When Emma Dented the Unwritten Coad

Before the fire, this was written…

It was something none of us thought we would see in 2017: The Conservative party lost their seat in Kensington, their safe seat, their stronghold, the wealthiest constituency in the UK, the Royalist Borough.

Previously held by (Sir) Malcolm Rifkind, he was forced to abandon ship in 2015 after being caught in a channel 4 sting complaining about his wages, bragging about how little constituency work he did and accepting obscene amounts of money to talk on foreign policy, a subject upon which his expertise lies in getting things spectacularly, repeatedly wrong. Read about it here if you want.

Do-nothing Tory grandee Rifkind was replaced by London’s deputy mayor, Lady Victoria Borwick. Unlike Malcolm, she did engage with the community and acknowledged the existence of the poor. Like Malcolm, her political life was devoted to class war. On housing, on the cuts, on refugees, for much of her tenure her complacency was matched by the resigned apathy of the non-Tory population of North Kensington.

But nobody really thought she was under serious threat of losing her seat. Two months ago, when the PM called the election, Labour had no chance in Kensington. Then came Labour’s manifesto, coupled with the Conservative party having nothing of use say about anything. A huge turnout, and two recounts later, Kensington was the final seat in the country to be called. And what a call the constituency made.

As if to milk the attention for all it was worth, it was late on Friday night when jubilant scenes erupted at the Town Hall. Emma Dent Coad had beaten Borwick by 20 votes, changing local politics forever, and making a mockery of Theresa May’s miserable campaign.

Urban Dandy tracked down Labour’s Kensington majority, and here they are, the 20 official history makers in their own words:

(note: their words were shared before the disaster)

Lisa (first past the post): “I have never voted conservative, and although I have always thought it is a given in k and c that the tories will win, I have always believed it is important to exercise ones right to vote. I am sick to the eye teeth of how our area is being over regenerated and valuable services, including outstanding children’s centres, have been or are planned to be closed down – all in the name of affordability with the borough refusing to consider the bigger picture. This year, like many others, I voted for labour. I am absolutely blown away that Emma Dent Coad has been elected to represent the people of Kensington. This is such exciting news. It feels progressive and exciting. I am a very happy resident right now.

Sophie (come unity): “I’m delighted with the result.  I have lived on Ladbroke Grove for 15 years and have seen many changes.  I was involved in the campaign to keep North Kensington Library in the community and more recently was involved in the running of the KPH (A valuable community hub – now sadly closed). Emma supported the library campaign and came to the birthday party we threw for the building in October.  Incidentally I took the opportunity to invite all councillors to the party following a debate in Kensington Town Hall and Labour were the only councillors who came:


I extended a similar invitation to all councillors in our final week of running the KPH.  I was told that Tories were too busy with their election campaign, but Emma came down with all the Labour councillors and spent an afternoon in the pub.  

This is the first time in my life I have been able to vote for somebody that I truly believe in – someone who really speaks out for our local community”. 

Edward (Grenfell Action Group): “Nice to see a supporter of Save North Kensington Library and Save Wornington College campaigns elected as our MP. Certainly wiped the smug smile off the likes of Cllr Paget Brown and Cllr Feilding Mellen who treat the residents of North Kensington with contempt and disdain”

Dave (Buzzing): ‘K&C is taking back the streets for the many not the few…leading by the front for a better society that accounts for people from different walks of life and circumstances’

Jen (Dandy): “I never thought I would see a time when K&C wasn’t a Tory stronghold. Results go to show how much London and all of Britain need tax paid properly by all to fund the crucially important services universally available in the UK of healthcare, education and more. Go on Jezza!”

Kasim and Wife (joint statement): 1. Tories ignored us for so long not anymore now! They know now why they lost the seat! 2. Voted for Prosperity over austerity! Hope over fear! 3. Tories lost contact with Kensington voters!

Yvette (Labour party member, nearly ran me over once): “The successful and historic election of EDC as a Labour MP in the Kensington seat demonstrates true democracy at work. For the young and old who voted for the first time it means they will know going forward that their vote makes a difference; and that fighting for what is right is worth it.”

