‘A female-led mini-festival to highlight and celebrate the role women in the community played during and after the Grenfell Tower fire!’ As Tom, editor of Urban Dandy, had said: “they were the ones who stepped up and held the community together”.
Sitting in The Tabernacle, planning WeCoproduce’s project for a free gig as part of the “Trauma Matters” event, I remembered Dawn, a mother of three, born and bred in North Kensington.
As an upstanding member of her community, Dawn, among many other locals, quickly answered the immediate cries for help that government was ignorant of. Converting every available space into emergency refuges, donation points, improvised but functioning healing centres; in an outpouring of kindness and an overwhelming wave of support from residents abandoned by their council. North Kensington was standing tall.
Emotional and mental stress have been known to cause the heart to work harder. Dawn suddenly passed away less than two months after the fire, from a cardiac arrest.
Two years on and Kinetic Minds, a local collective led by the talented composer Andre Louis opened this eclectic female-fronted night, as a tribute to Andre’s late mother, Dawn.
The performances were by women who all live in two worlds, heads in the sky but feet on the ground; women who are outspoken and engaged in good causes, with a love of sharing knowledge and healing sounds; intelligent and creative in thoughts and actions.
From the grace and elegance of folk singer-songwriter Helen McCookerybook, to the captivating Desta Haile, a soul-jazz-reggae singer; North Kensington was standing tall.
From the conscious and atmospheric trip-hop artist Ishani, to the most urban classically trained “Avant-Gardist,” the Grime Violinist, North Kensington was standing tall.
From the uplifting and infectious Judi’s Rhythm of Jazz to the late vibrant jazz singer Yazzy, North Kensington was standing tall.
All different in styles, genres, origins, and ages but all the same in being empowering and strong role models who reminded us that everything we do just connects, whether it’s through music, words or actions.
R.I.P. DAWN RENAULT 28/07/1967 – 08/08/2017
This article was first published by We Coproduce CIC
It was a surreal moment for me; Lancaster West estate was where I first encountered Dr Gabor Maté’s teachings on trauma, addiction, mind-body health and parenting. Years on, I meet Dr Maté on Lanc West for a mini tour of North Kensington: through the estate, up Blenheim Crescent, across Ladbroke Grove and Portobello and to the Tabernacle, where Gabor was speaking at the day-long We Coproduce event Trauma Matters.
My meeting with this mentor was even more unreal as this was 15th June 2019. The previous night the community had walked in silence, in our thousands, to honour the dead on the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire; a dignified, unified response to a horror and injustice which had seen no arrests.
We Coproduce, based in Hammersmith, intended a neighbourly gesture for the Grenfell anniversary and flew-in this remarkable expert to the most traumatised community in Britain. When asked to engage the North Ken community, I asked Jane, CEO of We Coproduce, “What’s the aim?”
“To get individuals to become aware of their trauma”.
Good answer, because North Kensington had been bought off inundated with money and ego. Here was a thoughtful organisation we – myself and the local artist Woïnkpa – could work with.
Trauma from a huge-scale disaster starts to manifest two years after an event; it is what we carry inside ourselves. So many local people had filled the vacuum left by the council and national government; mindful of those who had lost everything, or everyone, the trauma was suppressed but easily triggered.
I met Gabor near the foot of the burned-out Tower, the plan to equip him with some understanding of the neighbourhood before speaking on such an emotive day.
The injustice and the slow, sure return to the business-as-usual imposition of grinding poverty on this outwardly vibrant neighbourhood darted around in my mind as I tried to capture it in words. Gabor cut through; looking up at the Tower, he said, “I bet those responsible don’t live in housing like this”.
Stopping me short as I started to explain local dynamics, Gabor asked me “What was your role after the fire?” This set the tone for the day.
Gabor was entirely present as we walked and talked, curious about me, my travels, my thoughts. He would stop, look me in the eye and tell me about his trip as a medical doctor to Gaza when he had “cried for two weeks straight’,” or about the treatment of the indigenous population of Canada
Gabor’s assured presence on the street flowed seamlessly into the packed event at the Tabernacle; challenging audience members to go deeper, unapologetically interested in the reality and truth.
During breaks, he was surrounded by people seeking one-on-one advice and sat offering the same perfect attention.
For those immersed in the recovery of a community, the Trauma Matters event was a reminder that healing starts with us. Gabor’s unerring eye contact betrays an aching vulnerability and uncanny ability to use words to stir our compassion and wisdom.
We Coproduce had carved out a space for these qualities – vulnerability, compassion, wisdom – to be present in the neighbourhood that needed it most, at the time we needed it most.
