Exclusive Interview: Emma Dent Coad on Labour’s Grassroots Purge

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.

Context

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.

PosterBaraka
Emma Dent Coad at a poster design competition for children affected by Grenfell, 2017.

2017

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.  

2019

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. Image from Wikipedia Commons

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 Purge

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.

Human Story

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.  

EDC Blocked

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.

Interview

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?

EDC: “Hardly.”

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

2020 Vision: RBKC & North Kensington

“This Council – its policies, its leadership, its senior people and its culture – has changed.”

Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, Leader and
Barry Quirk, Chief Executive
Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, March 2020

 

Since June 2017, Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) has claimed to be undergoing a culture transformation. This website has shown that this assertion is untrue; that public money has been spent to thwart resident empowerment, while austerity spending cuts have been imposed on vital services. Two strategies used by RBKC to frustrate North Kensington’s development have been manipulation through public relations and divide-and-rule of the community. We tackle both here, exposing the PR con using contributions from local people who have stayed faithful to the ideals of community through three traumatic years and have come together to produce this piece.

Background

In this article, we update our challenge to RBKC over its claims to have changed following the Grenfell Tower fire. Since June 14th, 2017, we have presented an evidence-based rebuttal to the council, revealing a fraud perpetrated against residents by RBKC before, during and since that crisis. Not once has RBKC disputed our criticisms with evidence. While we have provided real-life examples of serious failings, the council’s response has been to parrot their ‘change’ mantra.

This update was planned before the Coronavirus had impacted daily life so severely. Many people have been quick to predict that positive political, economic, social, philosophical and cultural transformations will spring from the crisis. We believe that only unified, grassroots action changes things and that adversarial journalism is indispensable in this.

1

 

RBKC’s Change Policy

By Tom Charles

The Conservative leadership of RBKC lives in an altered reality. On the ground: no change; in their press releases and public utterances: change. It seems that truth is not important, careful PR management is. RBKC remains intractable in this approach, typified in the quote above from the leader and chief executive of the richest local authority in the country. Over the past three years, we have published the following stories, exposing the lie of Campbell and Quirk, two functionaries for a rotten council that needed root and branch change… Continue reading

Frenzy in Kensington

For Emma…

 

That’s that: a centre-left government led by Jeremy Corbyn to end austerity and change British society has not materialised. Across the country frenzied efforts were made to stop the Conservative victory, but there were few successes. The debate about why Labour lost so spectacularly is raging, but here in Kensington identifying the culprits is simple. 

First a quick word on the mainstream media. Their assiduous, relentless smear campaign against Corbyn worked alongside Brexit to fatally undermine his chances. The media’s point of departure for the whole campaigning period was set entirely by the right wing; Corbyn’s moderate investment proposals were such a threat to the establishment that a he was faced with a wall of infantile bullying and anti-intellectual posturing which denied the public any serious discussion of Labour’s manifesto. Absurdities such as Corbyn being defamed as an antisemite in a conspiracy involving the whole of the media, all sides in parliament and so-called religious leaders, had a real impact on voters ill equipped to deconstruct the lie that was presented to them every day with such certainty.    

The political establishment is breathing easier now thanks to the surreal sight of Conservative MPs in impoverished Northern, Midlands and Welsh constituencies making their victory speeches in the early hours of Friday morning. While they were doing that, Kensington was faced with the much more familiar sight of a Tory candidate winning in an area that is one of the richest, albeit most unequal, in the world.

Lies

The Labour incumbent, Emma Dent Coad, lost her seat in a whirl of Liberal Democrat lies and the collective amnesia and ignorance of the more well-to-do in the constituency.

In one of the most egregious campaign lies of 2019, a variety of tactical voting guides advised those wanting to block Boris Johnson and/or Remain in the European Union to vote Liberal Democrat in Kensington. This was despite the Lib Dems coming a distant third in Kensington in 2017 with 12 % of the vote.

Those urging tactical voters to opt for the Liberal candidate, former Tory minister Sam Gyimah, included getvoting.org, Remain United and the pathologically anti-Corbyn Guardian newspaper. Their voting advice was based on the lie that only Gyimah could defeat the Conservative candidate, Felicity Buchan.

On the doorsteps, Labour canvassers like me were faced with naïve voters who intended to vote for the Liberals purely based on this lie and their anti-democratic wish to overturn the 2016 Brexit vote. Floating voters who were told by honest Labour canvassers that only Emma Dent Coad could beat the Tories were eyed with suspicion, having already being canvassed by the Lib Dems.