Lindale (Natasha’s dad): I did vote to get the conservatives out, I’ve been waiting for this for years.  My first email to Victoria Borwick was to tell her how useless Malcolm Rifkind was.  I ran a facebook campaign to get rid of the Conservatives.  Getting the Tories out of Kensington was so sweet, I am curious to see what changes it makes to some of the ongoing issues in the Boroug

Niles (23): “When the rhythm changes so does the dance”

Anab (Upstairs): “I voted Labour!”

Sheraine (The Guv’nor): “It’s amazing man, Well deserved, she’s worked really really hard and she’s very capable”.

Faisa (first time voter): “I voted for Labour because I don’t like Theresa May and I think there should be a new prime minister”

Abdullahi (Baraka Obama): “I always vote Labour, I could never give my vote to the Conservatives. Even with a tiny majority, it shows you can’t be laid back. The Conservatives thought ‘nobody can touch us, this is Kensington and Chelsea’ – Now the community needs to say, if we’ve done well in this one, we can do even better in the future’.

Farhia (second time voter): “I previously voted Lib Dem but this time around I voted Labour. There was so much benefit from a Labour government – help with costs as a student, I could pay off my tuition fees. If I benefited, it’s only fair for future generations to have that chance. Their values match the working class, compared to the Conservatives, who just make life harder for us”

Karen (Brighton fan): “Emma Dent Coad saved the house I live in when the Conservatives wanted to knock it down. She’s a lovely lady to boot, very humble”.

Mustafa (Abu Jamal): “I like Jeremy Corbyn, he’s the one who is in touch with the reality of life, he’s very genuine. The Conservatives have no idea what working class people get up to. What was important was the manifesto, scrapping tuition fees. I don’t want my kids being in £50,000 debt”.

Valentyna (first time voter): This year I went voting and it was the first time in my life and I’m very proud to make this step especially as my vote mattered and Labour won! Guys wake up and take a stand. 

Chris and Reem (Joint statement made live at the Tabernacle)”We voted for Labour and for Emma Dent Coad in protest at the Tories’ pursuit of “Brexit-at-all-costs”. We are stronger within the EU. We also voted to counter the Israel Lobby’s pernicious campaign to undermine Jeremy Corbyn”.

And for good measure:

Ayman (age nine, Year 4, local primary school): “I asked my parents to vote for Labour because of the NHS and humanity as the Conservatives don’t care about us”

Maya (age 10, Year 5, another local primary school): “I was there on Friday night with my mum. It meant a lot to my mum and it was a once in a lifetime experience for someone like me. It was good, Emma came out crying and everyone was like ‘wooooo’ and singing ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘Go away Tories, Labour in’.



Four days later, hell broke loose in Kensington. Soon after, in parliament, Emma Dent Coad made her maiden speech. Sensitivity, compassion, calm, poise, and an unflinching demand for justice. North Kensington is finally represented.

Maiden speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FqrpG28Se8&ab_channel=SkyEcho7

by Tom Charles


Art by Sophie Lodge

14/7/17 One Month On: A Catalogue of Conservative Failures

Warning: this article contains distressing information about the Grenfell Tower fire.

One month on from the Grenfell Tower fire that incinerated scores of people in West London, destroying lives and traumatising a community, there is no sign that the Conservative national and local governments have learned lessons in compassion and competence. 

As North Kensington marks the day, the community faces an appalling truth: For the UK national government the council of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the politics of class war take priority over the provision of restitution, dignity and justice.

Empty homes

Treatment of residents on the Lancaster West estate, of which the tower is a part, has been unacceptable for many years. I was a resident there until 2014 and was glad to leave as it appeared that the council was presiding over the estate’s managed decline. Many others have now been forced to leave in the most horrific circumstance.

Government statistics show that Kensington and Chelsea has 1,399 vacant dwellings (3 October 2016 figure) at its disposal. This number will shock but not surprise the population of North Kensington as we wait for decent homes to be offered to Grenfell survivors.

While others around the UK may express bafflement at this, the mismatch between means and delivery is a daily reality in the richest borough in the country. 1,399 empty properties comfortably outstrips the needs of the Grenfell survivors.

There has so far been no suggestion from government that these properties will be used to help deal with the unprecedented disaster and only 14 families had been rehoused at the time of writing.