This article was first published by We Coproduce CIC
Labour’s National Executive Committee torpedoed local party democracy to prevent local candidates from being chosen in the marginal seat of Kensington for the next general election. Here’s what we know about how they did it…
Former MP barred
October 17th: Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) excludes Labour’s only ever Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad from the candidate longlist. Read about it here.
The three-person NEC panel that excludes Dent Coad includes two influential figures committed to Sir Keir Starmer’s purge of socialists: LukeAkehurst, director of the lobbying organisation We Believe in Israel. And Shama Tatler, co-chair of Labour to Win, a right-wing campaigning group.
NEC & London Region usurp local officers
October 20th: Regional Director of Greater London Labour Party Pearleen Sangha dismisses two Kensington Selection Committee members for “openly supporting” a candidate. Sangha speculates about “a blatant attempt to undermine the process” – the two members reject the accusation.
A more right-wing member of the Committee remains in post, despite openly campaigning for candidate Joe Powell, even appearing in his campaign video. Complaints from party members to London Region about the double standard go unanswered.
Local candidate would have been shortlisted
October 27th: Councillor Kasim Ali wins every round in the South Branch vote, meaning he needs to be selected by just one of the remaining two branches to make the shortlist. Afsana Lachaux is also nominated.
Results from the South Branch vote are circulated to members in accordance with Labour’s democratic procedures. Sangha declares that this constitutes a “leak” and runs all subsequent meetings and votes herself, keeping the results secret.
In a statement, senior Kensington Labour officers say: “In all three Kensington branch selection meetings, Sangha overruled local elected role-holders and chaired the Zoom call herself…muting all attendees. She has been unprofessional, hostile, and insulting to local role holders, often making threats and rarely responding to messages”.
Intervention over Black History Month
October 31st: A Constituency Labour Party (CLP) ‘All Members’ meeting with a Black History Month theme is scheduled, but on the day of the meeting, London Region informs the CLP Secretary the meeting cannot take place during the selection process. The CLP Secretary asks if the meeting can go ahead if the discussion is limited to the Black history theme and presented by a local campaigner. London Region agrees but states that no candidates can attend.Continue reading →
Use of the word ‘we’ does not constitute ‘My self’ in a manner that makes Me complicit in the issue/subject but is used only as a formality and effort not to violate writing tradition. Even though it may appear that my use of ‘we’ means ‘us’, I reference only My self as ‘we’ in respect of the overwhelming shared sentience of the masses, of which I am but am not of, in respect of My unfamiliar peers and their ignorant acts antonymous to My autonomous weighs. I, just as all corporations do, hold My self harmless from the collective wrong that society willingly partakes and I take personal responsibility for all things that I willingly, clearly and openly consent to by clear (non-tacit) agreement, without force, duress or coercion.
It’s now 2023 and as we step into this great unknown, I must say that ‘ignorance’ is a choice.
As abstract as it seems, knowledge is not the property of schools of education but readily available for all who genuinely search for it–the reward of the seeker. It’s just that most would rather collect pointless data steered by either peer-esteem, likes or something of the egocentric nature. This is despite the fact that, over the decade, all that seems currently unknown was previously (widely and openly) available and easily accessible to all via online. That is at least before the colonisation of the Internet in 2012 (New Hampshire RSA 193-F:4.).
The result of this pathway to policing dialogue and searches, hiding behind cyber bullying, is comparable to a mass book burning and the resulting chaos. With today’s corporations learning algorithms, our search engines can guarantee failure as we try to stick the salvaged pages back together again. This colonising of websites and the heavy concentration on child censorship, made way for key information to be available only in select jurisdictions. Even though tangible location is somewhat of a fiction in the online world, we ignorantly opened the doors to communist ideals.
In an unashamed assault on party democracy last month, Keir Starmer’s Labour targeted and excluded significant numbers of British Somalis from the shortlisting process for candidates hoping to become Kensington’s next member of parliament. Urban Dandy has been given details of how the party’s bureaucracy was mobilised to guarantee a result favourable to the party’s right wing.
The Kensington Constituency Labour Party (CLP) is made up of three branches: South, North East and North West. Labour members in each branch were to vote to narrow down their choice of candidates from a longlist to a shortlist of three, then to vote for one candidate to take on Conservative incumbent Felicity Buchan at the next general election. Former Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad had already been barred from standing by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in a factional right-wing intervention.
Next in the NEC’s sights was Councillor Kasim Ali, a prominent local politician and a British Somali with a history of community activism in North Kensington. From several Kensington Labour insiders we have heard that, with Dent Coad removed, the NEC hoped that one of their preferred candidates would secure the candidacy. But at the South Branch’s 27th October selection vote, Cllr Ali eased to a comfortable victory, winning every round.
