RBKC’s North Ken News: Real Eyes Realise Real Lies

North Ken News is a Kensington & Chelsea Council magazine, delivered to thousands of residents in the borough’s less affluent wards. Ill-conceived and half-heartedly produced, it typifies a local authority lacking the ambition to truly change following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Background

In January 2019 Kensington & Chelsea Council (RBKC), after holding ‘Creating Stronger Communities Conversations,’ produced its Grenfell Recovery Strategy, saying the document “demonstrated a strong desire” on the part of local residents “to shape recovery directly, building on the existing strengths and talents of communities.”

The aspirations RBKC identified in its consultations with locals included:

  • RBKC enabling “stronger community leadership”
  • RBKC tapping into “existing skills and networks” and
  • “The need to improve Council communications to all North Kensington residents”

North Ken News, along with other mass distribution puff pieces, are RBKC’s responses to the frustrations raised about the council’s communications. These publications amount to little more than public relations for a disgraced local authority. A true provider of grassroots news and analysis, the blog THis Is North Kensington, has summarised North Ken News as “PR self-analysis of the supposed Grenfell Strategy.”  

Context

At £93,684 of public money a year, North Ken News’s budget comes out of the £50 million (over five years) Grenfell Recovery Fund. But the ostensible aim of RBKC to make the magazine part of a dynamic new approach to the north of the borough has not been fulfilled. One Conservative councillor described North Ken News as “propaganda.”

Launched in 2019, initially monthly but now bi-monthly, the publication’s stated purpose was to provide “more information about what is happening in the local area.” RBKC claims it is “very much shaped by content and ideas from the community.” Both claims are themselves propaganda. North Ken News provides information about what is happening, but only on the condition that it is council-funded or poses no ‘threat’ to RBKC’s power.

The magazine doesn’t credit any contributors or editors, but according to THINK, RBKC’s Head of Grenfell Communications, Kirsty Tobin, fulfills all such roles. On her LinkedIn profile, Tobin states: “In the current media environment, one of the fastest and easiest ways to ensure that people return to your content again and again is to make it of the highest quality possible.” Let’s see how that’s going….

Latest Edition

The April 2022 edition is fronted by a group of adorable children. On page two RBKC announces “we stand ready to support people fleeing conflict and persecution.” In April 2022 the UK Conservative Government announced its policy to forcibly deport people fleeing conflict and persecution to Rwanda.

Two Ukrainian flags accompany this humanitarian feature, perhaps the editors couldn’t find images of the flags of apparently less worthy victims of our wars.

For those who genuinely care about the victims of war, Migrants Organise is a fearless and effective local charity. A fundraiser was held for them in the borough in April, exactly the type of event not promoted in North Ken News.  

On page three, we’re told that a survey on North Ken News saw “positive feedback. “ We’re also told that it’s Spring so we should visit Kensington & Chelsea (confusing).

On page four, there’s the news that the fantastic local organisation Fit For Life Youth is moving to Freston Road. There’s a feature on the local elections with no mention of the choices North Kensington residents had or how this election might impact them. Of course, the last thing RBKC wants is for migrants to be organised and build their own power bases in the borough. A serious publication might have linked the two stories to inform readers that the year after the Grenfell fire, RBKC cut £1.1 million from its youth services budget, thwarting the efforts of genuine grassroots organisations like Fit For Life Youth.

Page five is pure propaganda about the annual report on the Grenfell Recovery Programme. Page six outlines some ‘New Grenfell Recovery Projects’ but they are just employability programmes with little or no obvious connection to the fire. Then a splurge of vagueness with “consultation and engagement,” “celebrating young people’s voices,” and emotional support being “reshaped.”

On page nine we’re informed about the government’s consultations on the future of Grenfell Tower. North Kensington residents can engage with Secretary of State for (so-called) Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, who will “hear their views.” The dynamic is set: without real power, North Kensington has to hope that politicians with appalling track records will suddenly develop consciences.

In this case, Gove is the politician responsible for the Prevent Strategy that has wreaked havoc on the lives of many British citizens, created from the 2013 ‘Trojan Horse’ letter, which has been proven to be a hoax. A genuinely community-minded magazine might have warned local people about who they are being invited to engage with.