In addition to its housing stock, Kensington and Chelsea boasts a budget surplus estimated at £300 million but on the ground, little has been done for the victims. The official opposition Labour party have noted the stark contrast between what they are told by Prime Minister Theresa May and the credible information given by people in North Kensington, detailing the many failings of the official response.


High ranking council officials and politicians have stepped down since the fire. None stood down willingly, but only when forced to by pressure from central government. The policy is clear: Do as little as possible until the pressure begins to tell.

There is a lack of initiative and imagination, widely understood in North Kensington to be a lack of humanity. A potential flashpoint will come on the 19 July when the council is scheduled to meet. The campaign group Justice4Grenfell has demanded that the prime minister disband the council cabinet. This is unlikely to happen by the 19th, and the Conservative cabinet will be in for a hostile reception.

One reason for the hostility will be the election of Elizabeth Campbell as the council’s new leader, a politician so out of touch that she has never been in a high rise flat, and in a radio interview would not be drawn on whether the council would use its budget surplus to provide decent housing.

Plus ça change – the more the Conservatives tinker, the more apparent it becomes that nothing substantial will change and the litany of insulting moves grows.


Parliament’s long summer holiday begins next week and it seems that the Conservatives want to kick Grenfell into the long grass of their rural constituencies. But there is no long grass in which to shield their deficiencies in West London. 

There is a power in the raw truth around the Lancaster West estate. But the purveyors of truth have a number of problems: Firstly, they are a traumatised population; secondly, survivors are scattered around West London, without ways and means to coordinate, and thirdly there is a lack of reliable information, brought about by the collapse of the council as a functioning authority.

What paltry official information is being provided is not trusted.

In to the power vacuum have stepped voluntary and community organisations and individuals with talents and experience to offer. Therapists are active in the area, but they are organised by volunteers, not the authorities. 

Stupendous amounts of money has arrived in the form of charitable donations, but there is no evidence to suggest the money, clothes and food are reaching the intended targets. The government was happy for charities such as the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation to take up much of the slack, having received millions in aid money for Grenfell. The Foundation alone has received £4.5 million in donations, but how effective is this if victims still cannot realise their most basic need: shelter?


The fetishisation of the Grenfell victims and survivors has been going on for weeks. They are a means for the wealthy to feel good, rather than people with needs, rights and wishes.

The moulding of their victims in to charity cases by the council and their supporters appears to be taking place with both the perpetrators and victims only dimly aware of it. Simon Cowell of the X Factor, who lives nearby, got in on the act with a quickfire charity single, which has had 6.5 million hits.

Six million singalongs but just 14 homes provided. Charity is important but is no match for the serious delivery of government responsibilities. As the hot summer wears on, especially as Notting Hill Carnival arrives, an explosion of resistance in North Kensington is possible.

The lack of governance has been accompanied with the lauding of the community. On day one this was perhaps pertinent, now it is irrelevant as the dignity of the community is at stake. Platitudes for the people are a safe way for people to feel good without threatening the social order.

In North Kensington, so vibrant compared to the south of the borough, community has been harnessed for use as a colourful backdrop to the daily lives of the rich.

Keep praising us, but we know we’re not at Glastonbury enjoying peace and love, we’re in North Kensington, our neighbours don’t have homes and our children are traumatised. 

The context of the Grenfell Tower was brutal class war, waged by the very rich against the less well-to-do for many years, documented by Grenfell residents among others, and there is no hiding from this fact. The Grenfell victims are being treated in a way that the Conservative politicians would never accept for themselves.

Starting point

After one month, it is appropriate to acknowledge that the starting point for all campaigns and all calls for justice must be that the hundreds* who perished cannot be brought back.

At times it is surreal to think of the blaze and the horrors, as if we are waiting for somebody to change the channel, or to wake us from the nightmare and give us a reassuring hug. But that isn’t possible, the awful memories cannot be erased, and the people and the area will never fully recover.

From such a starting point, the community can stay united and seek justice. It can also seek change, in housing, immigration and the social cleansing long since underway. 

The Conservatives know this and are playing the long game. There will be no sea change in any of these areas while Theresa May can still desperately cling to power. 

While £1 billion was delivered by Downing Street to the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland a few miles from parliament, the victims of an entirely preventable disaster are waiting for more crumbs to be thrown. This is austerity taken to an extreme.