 

Result
screengrab from the BBC

 

Grenfell

Away from the tower blocks, in the richer houses of North Kensington, the simple Revoke-Remain message, the fact that Gyimah is a Tory at heart, ambivalence over the devastation of the Grenfell Tower fire and the disinformation campaign against Corbyn and Labour resulted in a split vote and a huge increase in the Liberal Democrat share.

Votes for the Liberals in Kensington almost doubled from 4,724 in 2017 to 9,312 in 2019. Labour lost by just 150 votes and the Liberal Democrats once again succeeded in propping up Tory austerity and denying North Kensington of an MP who has fought tirelessly for justice for Grenfell.

The Kensington campaign, which was kick-started by Sam Gyimah making the bizarre and entirely false claim that Dent Coad shared some responsibility with his Tories for the Grenfell fire, should raise questions about the sincerity of the Liberal Democrats as a party. Was Remain ever really their priority? Or is stopping even moderate socialism their true creed?

Kensington is a complex place. Class divisions here are so profound that even fanatical remainers will vote against their own interests rather than see somebody like Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. They want one of their own.

In contrast, the run-down estates were dominated by Labour voters.

And what of Grenfell? This issue also fell into class patterns. On the doorstep, Liberals said it ‘could’ve happened anywhere’ and Conservatives described campaigns for justice as a ‘load of bollocks’.

They did not trust Corbyn to lead the country, yet were unable to articulate a specific objection to Labour’s manifesto.

Defeat

In the frenzied last days of campaigning, with the polls showing Labour just ahead in Kensington, scores of volunteers converged on the area to try to push Emma over the line. Up and down tower blocks, undeterred by the rain, they were greeted by voter after voter who said that Labour was their choice.

These voters knew Emma would take their struggle for justice to the highest levels of power and they hoped Corbyn could revolutionise their lives by opening up education and housing and protecting the NHS. Some elderly Labour voters probably saw this as their last chance to secure a dignified end to their lives.

But their votes in Kensington were in vain, thanks to the mendacity of one party. The election frenzy over, North Kensington is once again unrepresented in parliament, just as it is disenfranchised in the local authority.

This time, in this constituency, it is clear who takes the blame: the illiberal and undemocratic liars of the Liberal Democrats.  

 

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Kensington Election 2019: Come Unity

(Warning: this article contains references to the Grenfell Tower fire and videos made in the aftermath of the fire)

 “It is a fact that any rich man…has less to fear from Fascism than from…Democratic Socialism”

George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn.

The UK will elect a new government this week; a chorus of 66 million voices joined in an electoral expression of hope, hate or fear the outcome of which will profoundly affect every single one of us. All constituencies have their dramas and idiosyncrasies but surely none matches Kensington as a symbol of the choice and future at stake.

Untitled

December 12th 2019 will be a defining moment for Kensington, a constituency dramatically snatched by Labour for the first time in 2017 when Emma Dented the Unwritten Coad of Tory rule in the Royal Borough.

Emma Dent Coad

But Dent Coad’s sliver of a majority (20) did not lead to the transformation of North Kensington’s fortunes, its inequalities exposed just three days later by the Grenfell Tower fire. In 2018 the Conservatives cemented control over the borough, comfortably winning council elections and imposing the harshest of austerity measures, motivated by their radical Tory ideology. Youth services alone suffered a devastating £1.1 million cut.

Divide and rule is the other pillar of this Tory strategy in North Kensington. People reeling from undiagnosed and untreated disaster trauma brought on by the Grenfell Tower fire are now expected to compete against each other in gameshow style funding applications.

Amid these hostilities, some of us have turned on one another, multiplying and proliferating the distress within the community. Recovery is impossible with the current mix of bureaucratic control left in the wake of the Grenfell fallout alongside an NHS that is in crisis and on the verge of being surrendered to a fascistic corporate takeover.

The Tories, at a local and national level, have sought to distract and detract from the Grenfell fire. Motivated by a mix of guilt and shame at their culpability, they have pursued business-as-usual, relying on the population to settle their frustrations by turning their anger on those most vulnerable in our society. In North Kensington it is often females who take the brunt of people’s rage.