With Cllr Ali needing a nomination from just one of the two North Kensington branches to secure a place on the shortlist, the NEC took over, overriding the CLP’s democratic procedures and fixing the result. Here’s how they did it…
North East Branch
The North East vote scheduled for 1st November was postponed on the pretext of the branch not having the correct Zoom license to accommodate the number of members wishing to attend. Local Labour sources told us that a new license was hastily purchased but Labour’s London Region Executive postponed the vote until 9th November, giving the NEC time to create the chaotic circumstances in which they could guarantee victory for one of their preferred candidates.
By the day of the North West selection on 3rd November, a familiar tactic from the Corbyn era had been put in play to prevent Cllr Ali from securing a nomination at his home branch vote. A vitriolic message about one of the candidates, Mete Coban, was sent to all CLP members from an email address named ‘Danger in Kensington.’ Access to the membership mailing list is strictly limited so the email is likely to have been circulated by somebody holding a senior position within Labour at local, regional or NEC level. Two local Labour sources told Urban Dandy that the NEC’s two preferred candidates had also been provided with the membership’s contact data “months before”.
The highly dubious message was unquestioningly amplified in a vicious attack piece on Kasim Ali in a local blog, while Jewish News blamed “a group of activists” in North Kensington. There was no evidence that the councillor or any of his associates had a connection to the message and no explanation was offered as to how they could have circulated it or what their motivation to sabotage the process might have been. Labour bureaucrats seized upon the story to torpedo the CLP’s democracy, taking control of the selection process and barring Cllr Ali from standing.
Senior Kensington Labour members issued a statement that included the line “there is evidence that the racist message was written by a local known not be (sic) a Labour Party member and was initially posted on a Kensington Community Facebook page.”
There will be more on what Cllr Ali describes as a “fake antisemitism” smear in a later article.
North West Branch
On the day of the ‘Danger in Kensington’ email, Labour members in the North West branch were set to vote on who to shortlist. However, a significant number were prevented from doing so. A Labour councillor told Urban Dandy that “14 to 16 members” were blocked. Another councillor informed us that the number was closer to 20. Both told us that all the excluded members had one thing in common, they were British Somali.
By this point, the selection meetings, held on Zoom, were being chaired by Labour’s London Region Director, Parleen Sangha. According to a local councillor, Sangha told some of the British Somali members “we can’t hear you” before removing them from the meeting and not readmitting them as they attempted to re-join the meeting for an hour and a half. Others simply saw the image below when they clicked on the meeting link.
We have been informed that an elected Labour councillor for Golborne ward (part of the North West branch and one of the most impoverished wards in Britain) received a text message from a London Region representative as voting commenced telling them ‘I don’t have the correct email for you’ as a justification for cancelling their access to the ballot. The councillor is also British Somali and was using the same email address used when registering as a party member and used to log in to all subsequent meetings and votes.
No results from the North East or North West selection votes were published, and Joe Powell will stand for Labour at the general election having easily defeated the other shortlisted candidates, Mete Coban and Apsana Lachaux on 9th November.
Labour councillors who spoke to Urban Dandy stopped just short of accusing Keir Starmer’s NEC and London Region of racism against British Somalis. They informed us that Labour members in the North East branch, mostly from ethnic minority communities, were also prevented from participating, while former party members with favourable views of Starmer were enabled by London Region to fast-track their re-joining on the day of the vote.
We asked London Region for clarity on why Cllr Ali’s bid for candidacy was undemocratically denied. They responded that they “had to” commence a “serious investigation” into antisemitism in Kensington CLP and that local members had been suspended “due to antisemitism”.
Their reply to Urban Dandy did not mention Kasim Ali or explain the prima facie racial profiling of British Somalis.
On 4th November Kasim Ali was interviewed by the NEC over the ‘Danger in Kensington’ email. They accepted that there was no connection between the councillor or his supporters and the message. However, his right to stand was not reinstated. It is not clear if this meeting was the “serious investigation” referred to by London Region.
A Labour source told Urban Dandy that they had searched the membership database and found that none had been suspended for suspected antisemitism.
Cllr Ali told us that he asked the Labour Party to investigate the circulation of the ‘Danger in Kensington’ email but, to date, the party has not done this.
We also understand that Cllr Ali was blocked from speaking at the CLP’s Black History Month event in October following a concern raised by a rival candidate that this would give Ali an unfair advantage in the constituency selection. London Region issued a ban on longlisted Kensington candidates attending the event. Cllr Ali complained to London Region about his exclusion but has not received a reply.
Under the leadership of Keir Starmer, Labour has purged its left-wing, often expelling or suspending members on spurious grounds, while many others who identify as left-wing have resigned their memberships in protest at Labour’s dramatic shift to the right.
When people rose up to protest racism in Summer 2020, Starmer dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement as “Black Lives Matter moment” while the party has at times positioned itself to theright of Suella Braverman on migration.