Page 10 is a standard local newspaper story on a children’s drawing competition. Followed by more “consultations” on p.11, with the Grenfell Nursery being rehoused in Ilys Booker on Lancaster West estate. Residents of the estate told Urban Dandy last year that the council had been delaying allocating the nursery a new home, hoping to keep it on Lancaster West, to evade the expense of building on private land.

Money is the focus, with the words ‘invested over £2m’ in bold. The words ‘of residents’ money’ are omitted.

Grenfell Nursery moving to Ilys Booker means that the community has lost another space. Once there was Grenfell Nursery and Ilys Booker playgroup, there is now just the nursery. There was once a boxing club in Grenfell Tower and some community space waiting for development at Bay20, now there is just one…2 + 2 = 2, the Council doesn’t have to show its working out in its own publication.

Boring

North Ken News is a long and boring publication. By p.12 its determination to provide only good news is almost overwhelming. To read it is to step into another version of reality.

The annual Mayor’s Awards and quotes from grateful recipients is next, then the “co-designed” Grenfell Projects Fund 2, which had pitted resident against resident in a battle for £600,000 of public money. North Ken News omits the fact that the funding was not allocated according to the Council’s guidelines for applicants. But more on that another time, maybe.

Page 14 features an image of a man who looks about 30 in a state of apparent euphoria at the news that an apprenticeship could be “the ticket” to his “dream job.” What are the chances of such a feature making it into a South Kensington publication?

North Ken News’s April back page advertises the Grenfell Community Assembly’s event on “community safety.” That’s about all it says, probably because the Assembly has no power and community safety has nothing to do with the Grenfell Tower fire.

You can read the April edition in full here. You might notice that there’s a lot missing. The Curve being closed; the cost-of-living crisis; the Grenfell Inquiry; anything empowering; ‘Free Billy Hood’; any unfiltered resident voices; any projects not funded by RBKC; any information on how to engage with local democracy (beyond voting); the local MP’s voting record; councillors’ voting records; an event at the library on the history of social justice campaigns in North Kensington…

Claims

Does North Ken News provide “more information about what is happening in the local area”? And is it “very much shaped by content and ideas from the community”?

Both claims are disingenuous. There is information about some things that are happening locally, but they reflect the worldview of somebody who relies on RBKC for their salary and has no appreciation of the local culture. As for being shaped by the community’s content and ideas, this is false. I threw North Ken News a softball community event via email last year. Nothing that could be perceived as political or adversarial, but also not a council-backed project. I didn’t get a reply.

At face value, the target audience of North Ken News is people who are only interested in aspects of local life that are administered or funded from the Town Hall. Given that that demographic doesn’t exist, it means the real target audience is somebody else…

A civil servant in the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities looks at a spreadsheet of RBKC’s progress since June 2017. He reads the line ‘Improve Council Communications with Local Residents.’ He looks at North Ken News, shrugs, and ticks the box. North Kensington’s RBKC’s recovery.    

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

image from THINK

THE PARTING

I dropped anchor

Watching her slowly sail over the horizon

Knowing we would never see each other again

A small tear formed in the corner of my eye

Where it stayed

For the stoicism within my soul

Kept it from rolling down my cheek…

I knew I would miss her

We had fought so many battles together

At times against each other

She was brave good and true…

Capturing my heart upon my first gaze

Knowing it was doomed from the start

I still entered willingly

Laughing inwardly at my foolishness…

Yet what a journey

For a brief moment

We were both truly alive

Living dangerously -Without fear of tomorrow

Caring, sharing, touching each others’ spirit

Even praying together one time

Feeling the Love of God

Descend on us like a dove

But even that was not enough

For religion, tradition, duty calls

What should have pulled us together

Tore us apart!

I held on briefly-Still do

Believing that what God ordained-Brought together

No man could separate!

This world, this often cruel sea

Not made for the likes of us

As we both sail into the mist of time…

I will never forget you

For you are like the cool Summer breeze

That blows through my hair

I know it’s you

Just passing by

Just saying hello!

Just saying Hi !

A wry smile cracks upon my face

I truly love you still

Yet you can never hold the wind….