The one (political) beam of light has been Emma Dent Coad, local Councillor and Member of Parliament. For two and a half years, empowered by the North Kensington community, she tirelessly fought for justice for the victims of the Grenfell fire at the highest levels. From supporting traumatised individuals within the community to taking on the Conservatives in parliament, Dent Coad has represented North Kensington with extraordinary steadfastness and grace, carrying the determination and spirit that represents the very best of North Kensington.

We all remember the breath-taking unity that anchored and comforted our community in June 2017; Emma is the defender and custodian of our unity at the highest levels of power in this country. She will never betray the dead. It would be an act of collective self-harm to lose her.

The Tao of Corbyn

Emma Dent Coad is an ally of Jeremy Corbyn. The ongoing full spectrum hate campaign levelled at this man in the last few years – even as the shameful racist debacle of the Windrush scandal unfolded – is unprecedented. For media, from the Daily Mail to The Guardian, to round on one person with such constant vitriol while some of his own MPs jostled for prime position to undermine their own party, to the detriment of each and every service we in the UK hold dear.

But cowards flinch and traitors sneer, as they say, and Corbyn stands this week as the closest the UK has been to genuine transformation since Thatcher, and the closest to a positive transformation since Atlee. Surrounding the Labour leader is a team far superior to the management class promoted by Ed Miliband and New Labour. They have out manoeuvred all opponents on Brexit; something for which Corbyn has yet to be given credit.

Corbyn galvanises people to act on their nobler and best instincts. For decades he has met and impressed campaigners all over the country; calling the UK government to account on key issues and always on the right side of history – South Africa, the Chagos Islands, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and more. Many that Corbyn campaigned alongside are now the avant-garde in a Labour party that has come a long way towards shaking off the Blair era with its Thatcherism and war crimes. No mean feat.

Yet the full spectrum of the media still refuses to respect Jeremy Corbyn. By perversely portraying strengths as weaknesses, the media strives to sew enough doubt in people’s minds that rather than selecting a manifesto that demonstrably preserves and improves the lives of tens of millions they might choose a manifesto would devastate as many while enriching only the most elite.

Door knocking in Kensington, it is alarming how many voters have been affected by this propaganda; stating that they will vote Green or Liberal Democrat and unable to explain what they find objectionable about Labour’s platform. Some say they will vote Conservative “to get Brexit done” – what folly, or perhaps fascism. In Kensington, only Labour can keep the Tories out…

Do these voters see the pattern?

Corbyn is an anti-racist campaigner. They smear him and Labour as antisemites.

Corbyn campaigns for peace. They call him a threat to national security. Or a Czech spy. Or terrorist sympathiser. It doesn’t matter how ludicrous; they just keep attacking.

Corbyn is solution focused. They call him reckless. Ask yourselves who benefits when the British people fund military manoeuvres, prop up multi-nationals and bail out banks?  Why are such expenses deemed reasonable yet to spend the same on our nurses, children or the elderly is labelled reckless? And who loses out when government supports education, the NHS, our very communities and daily lives?  

Corbyn is however rarely attacked for being a socialist, a label which means little to most of the population. His political philosophy is not seriously analysed as that draws attention to it and highlights its undeniable benefits for the vast majority of the UK. Instead, they attack his admirable qualities – not one but two international awards for peace – in order to distort and suggest that a better world is not possible. They bombard the news consumer in an effort to protect the tiny minority interest of the wealthiest hoping voters dissociate, separating their politics from their daily lives.

Corbyn’s unbending resolve throughout this hateful and relentless propaganda underlines his leadership ability to focus calmly, with a measure, on improving people’s lives. This alone marks him out less a socialist and more a spiritualist or humanist and one able to navigate the most difficult of negotiations or dissent. This marks him out as one who embodies our North Kensington communal cry following the Grenfell horror: “Come Unity”. The Labour leader has brought this rallying cry and its qualities to the heart of British politics.

You do not need to be confused about the alternatives. Their record is clear from their non-response to the Grenfell Tower fire. The Lib Dem candidate in Kensington is a former Tory minister who should be persona no grata in North Kensington following libellous accusations against Dent Coad over Grenfell.

In a system in which the current leaders gain no benefit from community and caring, there is a tremendous fear – as demonstrated by the media throughout this campaign – of an alternative whereby community, the NHS and our most vital services come before their own narrow personal wealth. This is why they seek to destroy Corbyn, because by extension, his vision is the most unacceptable policy to them.