The signs are that Labour in government would be pro-war, unreservedly pro-NATO and cement the UK’s role as junior partner and enabler of the United States’ constant war-making. US foreign policy currently includes bombing Somalia, humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and occupation of a significant proportion of Syria.
To fulfil this agenda, Starmer and his bureaucracy must minimise the number of potentially anti-war politicians in parliament. In Kensington, once the party members had indicated a preference for Kasim Ali, the NEC abandoned any pretence of a commitment to democracy.
It can be claimed that the removal of Cllr Ali and the disenfranchisement of British Somali members was about ensuring a preferred candidate would stand, rather than a case of racism. But would Labour have done this if Ali was not a Black, Muslim, African, working-class British Somali in North Kensington?
Would an antisemitic trope have been weaponised if the targeted candidate and party members came from a different demographic? And if so, would its use have passed without comment or investigation by the party and media?
Generating fear in our Jewish community and disenfranchising our British Somali community appear to be acceptable collateral damage to the fanatical clique that has control of Labour. Starmer’s party is liberal-fascist, uninterested in the cause of labour and intent on using power to advance the class interests of the British establishment and the economic elite.
Just over a decade ago, I was involved in producing an important political pamphlet you have never read. Its title was ‘Unknown Hell’ and it reported on a visit undertaken by several Labour politicians to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
The pamphlet’s title was suggested by Sir Gerald Kaufman, the legendary phrase coiner who dubbed Labour’s 1983 manifesto “the longest suicide note in history.” Along with Kaufman and me, the contributors to the pamphlet were the MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Michael Connarty, reflecting a Labour party that was still a broad church. Kaufman was to the right, Connarty to the left, and Corbyn firmly on the left.
Kaufman’s ‘Unknown Hell’ title captured the fact that, despite them being the world’s largest refugee population, most people in the west are ignorant of the displaced Palestinians’ suffering. Ethnically cleansed in the 1940s and trapped in camps around the region ever since, Palestinian refugees have been re-victimised in every host country. Their legal right to return home under UN Resolution 194 has been reaffirmed by virtually the whole world every year since 1949, but the fulfilment of this right has been blocked by the United States and Israel.
The Unknown Hell pamphlet was to be circulated among Labour members to raise awareness about the world’s longest-running refugee crisis, and hopefully influence party policy. But it was blocked by people (none were Palestinian) inside the Labour party who were convinced that the Palestinian cause was better served by policies focused on supporting the corrupted Palestinian Authority. This thinking was in line with US-Israeli diktats to ignore the main problems facing the Palestinians and focus myopically on bureaucracy. A comfortable position for the faction within Labour that thinks efficient obeyance of power will produce a better world. Coincidently, the smooth advancement of their careers is also better served by taking this stance.
The MPs’ reflections on the hideous conditions in the Beirut and Tripoli camps, and their analysis of meetings with all the key players in Lebanon, were silenced. The Labour hostiles were led by Simon Danczuk, who feigned interest in justice and human rights to pick up Muslim votes in Rochdale before consuming himself with fanatical factional hatred of Corbyn.
Ten years on and politicians and officials with this belligerent mentality have full control of Labour under Keir Starmer. Their creed is the goodness of the British state, giving them much in common with security state officials who appear to be influential in deciding who should stand for the party at general elections, candidates who will ensure that Palestinians’ (and Yemenis’, Ukrainians’…) misery is perpetuated by constant war. In this setup, there is no room for those who talk the language of diplomacy and peace.
A purge of grassroots Labour members is in full effect, but, like the suffering of the Palestinians in Lebanon, it is unknown to most people thanks to the media’s determined silence. An assault on the democracy of the party that is likely to form the next government is taking place in plain sight, but you’d never know it.
Those thrown out by Labour suffer their own personal hell, gaslit with infantile explanations after giving years to grassroots causes. Criticism of NATO is proscribed by party whips, further subduing what remains of socialist resistance to war in parliament. In these perverted circumstances, members are being expelled for possessing the qualities that most people find admirable: loyalty, steadfastness, and a willingness to support the most vulnerable.
There is no hierarchy of suffering that prevents the pain of these ousted Labour members from being discussed alongside the suffering of the 9.5 million Palestinian refugees or Britain’s many other victims. These are not discrete issues, and Keir Starmer’s purge of campaigners for peace and justice means that the UK cannot elect a progressive government at the next election. This has echoes in the refugee camps of Lebanon, and the unknown hell will continue thanks to the pro-war right’s grip on Labour.
“A challenge given to us by the bereaved and survivors from Grenfell Tower. Simply…to be the best Council.” – Councillor Elizabeth Campbell, leader of Kensington & Chelsea Council,Keynote Speech,May 2022
Kensington & Chelsea Council (RBKC) is consulting with North Kensington residents again. We ask what will be different this time around.