M C BOLTON MAY 2022

photo by TC

RBKC has bins

Norland Ward in Kensington & Chelsea is 0.2 miles from Grenfell Tower. In a rational political culture, local politicians seeking election in that ward on Thursday would express support for the victims of the Grenfell fire and solemnly vow to address the worsening economic and social inequality that characterises North Kensington. But in the Royal Borough, pushing policies of injustice and inequality can guarantee you a safe seat, as the Tory candidates make clear in their campaign literature.

We previously looked at Kensington & Chelsea News, the local Conservative Party’s main election propaganda, which sets out their key policies: bin collections, borough-wide parking permits, clean air, low council tax, saving the local police station and money for parks. While some of these pledges are contradictory and some are probably fibs, they are accompanied by the biggest profanity of all; council leader Elizabeth Campbell claiming that “continued support and meaningful recovery for the communities most affected by the Grenfell tragedy will be at the heart of everything we do.”

North Ken Censored

The election propaganda for Norland Ward is more of the same, talking up the threat of a Labour-run council, promoting absurd policies and ignoring residents in the north of the borough. Even though Norland’s boundary reaches into North Kensington, there is no mention of Grenfell or the poverty that plagues the area.

The Conservative candidates, Stuart Graham and David Lindsay, have ultra-safe seats and plenty of political space to express any conscience or vision they possess. They instead follow the council strategy of studiously ignoring North Kensington. They state they are “committed to standing up for the residents of Holland Park and Notting Hill,” omitting North Kensington completely.

The Norland campaign literature is aimed squarely at those who already live in comfort. In the irrational borough, this group is attended to slavishly: “We need a council that has a record of standing up for residents and delivering more while costing less.”

The Tories do have a record of standing up for certain residents; the ones who don’t need anybody to stand up for them. And what has happened to those who don’t fall into that category? Take one look at Grenfell Tower for a clue. “Delivering more while costing less” is pure propaganda and doesn’t exist in the real world. It is a message to rich voters that the Tories will spend the bare minimum on statutory services.

Bins Vs Beings

Like in Kensington & Chelsea News, the Norland Tories use fear to try to galvanise voters. As there aren’t any actual threats to the wealthy of Norland, the candidates invent one: the ward is being threatened by the local Labour party, who want to make the streets dirty. They urge readers to “protect the look of Kensington and Chelsea’s streets,” vowing that if elected they will defend the “pristine condition” of Norland’s pavements “at all costs.” The scaremongering peaks with the statement: “The fate of our community will be decided by you.” Quite chilling, if your political creed is based on rubbish.

The fetishization of bin collections fills the void left by the candidates’ disinterest in communities outside the rich Tory base. Stuart Graham, a new candidate for the ward, appears well-versed in the art of political distraction, coming from the euphemistically named “political and public sector communications industry.” His website’s main picture is of the refugee-hating home secretary, while his LinkedIn shows he supported the imbecile health secretary as thousands died unnecessarily at the height of the pandemic.

Revolution

It’s a small step from spinning Patel and Hancock to representing Kensington and Chelsea council in its post-Grenfell iteration. “Let’s protect our progress” Graham and Lindsay urge. Progress? Inequality is growing in the borough, and the council, led by Campbell and deputy leader Kim Taylor-Smith, has used the trauma of the fire to tighten the Conservatives’ grip on the borough.

“The successor to politics will be propaganda” – Marshall McLuhan, 1972.

“Join a team that has truly transformed this local authority over the last four years” – the Conservatives’ Norland candidates, 2022.

The only transformation here has been the Tories’ publicly funded fulfilment of McLuhan’s prophecy. The only progress the Norland candidates are pushing in their campaign is a wanky-sounding “al fresco dining revolution”.

One Kensington?

The omission of North Kensington from all the election propaganda (aside from Campbell’s weasel words) belies the Tories’ two-pronged approach to the north: exclude the area from anything but the bare minimum while tightening political control to narrow the space where independent, community-focused movements might emerge to fulfil the borough’s natural split in two.

Excluding important community issues from the political debate creates certain false impressions about who has value in society and who government should serve. Kensington Town Hall is an incubator for this irrational, divisive politics. The Norland candidates are on the bandwagon, or the bin lorry, and they’re piling on the rubbish.    

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles @urbandandyldn

THis Is North Kensington has a look at all the candidates in all the wards in this excellent blog