Vote

It is impossible to fulfil your potential without the security of a home, functioning health service and education. Limiting these very services creates a void filled by irrational hatreds and demagogues. A decade of Conservative and Lib Dem austerity in Kensington has opened up a vast chasm of inequality. They want you to blame each other. Don’t. Vote to put all of this to right. Vote for you, your future, your health, your children.

Vote for Emma Dent Coad in Kensington, get Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street, and protect our future.

Vote for Emma Dent Coad and vote for justice for Grenfell,

Vote for anyone else and we all lose.

 

 

By Tom Charles & Jennifer Cavanagh

@tomhcharles @jannanni

For all those who travelled to support us on 14th June 2017; for those who have travelled to Kensington to campaign during this election; it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. The true spirit of the Grove…

For a more detailed analysis of the Kensington candidates, see the articles published by our friends and neighbours at THINK: https://thisisnorthkensington.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

RBKC Scrutiny #3 The Administration Committee Meeting

The future is unwritten…events this week at Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) could have triggered a political realignment in the north of the borough. Or they could have consolidated Tory power… 

What happened?

On 15th July at RBKC’s regular administration committee meeting, Councillors voted to scrap a council committee that scrutinises RBKC’s response to the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

The decision to abandon the scrutiny committee is based on a “residents’ conference” to which 15 people turned up, in addition to 77 who contributed to the consultation in writing.

The two Labour members of the council administration committee joined residents in walking out of Monday’s meeting in protest at the move, leaving four Conservative Councillors to vote through the recommendations. The Tory Councillors had been whipped (compelled) to vote to abandon the scrutiny committee.

The plan for the changes to scrutiny was made by a council panel made up of four Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat, effectively bypassing North Kensington, where all elected Councillors are from the Labour party.

from rbkc.gov.uk

The scrapping of the committee, which will be ratified at full council meeting on 24th July, is part of a review of the council’s scrutiny committee structure which will see the current six specialist committees shrink to four “select committees” overseen by an overview and scrutiny body. Continue reading

RBKC Scrutiny #1 Grenfell United in Parliament

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There have been plenty of significant developments in North Kensington as Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) and the local population continue to deal with the fallout from the entirely preventable June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, where 72 people died. The mainstream media might be busy elsewhere, but there is still a lot going on. With justice and change still not forthcoming, it is important to maintain a factual record and keep up the scrutiny…

Grenfell United

Our updates start in parliament with the survivors and bereaved group Grenfell United (GU) bearing witness to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee on the situation regarding housing conditions nationwide and developments with RBKC. Although GU’s latest testimony to lawmakers had little or no media pickup, it was of the utmost significance to those wanting to understand what has been happening in Kensington and possible future developments. Continue reading

Change at RBKC? Case Study 3: The Curve

This article contains information about the Grenfell Tower fire that readers might find distressing.

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Change is essential in North Kensington, an area of London still reeling from the Grenfell Tower fire, where 72 people were killed on June 14th, 2017. The trauma inflicted is only now starting to manifest in residents. On becoming leader of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) a month after the fire, Elizabeth Campbell promised “change”, invoking the word eleven times during a brief speech to survivors. She had the right idea – people wanted change – but has her council delivered? Of all the opportunities RBKC has had to make good on its promises, surely its own Grenfell recovery site, the Curve, is one where it would not dare to fail. But have they failed? It is a complex case study, and one in which I am personally involved.

What is RBKC’s Change Policy?

For years prior to the Grenfell Tower fire, people in North Kensington were routinely ignored, even when attempting to raise serious concerns about fire safety. Previously, to assess whether any tangible change to this pattern of willful neglect had been made, Urban Dandy used RBKC’s official policy, 12 Principles of Good Governance, as the yardstick. In the cases of Canalside House and Lancaster Youth Centre, it was clear that the policy had not translated from theory to practice. You can read about the two examples and the twelve principles here and here.

Facing widespread criticism and calls for commissioners to replace them in 2017, RBKC hired the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) to carry out an independent review of the council. RBKC welcomed CfPS’s subsequent report and adopted “12 principles of good governance we should embed in the council.” The 12 Principles were bespoke, designed specifically for RBKC to act on its claims to want to “change” following the fire. The council’s leadership were to be held to account on this by its Executive and Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee. Papers to date reveal talk about listening forums and citizens panels, but nothing in the way of challenge or scrutiny from the Labour-led committee. 

What is The Curve?