RBKC’s current Grenfell Recovery Programme runs until March 2024. Their planning work for the post-2024 period has commenced with a “wide-reaching conversation” about the future with bereaved, survivors and the local community. In theory, the consultation will provide an outline of what “best council” will mean in practice.
A problem with the current consultation process is that in other initiatives with similar wording and ostensibly aiming at the same outcome – change – RBKC has comprehensively failed to create any identifiable change.
“This Council – its policies, its leadership, its senior people and its culture – has changed.” This was the audacious claim of Cllr Campbell and Barry Quirk, RBKC’s then Chief Executive in March 2020.
Yet, it was not clear what specific things they were referring to. No evidence was offered. RBKC internalised their story and believed it to be self-evidently true.
After June 2017, RBKC enthusiastically adopted noble-sounding policies but didn’t implement them in the community. After the fire, the council’s leadership changed. The chief executive quit and the disgraced councillors Paget-Brown and Feilding-Mellen were made to resign by the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid. But the new leaders carry out approximately the same policies for the same political party and Conservative campaign literature in the borough goes out of its way to avoid mentioning Grenfell and North Kensington.
For an area in which many residents disproportionately suffer the impacts of poverty and inequality, the upshot has been no meaningful culture change at the local authority during the years when implementing change and offering real political concessions to North Kensington seemed possible. During those years, backing up their declarations of “change” with real action should have been a moral imperative to RBKC, impossible to resist despite their ideological discomfort with socialist policies. This failure was acknowledged by Callum Wilson, RBKC’s Director of Grenfell Partnerships, in an email to residents about the Beyond 2024 consultation: “I do recognise that many people in the community will ask why this work has not already been done, and we need to acknowledge this openly – but nonetheless I think it is important that is done now, however delayed it may feel.”
It is difficult to draw much confidence from this admission given the record. Five and a half years since Grenfell and RBKC have not offered a major vision, nor have they significantly improved their attention to detail in delivering services.
There is a natural expectation that does not fade over time that the scale of change should be commensurate with the scale of the crime and the losses suffered. There should at least be a sincere attempt at commensurate change.
If power continues to be distributed unevenly in Kensington, profound change does not look possible. Consultations have taken hundreds of volunteer hours from the local population but have not addressed worsening social and economic injustices. Increased democracy would do more to arrest the prevailing impotence and apathy than another 50 years of consultations, conversations, and co-designs.
RBKC and the media have talked about the local authority ‘regaining trust’ as a prerequisite to North Kensington’s recovery. They need to drop the ‘re’ and focus on establishing trust for the first time since the borough’s creation in the 60s.
In a conversation with Urban Dandy, Callum Wilson acknowledged that there is a long way to go regarding trust: “We know we are dealing with a degree of apathy heightened by Grenfell, with some people not taking part because they believe change is not going to happen. But we have to keep trying and we have to evidence change.”
On ways for the public to participate without having to sign up to the RBKC format, Wilson said: “Spin-off consultations, run by residents with or without council representatives, are possible. They are more organic. There’s an end-of-year deadline for all consultations. We’re happy to receive input, we’re happy for people to make demands.
“I just want as many people to share their views as possible so we can try and build a Council that works better for all our residents.”
RBKC says that over 600 people have spoken to them so far about what they want to see from their council in the next five years. Some have been “devastatingly frank” Wilson told us.
We will pick up our dialogue with RBKC’s Director of Grenfell Partnerships in the new year when the latest consultation has concluded, and the council can explain how they will “simply…be the best Council.”
Emma Dent Coad, the only Labour politician to win Kensington in its true blue history, spoke to Urban Dandy about the Labour party’s decision to bar her from standing at the next general election.
Architectural historian, author, activist, and local resident Emma Dent Coad was elected to Kensington and Chelsea council in 2006. She campaigned on the full range of issues impacting residents in the most inequitable local authority in Britain including housing rights, poverty, and air quality. Dent Coad’s background in housing made her an ideal choice to be Labour’s 2017 parliamentary candidate in a constituency home to oligarchs and royals yet has seen a dramatic life expectancy decline in the borough’s poorest wards once austerity economics was imposed in 2010.
The councillor’s 2014 report, updated after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, The Most Unequal Borough in Britain, used incontestable data to lay bare the shocking inequity of the borough where at one end 51% of children live in poverty vs at the other only 6% suffer this indignity. Dent Coad’s 2022 book, One Kensington, cemented her reputation as an expert on the impact of neoliberal economics in the borough.
