expect in the West with regard to infrastructure, housing and general quality of life may well be far removed from where they are today. Despite the established benefits of Italy’s world famous diet and apparent secret recipe for long life, the reality is that a third of Italy’s children are now obese. The crushing effects of austerity on Southern Europe have led families towards a cheaper diet of processed sugars and refined carbohydrates.

A visit to the Coop Supermarket of the future for example is a particularly underwhelming experience. Rather than a revealing exposition of futuristic attitudes to food, one finds a  conventional supermarket one would come across anywhere in Italy, containing wheels of parmesan, industrial quantities of wine and pasta, merely possessing the capability to select your products with the help of a touch screen monitor. It is virtually common knowledge that the future trajectory in fighting climate change depends on our eating patterns and our fondness for meat consumption. However this provides another example of the role of sponsorship at the Expo diluting the ability to represent the most current and relevant research.

It is easy to poke fun at the theme-park style of the international pavilions and their aesthetic extravagance. However any chance of a meaningful conclusion on the subject of ecology or consumption has surely been missed. Or perhaps it is simply naive to even hint at this, given the way in which nations and cities compete for Olympic or World Cup bids as a chance to take the global centre stage. Did the Expo achieve its aims? If the aims were based purely on numbers then the answer is yes. However in a country which commits a noticeably low amount of its budget to research this will undoubtedly go down as a wasted opportunity and as shying away from its uncomfortable reality.

The rise of the European left – fact or fiction?

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As I watched Yanis Varoufakis and Paul Mason take to the stage on Friday evening for a Guardian Live event to discuss Greece and Europe to delirious applause, one might be forgiven for feeling caught in the middle of a wave of passionate left-wing support passing through Europe. In the spirit of Jeremy Corbyn’s rallies in the run-up to the Labour leadership, there appears to be a potentially deceptive strong sentiment, fuelled by Varoufakis’ ongoing tour of the Eurozone, of fresh, buoyant enthusiasm on the political debate of Europe and its member states. But is this really the case? Are left-wing celebrities such Varoufakis and Mason merely fashionable idols for Europe’s liberals, operating at the margins of political reality?

If you consider yourself one of Varoufakis’ numerous followers you will have noted that he is working his way around Portuguese, Italian, French and even German cities, engaging in public debates with the intention of creating ‘mischief’ among the political establishment. He seeks to reveal on a public level his six-month experience in office and expose in his eyes the Brussels clique for what they really are and perhaps, rather more cynically, riding the wave of celebrity status in anticipation of a potential new book. Perhaps.

According to Varoufakis, there is a ‘groundswell’ of support around Europe which he hopes will eventually overcome the great enemies of European stability: the Troika, the unelected murky world of Brussels politics and the mainstream media. Like many in Greece, he knows full well what a full exit from the EU would mean for his country; a depreciated currency, further unemployment and more suffering for the Greek people.

One thing which almost all European citizens can agree on is that the EU is faltering and has been ever since the poisonous bailout programmes began in 2009/10. Real wages have fallen, virtually half of Greece’s young population are unemployed, those with high level qualifications now lost to emigration and families ever more dependent on whatever lifetime savings they can salvage in order to survive. The Greek government has been fed more and more debt which it cannot ever repay under a bizarre programme implemented by Europe’s institutions. If you believe Varoufakis, however, it is not even the Troika’s intentions to reclaim the money it is owed, merely to demonstrate its power, and to show the people on the streets of Madrid or Lisbon that this is what happens when you refuse to toe the line. People, middle classes included, are worried that Greece is in fact the ‘laboratory’ that Varoufakis describes and that they may be next in line. Aside from his free-flowing oratory skills, interspersed with effective historical narratives which prove so popular in the context of a public lecture, Varoufakis does have a habit of proposing sensible and reasoned arguments for the intrinsic failures of the European situation.

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Taking Syriza as an example, voted in as they were in January 2015 to the glee of European lefties as a new dawn appeared to emerge on the political scene. A government was formed, comprised of a select band including (among others) lecturers, theorists and communists. Despite this seemingly extreme lurch to the left, the reality was that for all their apparent political inexperience and naivety in actually running the country, Syriza simply offered an alternative to a long period of stagnant conservatism in the face of mainstream media opposition. Fast track to July and Syriza, stripped of its hardcore left MPs as the party became increasingly compliant with the institutions’ demands, was re-elected albeit with far less enthusiasm than that at the beginning of the year. Under the straitjacket of further cuts, VAT rises crippling the hotel industry and tourism-dependent businesses which were among the last shreds of economic hope, all under a tried and tested program which has been proven to fail. Rather than spontaneously transforming into left-wing sympathisers, the people of Europe’s most indebted countries are simply desperate. This inevitably gives rise to polarised politics and also the requirement for short-term solutions to ongoing crises.

There are, says Varoufakis, two mountains emerging simultaneously in the West generally. One is the mountain of debt being piled ever higher and the other is a mountain of idle savings which the wealthy are able to supplement in times of crisis. It is the lack of investment, Varoufakis argues, and the continued policy of cuts against those least able to shoulder the burden which is creating such a divisive situation. This division creates a scenario where, as can be seen in Britain, domestic problems are casually blamed on Europe and foreign influences as part of a wider xenophobic tendency. UKIP’s rapid rise to gaining over 4 million votes in this years’ election was built on such foundations, which they will seek to capitalise on up until the UK referendum on the EU. It is convenient to imagine that shortcomings at home may be the fault of these murky bureaucrats in Brussels however the truth may prove to be somewhat different if, as seems increasingly conceivable, Britain exits from the EU.

Varoufakis argues, with understandably wide support, that Brussels and Europeans generally would benefit from increased transparency. He questions why, for example, are there no minutes taken in Eurogroup meetings? Would it be so extreme to suggest that not only could they be taken but then published online? Why couldn’t Cameron’s meetings with Merkel be live-streamed online? Well, perhaps that is wishful thinking, but the point stands. What is most urgent, perhaps, is not the significance of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory or even the growth of parties such as Podemos in Spain, but the structural failure of the EU. The majority of people in southern Europe are not craving a far-left utopian society. They are growing ever more antagonised by the practices of Wolfgang Schauble and the German-led Europe. What is more than clear than ever is that a monetary union without a political union will not survive and it is this, regardless of a political left or right, which European states depend on.