The Curve Community Centre is a building rented at commercial rates by Kensington and Chelsea council. It was obtained shortly after the fire at Grenfell Tower. The Curve replaced the Westway Sports Centre as the focal point of the council’s response. It still provides essential services for survivors and the bereaved including housing support, post delivery and counselling. Additionally, it hosts workshops and classes and offers space for community cooking and other gatherings. The Curve has three principal sets of users: survivors and the bereaved; residents of Lancaster West estate and the wider North Kensington community.

The Curve sits on Bard Road, just behind Freston Road, by what was once the self-declared Republic of Frestonia. Nowadays the area is characterised by poverty, a high density of social housing and large national business’ headquarters; the Westway flyover runs nearby, and from the Curve’s windows visitors can look across the A3220 to Westfield and the old BBC Television Studios.

 

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From the outset, and probably inevitably, the Curve has been a controversial issue. Being council-run, it has naturally been scrutinised by local residents who have lived through the Grenfell atrocity and its aftermath. RBKC’s actions at the Curve can be taken as approximate indicators of where the council is, politically.

2018

In early 2018, RBKC decided to appoint an independent Board of Governors “to ensure that the Curve is accountable to the local community” and to be “critical friends” of the Curve’s management team as well as “to contribute critically and substantially to the public’s perception of the Curve” (The Role of Governor of the Curve, 26th February 2018).

I was appointed governor in May 2018, and quit in February 2019, but will try to give the public some perspective on the Curve: its place in North Kensington, the council’s approach to it and why I had to leave.

Governors’ Vision

From a North Kensington perspective, the Board of Governors has been notable mainly for its silence, a point of frustration to many local people wondering what has been going on at the Curve. The building is, after all, for the public and the Board is supposed to represent them. The Board spent its collective time and energy over the winter devising an alternative vision for the community centre, one that would take control of the building away from RBKC.

The governors’ vision was of the Curve being transformed into a fitting legacy for North Kensington, a space that would be congruent with the rich and diverse culture of the local area. Specifically, the governors proposed the Curve to be split into three areas of work: high quality, expert trauma therapy; skills training for jobs of the future for young people (in the technology, gaming, sports and culture industries) and a welcoming, safe living room environment for those wanting to drop in. Something roughly akin to the Tabernacle but for the West end of the borough. The plan initially called for the Curve to operate separately from RBKC as a charity, although the council would be expected to do its bit by providing the rent, which it could secure long-term and at a discounted rate.

If the vision was adopted, obvious issues would remain, including the Curve’s location, which is considered unattractive and unsafe by some residents. The building, its lighting and signage would need to be beautified if the Curve were to be transitioned from a community centre run by a distrusted local authority to a beacon of recovery, culture and opportunity. Challenges, certainly, but not insurmountable ones, if RBKC could grasp the potential of both the building and the local population and make resources available to help something happen.

My perspective was that North Kensington is in desperate need of public spaces and we should keep the Curve and make it work for the community. The poverty of the area is compounded by a scarcity of space. Many children live in appallingly overcrowded accommodation, with no space to do homework or relax, let alone learn new skills or prepare for success in their adult lives. One 11-year-old I have worked with lives in a two bedroom flat occupied by 11 (eleven) people of ages ranging from toddler to pensioner. Why? Because the council does not build the housing that would enable people to live in dignity. Community centres offer these children what they need: space. To RBKC, such public spaces are wasted opportunities better handed over to property speculators or private schools. I hoped I could help to secure another public space for the area…

RBKC’s Vision

The council has its own visions for the Curve and none of them are expansive. One RBKC vision sees budget cuts that would be applied to staffing, services or both; another sees the Curve closed, possibly as early as July 2019. RBKC has indicated there is some scope for changing what is on offer to the public at the Curve, but budget cuts are not conducive to transforming people’s life chances.

Such is the political landscape in early 2019. RBKC are no longer feeling the pressure from Downing Street and there is no appetite to push forward and invest in North Kensington’s potential. Austerity, the euphemism for impoverishment, is the real legacy, and North Kensington is the last place in Britain it should be imposed. It was RBKC’s devotion to austerity that led to them ignoring North Kensington’s residents for so long.

Last year, Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, after a fact-finding mission to the UK, said that child poverty levels were “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster” in the world’s fifth largest economy. He said the government had caused “great misery” with its “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies. Projected figures suggest that the number of additional deaths caused by austerity policies in the UK between 2009 and 2020 will be 152,141.