On Friday, June 11th the final seat in the 2017 general election was declared and Dent Coad was elected MP for Kensington: a first-time Labour gain. Winning by 20 votes, Dent Coad joined the activist Labour MPs’ Socialist Campaign Group in parliament. The role of socialists diminished under New Labour, but backbenchers like Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, and Diane Abbott kept community-based democratic, internationalist socialist politics alive in parliament. Labour’s left-right, democrat-technocrat schism had widened under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, yet New Labour was confident enough in its political project to co-exist with anti-war backbenchers and their frequent rebellions.
Three days after the Kensington constituency victory, the fire at Grenfell Tower brought the local issues that Emma Dent Coad had campaigned on to national prominence, crystalizing her parliamentary priority: justice for Grenfell.
Party leader Corbyn and other Campaign Group members were supportive of North Kensington; but Labour’s bureaucracy was dominated by factional enemies, intent on sabotaging the leadership, and as came to be revealed, actively worked to deny Labour an election victory. The harassment of Diane Abbott, the diversion of funds from left-wing candidates in marginal seats to right-wingers in safe seats and smear campaigns were among the methods deployed by this group, which included Iain McNicol, Labour’s then General Secretary. In 2017, Labour finished just 2227 votes short of being able to form a government.
Internal Labour documents leaked in 2020 showed senior party bureaucrats favouring cronyism over Corbynism. They preferred Tory rule with all the misery that brings to their own party’s kinder, more equitable, leadership. As the leaks became public (albeit not reported in the mainstream news) Dent Coad revealed her campaign had received little support from Labour HQ even when it became clear that an historic win in Kensington was on the cards.
Dent Coad explained: “When the atrocity of the Grenfell Tower fire ripped through my neighbourhood, I was finally sent help from McNicol’s office. However, it quickly became clear that this was not the help requested; I needed assistance with my casework team, who were struggling to help those impacted by the fire, but instead the general secretary sent someone to police me.
“I had been going out every day, mostly on my own or with a couple of colleagues. There was no feeling at that time that I was in any kind of physical danger. However, on day three while I was addressing a crowd of local people, including a group of very distressed young men, my ‘helper’ attempted to drag me away, saying “Ian McNicol says you must get out of here”.
“Out of here? I lived there – and still do. These were my neighbours.”
Despite McNicol’s and other fifth columnists’ efforts, Dent Coad represented the shocked people of Kensington with grace and constant solidarity, pushing for justice against a series of hostile Home Secretaries and Communities Secretaries.
By 2019, Brexit dominated British politics, with battle lines drawn between those supportive of the democratic will of the people and those manoeuvring for another referendum. Chief among the latter category was Sir Keir Starmer QC who, with the patronage of Shadow Chancellor McDonnell, became Shadow Brexit Secretary.
Starmer, having committed political sabotage by reversing the leadership’s Brexit policy live on-stage at party conference, was reliant on McDonnell to survive on the front bench. McDonnell maintained that Starmer’s establishment profile was an asset, offsetting the activist image of other prominent Labour figures. McDonnell’s misjudgement, at a time when most Labour MPs were obsessed with stopping Brexit, stopping Corbyn, or both, forced Labour into an absurd position. For the 2019 election, Corbyn had to present a plan of negotiating a deal with the European Union, which would then be one of the options in another referendum, with prime minister Corbyn staying “neutral” on the EU exit agreement that he himself had made. In contrast, Boris Johnson could repeatedly declare that all 635 Tory candidates supported his “Get Brexit Done” strategy after he ejected 21 of his MPs from the party for backing Starmer’s opposition to the Conservatives’ exit deal.
Starmer’s Brexit sabotage created an unsustainable paradigm for Labour MPs in marginal seats. At a time when Labour could have been laser-focused on Corbyn’s campaign to transform the economy through popular policies, MPs were instead burdened with confused Brexit messaging.
The result was a landslide for the Conservatives, followed by Starmer’s emphatic win in the Labour leadership contest. Unlike the Tories, however, Starmer immediately abandoned his key election pledges.
In Kensington, reflecting the position of her constituents, MP Dent Coad campaigned as a Remainer. As well as the historically strong Tory vote, the incumbent had to contend with the Liberal Democrats’ repeatedly declaring that only they could stop the Conservatives and Brexit in Kensington and, despite polling clearly demonstrating they were a non-contender, the national media consistently parrotted these declarations. Thus, the Lib Dems cultivated a local following amongst anti-Brexit hardliners as The Guardian amplified their loose talk, advising Kensington residents to vote Liberal to stop Brexit. This combination, above all else, handed the Kensington seat to Tory Felicity Buchan.
Dent Coad has remained a local councillor and was elected leader of the Labour group at RBKC; Buchan voted against implementing the recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry in the Fire Safety Bill.
Labour’s right, having fatally undermined the party from within in 2017 and ‘19, continued to attack its own. The Labour party has purged many grassroots members, detailed by al Jazeera reporting of a 500 GB leak of internal party documents. This data and its story were not reported by mainstream British media.