Disaster austerity

Labour has an opportunity to distinguish itself. In the Grenfell Inquiry debate on Wednesday, the government was on the back foot, with Labour MPs questioning why the Grenfell victims must go on suffering when such straightforward solutions are available. 

The relevant Labour shadow ministers, for the Home Office, Justice and Housing, have set out that if Labour comes to power, all victims will be re-housed in Kensington and Chelsea, relief payments made with no impact on potential future benefit claims and an unambiguous immigration amnesty with indefinite leave to remain guaranteed would be offered.

All of this would be a welcome change. But as we mark a month since the disaster began, we must also mark a month in which Conservative power has wreaked so much damage in North Kensington and caused so much unnecessary additional trauma, to the victims, survivors, their families, the Lancaster West estate, every single local schoolchild and every adult living nearby.

So much of this upset and trauma could have been avoided had the national and local governments responded in a way that was commensurate to the scale of the problem. 

Whether the cause of the total failure in humanity from the Conservatives is political, pathological, a reflection of their incompetence, or a combination of all three, the fact is that they remain in power. And while they are, North Kensington must endure its most arduous time.


This article was originally published by The New Arab on July 14th 2017

*The death toll was not known at this time and it was widely believed that well over a hundred people must have died.

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Grenfell In Parliament

Survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster in West London and members of the North Kensington community travelled to Parliament on 29th June, giving evidence to relevant Labour shadow cabinet members to enable them to better hold the Conservative government to account over its handling of events.

Earlier in the day, the UK government announced that its public inquiry in to the disaster would be led by retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick. The controversial choice of Moore-Bick, made without consultation with survivors, adds to the sense in North Kensington that the government, in cahoots with its local government counterparts, are fudging the official response to the disaster, which has officially killed 80, although the real death toll is known to be far higher. The public inquiry will establish the cause of the fire, but will not have the power to bring criminal charges against those responsible.

Meeting in Parliament

The Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott invited survivors, families and local residents to meet with her and her colleagues in parliament to bear witness to the truth of what is happening on the ground following the unprecedented disaster. What they learned was that the reassurances given to them by prime minister Theresa May and home secretary Amber Rudd are at odds with reality.

Survivors, who arrived in busloads from around West London, spoke directly, through family members and one through a translator. The main concern raised was housing, but indignation was also expressed regarding the incompetence of the local authority, treatment of surviving families as charitable cases, class differences, the choice of judge and the impact of the disaster and government response on local children.

The theme, recurring with every speaker, was dignity. Dignity for the dead, for the survivors and for the North Kensington community. They were asking for dignity and they conducted themselves with the utmost dignity, in a strange setting, making demands they should never have to make. The Labour MPs present were armed with facts and anecdotes and will be keen to hammer home, to the government and the electorate, the need for dignity.

Box Rooms  

Numerous survivors told of how they had been moved to wholly inadequate and inappropriate “box rooms” in hotels or Bed and Breakfasts outside of Kensington and Chelsea. Some of these small rooms are not even equipped with fridges.

Some of the hotels are only providing breakfast to survivors, who must otherwise fend for themselves. One woman said that a relative of hers with asthma had been placed in a room with no window.

Others reported having been offered unsuitable accommodation in the south of the borough, while others had turned down numerous properties outside the borough, which had been offered only as temporary shelter. The local authority has not come forward with a plan for permanent housing, and concern was expressed that when temporary accommodation tenancies expired, Grenfell victims would be forced out of the borough by the unaffordable private sector market.

Those gathered heard that when hotels decided that they no longer had room to house the survivors, in some cases at 2am, there was no council contingency plan in place to support them.

Authorities Losing Authority

All of the residents who spoke decried the lack of support from Kensington and Chelsea council. While public support has flooded in, the survivors “have to go and search for it.” The absence of deliveries by the council has meant that survivors have had the unedifying experience of rooting through bags of charity donations to find essential items. One story was of a survivor who was provided with no shoes and no food by the council and had to head out to look for them.

The council was condemned for its inhuman response, “they haven’t even sent people to ask how we are” said one survivor, “Everyone else is asking how we are, why can’t they?” When Abbott asked if the information given to her by May and Rudd, that every survivor had been allocated a social worker, was correct, she was met with a resounding “No!” from all sides.