Nowhere was the 2010 shift to austerity taken up more enthusiastically than Kensington Town Hall and nowhere is the injustice more obvious than here in North Kensington. But this is what the Curve’s Board of Governors are being maneuvered to acquiesce to. The final straw for me was a meeting in February with Robyn Fairman, Executive Director of RBKC’s Grenfell Team, to present the governors’ alternative vision. Fairman seamlessly absorbed the vision into the council’s austerity plan. Not for one moment did RBKC’s representative entertain the idea of a breakaway from the local authority. There was no hint of imagination, no sense that the community might take the lead, that it might know better than senior councillors what the area needs…

Why I Quit

This kind of absorption into the council’s existing plans barely registers as a problem any more; from the massive cuts of the RBKC youth review, to Canalside, to the Curve, RBKC is comfortable and complacent. We have come a long way since summer 2017 when the people of North Kensington responded heroically to the fire at Grenfell and the idea that we would be left powerless was unthinkable. Even a Board of Governors genuinely representative of the diversity of the area has been side-lined, reduced to the role of ‘advisers’ to a service-cutting Tory council, and certainly not ‘governing’ anything.

This was the limit for me and I handed in my resignation the day after the Fairman meeting.

Problems

The problematic dynamic between the governors/wider community and RBKC didn’t appear suddenly at the meeting with Robyn Fairman. Disquiet has simmered since summer 2017, and chaos is to be expected in the aftermath of a disaster so shocking that it made headlines worldwide. In such chaos, serious commitment to principles (of good governance) are needed. But this is lacking with RBKC.

The Curve cannot contain the entropy, as trauma manifests and fights its way out of people in a setting ill-equipped to address it. One drama after another has beset the Curve’s management. At board level, resident steering groups that were promised for us to work alongside on day one still have not been created, undermining the governors’ credibility and effectiveness. Meanwhile, RBKC has sat back, their every move orchestrated by communications officers with their corporate jargon.

Oversight of RBKC is undertaken by Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s independent Grenfell Taskforce who have reported back to Javid in fairly glowing terms regarding the council’s progress towards “change” since the fire. In none of their three reports to date have they used the words austerity or poverty – suggesting less an independent group and more an establishment cover-up. What is omitted is far more revealing than what is included in such reports: no mention of Canalside House, which the disgraced council tried to sell; no mention of Lancaster Youth Centre, left to rot by the council. No library, no college, no context…

Perhaps the idea is to narrow the scope of any scrutiny so that RBKC leaders can convince themselves they are changing. Certainly the long pause in the Grenfell Inquiry does not help. While in legal limbo, pursuing serious change might look like an admission of guilt by RBKC. It is not just business-as-usual with the council, there is a kind of forced joviality to the tone of their communications, inappropriate for a local authority apparently implicated in the Grenfell fire.

The result is an uneasy marriage between RBKC and local people who engage with them. With a functioning inquiry, if the possibility of guilty verdicts being handed to RBKC or TMO staff were less distant, or if the public could hear the evidence and start to understand the political background to the fire, it would curtail the council’s phony change agenda. The imposition of austerity would be harder to get away with and feel-good reality TV shows showing the resilient Grenfell community would be considered in bad taste. With some legal clarity it would not be possible for residents engaging with the RBKC change agenda to remain apolitical.

The council, who claimed to have “no intention of defending anything” at the inquiry, but then did just that in their opening statement, have to maintain the illusion that they are changing. They have to maintain it in their own minds at least, even while every political instinct they possess takes them back to the same policies and same approach as before 2017. Their inability to change has been exposed in all three case studies we have looked at and there is nothing substantial they can use to refute the damning evidence.

Change at RBKC?

There is no change in approach. Over £400 million has been spent on Grenfell ‘recovery’ – but who has recovered? The Conservative leadership. Meanwhile millions in cuts are imposed on North Kensington. As a governor at the main recovery site, using up more public resources, I saw the jig was up – there is no partnership, there is no change. I fear the Curve’s Board of Governors has sleep walked into being a tick box exercise for a highly ideological local authority who hide their true intentions behind well-paid bureaucrats and well-meaning residents.

Change at RBKC? No, they are still committed to austerity, and all that it brings, in North Kensington.