Al Jazeera’s documentaries reconfirmed that the “antisemitism crisis” in the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn was a fictional construct. Used to undermine lifelong anti-racist campaigner Corbyn, false claims of antisemitism were used to target MPs, councillors, officials, members, campaigners, and journalists. Using calculated and insincere tactics mimicking those of the McCarthyite era, Labour bureaucrats under McNicol deliberately slowed the investigation process of those accused. Showing a disregard for Jewish suffering, they enabled the notion that British Jews were under threat from Corbyn to become received wisdom. The accusation of antisemitism is so historically important that it should never be leveraged carelessly. When Jennie Formby, a Corbyn ally, replaced McNicol, the investigations process gained efficiencies and a seriousness in its fact-finding mission that led to the data-supported conclusion that less than 0.3% of Labour’s members had faced investigation, let alone been found guilty.
The media chose not to publish this underwhelming conclusion to the story. Having gorged themselves on exposés trashing the party’s grassroots, mainstream journalists remained silent on the results, facts, and findings. With media complicity, Keir Starmer was emboldened to attack the Labour left more directly and began a purge of socialists and activists from the party’s ranks.
Jeremy Corbyn’s and Emma Dent Coad’s commitment to those affected by Grenfell is an example of how to value everyone in society regardless of wealth, race, and creed. True leadership guides, supports and lifts success. An empathetic leader is dedicated to community and defends the contributions of those who may otherwise be swept aside or belittled by the wealth motivations of maintaining and increasing personal gain. Starmer’s defenders argue that his actions will get Labour into government. But leveraging an accusation as serious as antisemitism callously and insincerely to target and abuse grassroots members for personal gain is a shameful and abusive act, not an electoral strategy. The purposeful fear this has stoked is successfully silencing dissent and driving Labour further to the right, hence Corbyn losing the party whip in 2020 for mild pushback against his accusers.
This treatment of grassroots Labour members is wholly relatable to many people. Similar to the very real anxiety of the growing cost of living, food poverty, the heating crisis, the dismantling of public services and growing job insecurity, party activists not following the party line are silenced and isolated for fear that they may suffer the same public shaming and professional losses of Corbyn and Dent Coad, punished for championing the many over the few. The messaging is clear: anti-war anti-racists will be falsely accused, blamed, and shamed in the virtual town square. A powerful tool to silence discussion and dissent.
Urban Dandy strongly condemns antisemitism in all its forms. One manifestation of antisemitism scarcely mentioned is that of Labour politicians and officials manipulating and weaponizing it to stoke fear in Jewish communities and remove those that literally care for the poorer, marginalised elements of our society and want better healthcare, education, transit, and welfare for their fellow citizens.
This is the establishment utilising an evil that nobody could ever defend for personal gain, to protect the wealth of a few and ensure services are not given to the many. It is both calculated and gross. No one defends or associates themselves with an antisemite! To wield this accusation so broadly, even vaguely is absolutely unconscionable. Yet there is no recognition that it must only be used precisely, so important is it to defend those who could suffer under such oppression.
As you will read below, the antisemitism fiction was utilised by senior party bureaucrats to eliminate Emma Dent Coad from Labour’s candidate list here in Kensington, joining accusations as infantile as having ‘smiled or laughed’ at a comment made about Starmer to manufacture a context for their purge.
We sat down with Emma Dent Coad on the day that her successor as MP for Kensington, Felicity Buchan was announced as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Dent Coad describes this appointment as “the ultimate kick in the face for Grenfell bereaved and survivors. She’s voted with everything the Tories have done. She’s never even spoken on housing.”
Urban Dandy: How are things at Kensington CLP (Constituency Labour Party) after what happened to you?
Emma Dent Coad: “People are supporting different candidates, in good faith according to their personal priorities. But what we need is somebody to truly represent Kensington. Grenfell was a symptom of what’s been going on here for 50 years, but in Kensington and Chelsea deprivation and inequality is unforgivable because the Council has the funds to tackle it. In my book ‘One Kensington’ I show that during the austerity years when many councils lost a lot of funding, we lost very little government funding because Business Rates Retention, which was designed to soften the impact of cuts, brought in so much money.
“In terms of the local party, we should be a healthy, broad church. We should work together campaigning to get the elected candidate elected. We did even when Blair was leader and the Iraq War was affecting so many residents. It was tough campaigning, but we did it. Our then MP Karen Buck voted against the war; she wasn’t blocked from re-standing.
“I’d like to know more about the remaining candidates. What they’ve done to support communities. I’d like to see their full CVs. Some of the candidates don’t have much of a footprint from their previous work.”
UD: What happened when you were barred from being a candidate? What’s the process?