Survivors and community organisers demanded a local authority presence 24 hours a day at all hotels housing survivors to ensure their basic needs could be met.

The MPs heard that the Westway Sports Centre, acting as the hub for coordination of the relief effort is not using translators, despite English not being the mother tongue of many of the residents of the Lancaster West estate, of which Grenfell Tower is a part. Residents of neighbouring blocks have also been moved, lost gas and not kept informed of developments.

Emma Dent Coad, Labour MP for Kensington, agreed that residents had been “fobbed off” by the local authority, and claimed that the council was now effectively in “special measures” due to its incompetence.

Others questioned how the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), which manages the estate for Kensington and Chelsea, could still be in situ following their own mishandling of the disaster.

Thirty Pounds

Among the many shocking revelations brought to parliament by survivors was that the council was giving people an allowance of £30 per day to live on. Additionally, they were required to keep a record of what they had spent their £30 on.

Others told of traumatised survivors being offered £500 in cash with a further £5,000 to be put in their bank accounts, but with the caveat that accepting the money would affect future housing benefit payments. It was not clear if relief had now become a loan in the richest borough in Europe. Community organisers pleaded with the MPs present to take action to stop the authorities presenting victims with complex agreements to sign to enable them to receive minimal relief. The MPs explained that they had been given an entirely different report from the government: that everything was going “okay.”

Another fact, presumably not reported to the official opposition party by May and Rudd, is that survivors who need to use the Westway centre are made to wear wristbands to identify them as Grenfell residents. This made them “look like cattle” stated one family member of a survivor, who explained that as a sports centre, Westway already has the technology to produce photo identity cards, which would afford the survivors more dignity.

A Syrian survivor, who lost his brother in the blaze, talked about his family traveling to the UK to be with him in order to grieve together. He said that the grieving process was very difficult as the hotel room he has been housed in is a box room, so he and his family cannot spend the private, quality time they so desperately need to honour their loved one.

One man told of how his sister had been investigating safety in the Grenfell Tower and had been threatened with legal action by the council as a result. His sister died in the fire.


One major problem among the many identified was that Grenfell survivors were now dispersed across a wide area. They are unable to console each other, share their experiences together or coordinate their response. A weak constituency has now been further weakened.

More harrowing anecdotes followed: orphaned children with no social worker; one survivor, so traumatised and receiving little support, attempting suicide.

The link between the suffering of these residents and the class-based politics of the area was eloquently identified. One survivor compared the class system in North Kensington to that of the Titanic, where the rich can survive but the poor are at the mercy of events. People described the “managed decline” of the area and the council’s social cleansing.

Others objected to being referred to as “the poor” by Abbott, protesting: “we’re educated working class people, we’re not poor.” But there was no debate about culpability over the inadequate response of both the local and national governments: “the local and national governments don’t care,” “If you want to help us, just help us,” “the government just do not care.”

Improperly reduced to the position of almsmen, confusion surrounds the whereabouts of the millions of pounds of charity that society rallied to pledge.

The Future

In the absence of an effective local authority, word of mouth has become king in North Kensington. In parliament, those gathered heard unfiltered testimony from many mouths. On the future of the area, questions were raised about the demolition of Grenfell Tower, about rumours that the neighbouring school, Kensington Academy will not open in September and about the long-term psychological impact on children.

Incredulity over the absurdity of the official death toll was expressed, a scene replayed daily on every street in North Kensington. Disappointment, but no surprise, over the appointment of an unsuitable judge with an inadequate remit, was voiced. What is essentially an inquest in to the cladding used on the building was labelled “an insult.”

Some asked Abbott and her colleagues, the Shadow Justice Secretary, Richard Burgon and MP David Lammy, to work to ensure the skeletal tower is covered up to protect the dignity of those that died and to stop the community having to face that constant, harrowing reminder.

The politicians responded with the guarantee that they would “not rest” until justice was done. They called for transparency and action from the government.

The diligent work promised by Labour is very necessary, but above all, the cry of the North Kensington community must be heard and kept at the centre of any decisions taken: Dignity and respect now. The most traumatised community in the country have conducted themselves with grace and fortitude, but at the moment this not being met in kind.




By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

This article was written for, and also appears on, The New Arab

Art by Junior Tomlin