 

Tom Charles @tomhcharles

 

 

KCTMO: Who, What, Where, When & Why – Part One

The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) was responsible for running the Lancaster West estate, including Grenfell Tower, in North Kensington. This year, its responsibility for Lancaster West was terminated following the Grenfell Tower fire of June 14th 2017, which killed 72 people. But what is KCTMO? Has it really ceased to exist? And why do these initials provoke such antipathy in North Kensington?

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A Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) is traditionally a small, tenant-led group that takes over some of the landlord management responsibilities and oversight for an estate from a local authority. Of the 200 TMOs in Britain, the KCTMO was distinct in being an Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO) and therefore, by its very design, not representative of residents. KCTMO was created to directly take over the council’s management of its social housing, rather than to provide representative oversight.

Creation

The KCTMO story takes place against the backdrop of Conservative party predominance over the Kensington and Chelsea council. This was no different in 1996, when the council feared it might lose control of its social housing stock, which was subject to a compulsory tendering strategy from national government. To maintain its control, the council created the KCTMO, with its management team of 20, including, initially, 13 residents. In the plan, KCTMO would take control of the borough’s 9,000 social housing properties, but for major works (costing over £400,000, such as the Grenfell Tower refurbishment) liability was shared equally with the council.

Change

In 2002, to access the Labour government’s Decent Homes funding, KCTMO became an ALMO, reducing the number of tenants on its board whilst maintaining the TMO designation in its name. By the late 00s, serious issues were emerging. An independent report in 2009 identified “substandard” repairs and a need for major works, recommending the Tory council take a greater role in monitoring KCTMO.

In response to the alarming report, newly appointed KCTMO chief executive Robert Black pledged to build trust between the TMO and tenants. But this did not come to pass.

In 2013, when I lived on the estate, the Estate Management Board at Lancaster West was wound up. There were “terrifying” power surges at Grenfell Tower and plans for the Kensington Academy secondary school and new Kensington Leisure Centre, next to Grenfell Tower were not received enthusiastically by residents, the sense being that KCTMO and the council were out of touch with, and even dismissive of, residents’ voices.

Refurbishment Continue reading

The Curious Case of the Council & Canalside

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On becoming leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council a month after the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, Elizabeth Campbell promised change. In a brief speech to fellow councillors and victims of the fire in July, Campbell used the word ‘change’ eleven times. Considering Campbell’s own role in the council’s sustained asset strip of North Kensington, the words were never convincing. But they were rendered meaningless in January when the council tried to sell a vital community building to property developers to build flats for the rich. In failing to push through the sale, the Conservative council now looks weaker than ever.

 
Early this year K & C council were moving full steam ahead with their plans to sell Canalside House, home to numerous local charities, community groups, small businesses, and a hub of support for victims of the June 14th fire. Plans to sell the historic building on Ladbroke Grove and move its residents to a wholly unsuitable replacement on Latimer Road were put on hold following the fire, after resident organisations pointed out to the council that they had been filling in the gaps vacated by the local authority in providing emergency relief work and supporting the North Kensington community.

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How do we know about the plans to sell? A council scrutiny committee meeting was filmed and posted online (the Canalside section starts after two hours). The details are in this Urban Dandy article. Continue reading

RBKC Council Selling Vital Community As$et

By Urban Dandy

 

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Canalside House on Ladbroke Grove

 

 

Less than eight months on from the Grenfell Tower fire disaster and Kensington and Chelsea Council’s money grab in the North Kensington community is back in full flow. Canalside House, one of the last remaining spaces utilised by charities, the voluntary sector, small businesses and other local enterprises, is to be sold to property developers. The decision raises questions about whether the Conservative council has learned any of the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire, which was the culmination of years of neglect, indifference and wilful ignorance by the local authority. In the run up to the crucial local elections in May, the decision to sell Canalside represents a calculation by the local authority that the local population will be apathetic as one of the community’s last assets is stripped.

Context

Canalside House, less than a mile from Grenfell Tower, is home to almost 20 organisations, most of which have played a direct and ongoing role in supporting the community in the aftermath of the unprecedented fire on Lancaster West estate on June 14th. In the absence of a serious local authority response to the disaster, local organisations and their volunteers stepped into the void left by the Tory council. The council is widely believed to be responsible for the 71 deaths and incalculable trauma in North Kensington.

Kensington and Chelsea has a large number of charities, but it is a borough that needs them, owing to the grotesque levels of inequality and high levels of poverty, much of which is concentrated in North Kensington. Canalside House is one of the main hubs for community organisations, serving hundreds of local people.

Backstory Continue reading