EDC: “I was asked to attend a “due diligence interview” and emailed a list of alleged ‘crimes’ a few days before the interview. At the interview, there are three members of the panel and one observer. The chair of the panel makes the decision.”
UD: So, it’s a real interview? Or have they already made the decision by the time you get there?
EDC: “It felt like they’d already made the decision.”
UD: Officially, why were barred from standing? We saw a list of the reasons online, and they were ridiculous. But were there any where you thought ‘fair enough, I can just about see their point there’?
EDC: “No, there weren’t any that felt fair, and some were simply inaccurate or wrong, like things I couldn’t have done because they were during lockdown, and I was at home for months recovering from cancer. One of the things on their list was that I went on a Counterfire march during lockdown. The thing is, Counterfire don’t organise marches. It was a Stop the War Coalition march in 2019 and there was a photo of me. In the background was somebody holding a Socialist Appeal placard. My crime was standing near someone who was holding a placard from an organisation that was proscribed – two years after the march.”
UD: Is it all just things from social media? Do they just go through people’s social media accounts till they find something they decide they can use against them?
EDC: “It feels like that.”
UD: What else was on their list?
EDC: “A lot of it was Thought Crime, a lot of it was straw-clutching, things you wouldn’t give a second thought to. They created a long list of these things then concluded I have “poor judgment” so shouldn’t be a Labour candidate.”
UD: So, the length of the list is used to justify the decision even though it’s all fluff?
EDC: “Yes. Prince Harry came up, and when they read it the chair actually laughed at the joke I made about whether or not he was able to fly a helicopter. This was at a Republic meeting. So I’m allowed to be a republican and I’m allowed to be a pacifist but can’t crack silly jokes. One of the ‘crimes’ was that when I was an MP I spoke at a CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) rally in Parliament Square. Bruce Kent was speaking, so I listened to him, then I gave my speech, and then went back to work. During the rally, somebody played guitar and sang a song that the chair said was ‘offensive.’ I didn’t even hear it, but that was on the list.
“It’s guilt by association – joint enterprise if you like – and nothing I said in the interview would have made a difference.”
UD: So, it’s called a ‘due diligence interview’ but it isn’t really due diligence?
UD: Did antisemitism come up?
EDC: “Yes. I had ‘liked’ a comment years ago on Facebook that one elderly Jewish CLP member had made to another elderly Jewish CLP member, criticising Israel. It was a short factual comment, but this was deemed antisemitic; this was well before the IHRA definition was adopted by the way. When I was elected to parliament, I voluntarily arranged to meet the Board of Deputies; as far as I know, I’m the only MP to have done this. It was a positive and helpful meeting. I also did antisemitism training twice with the Jewish Labour Movement. Words matter and we need to be careful with how we describe others. So I generally kept quiet about the Middle East, which is hard when you have so many constituents with family there, and you can’t speak out for them without being accused of something so repellent.”
UD: Do they at least show appreciation for the work you’ve done over the years before they tell you you’re not allowed to stand? Is there a sense that they value your contribution?
EDC: “No, there was nothing.”
UD: Did they mention Grenfell?
EDC: “Grenfell wasn’t mentioned once. I think they want to make it go away.”
UD: So, they don’t have to justify their accusations?
EDC: “No. One of the things was that I criticised Labour’s lack of policies last year. But they weren’t coming out with any policies, I was just stating a fact.”
UD: The thing that stayed with me most from the al Jazeera documentaries was that the people who were being targeted by the party were really innocent people who had probably never thought about any kind of factional rivalries. They were just trying to do their best for their communities and they were subjected to harassment and abuse for no good reason.
EDC: “It’s really difficult. They say all these things about you and then you’re vulnerable. As I was coming here, I heard somebody behind me call my name and for a second I thought ‘oh no’ because it could be somebody abusive. But it was my neighbour saying ‘Don’t worry, Emma, we don’t believe this stuff,’ and he gave me a hug.”
UD: Who was on the panel?
EDC: “Three NEC members and one observer. One of the panel had already publicly declared their support for one of the other potential candidates in Kensington. We reported this conflict of interest but there was no response at all. The panel were clearly all on the right wing of the party; I didn’t stand a chance.”
UD: What is your take on the national Labour party now?
EDC: “It’s a shame they’re narrowing the sphere. The world is changing all the time and we need people with a variety of experience. There is little or no expertise in the built environment in parliament, and that is something I can offer. After 40 years in the party, I’ve always been in the Labour family, and it has been inclusive. Not now.
“More than anything it’s difficult to have been blocked rather than having the chance to present myself to local membership as a candidate.
“But we are where we are. I’m a team player, and I will continue to represent residents as I have done for the past 16 years.”
By Jennifer Cavanagh @Jannanni & Tom Charles @tomhcharles