Labour’s Kensington Intervention: What We Know

Labour’s National Executive Committee torpedoed local party democracy to prevent local candidates from being chosen in the marginal seat of Kensington for the next general election. Here’s what we know about how they did it…

Former MP barred

October 17th: Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) excludes Labour’s only ever Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad from the candidate longlist. Read about it here.

The three-person NEC panel that excludes Dent Coad includes two influential figures committed to Sir Keir Starmer’s purge of socialists: Luke Akehurst, director of the lobbying organisation We Believe in Israel. And Shama Tatler, co-chair of Labour to Win, a right-wing campaigning group.

NEC & London Region usurp local officers

October 20th: Regional Director of Greater London Labour Party Pearleen Sangha dismisses two Kensington Selection Committee members for “openly supporting” a candidate. Sangha speculates about “a blatant attempt to undermine the process” – the two members reject the accusation.

A more right-wing member of the Committee remains in post, despite openly campaigning for candidate Joe Powell, even appearing in his campaign video. Complaints from party members to London Region about the double standard go unanswered.

Local candidate would have been shortlisted

October 27th: Councillor Kasim Ali wins every round in the South Branch vote, meaning he needs to be selected by just one of the remaining two branches to make the shortlist. Afsana Lachaux is also nominated.

Results from the South Branch vote are circulated to members in accordance with Labour’s democratic procedures. Sangha declares that this constitutes a “leak” and runs all subsequent meetings and votes herself, keeping the results secret.

In a statement, senior Kensington Labour officers say: “In all three Kensington branch selection meetings, Sangha overruled local elected role-holders and chaired the Zoom call herself…muting all attendees. She has been unprofessional, hostile, and insulting to local role holders, often making threats and rarely responding to messages”.

screengrabs from twitter / tomorrowsmps

Intervention over Black History Month

October 31st: A Constituency Labour Party (CLP) ‘All Members’ meeting with a Black History Month theme is scheduled, but on the day of the meeting, London Region informs the CLP Secretary the meeting cannot take place during the selection process. The CLP Secretary asks if the meeting can go ahead if the discussion is limited to the Black history theme and presented by a local campaigner. London Region agrees but states that no candidates can attend.

Kasim Ali told us that the Black History Month intervention was triggered by a rival candidate complaining that the event would give Ali, the only Black candidate, an unfair advantage in the constituency selection. Cllr Ali complained to London Region about being barred from the meeting but has not received a reply.

The NEC chose the shortlisted candidates

November 1st: Sangha takes control of the North East Kensington Branch vote on the grounds of “incompetence.” She postpones the meeting and vote until November 9th.

November 3rd: On the day of the North West Branch vote, an email is circulated to local party members attacking candidate Mete Coban’s credentials using clumsy anti-Israel and antisemitic language. Access to the membership mailing list is strictly limited so the email must have been circulated or enabled by somebody holding a senior position within Labour at local, regional or NEC level. The email is amplified by a local blog and Jewish News to attack Kasim Ali and his supporters, strongly suggesting they should answer accusations of antisemitism, despite there being nothing linking them to the message. Read more on this here.

London Region blocks up to 20 British Somalis (the same ethnic background as Ali) from participating in the North West vote – details here. London Region declares Joe Powell the winner but keeps the results secret. A senior Kensington Labour officer and two local councillors tell us that the branch would have shortlisted Kasim Ali in a democratic vote.

‘Antisemitism’ again

November 9th: At the North East Branch vote, according to a statement from senior kensington members, Sangha refuses to admit dozens of members, “justifying denying entry on factually incorrect grounds, such as stating that members were in arrears, despite them having proof that they were not.”

London Region imposes a ‘heir and spare’ approach. With no results released, Joe Powell is awarded nomination along with Afsana Lachaux, “a woman for diversity.” With party rules allowing an additional BAME nomination, there is a run-off between Kasim Ali and Mete Coban. A Hackney councillor with ties to Tony Blair, Coban is shortlisted with the results from the run-off also kept secret.

image from twitter / metecoban92

November 10th: With the shortlist finalised, Pearleen Sangha dissolves Kensington’s selection committee, replacing it with a new committee consisting of herself and two others of a similar political persuasion. Sangha emails members to explain the dissolution is due to “serious concerns” requiring a “serious investigation” into antisemitism. She claims Kensington Labour members have been suspended “due to antisemitism”.

A senior CLP officer with access to the membership database tells us that no members are suspended. To date, no party investigation into antisemitism in Kensington has been initiated. Summoned to an interview with the NEC on November 4th, Cllr Ali is reassured that Labour does not think that he or his supporters were connected to the dissemination of the email.

November 24th: The final hustings and vote is held in North Kensington, managed by London Region. The result is a comfortable victory for Joe Powell with 170 votes to Coban’s 90 and Lachaux’s 30. Powell will be Labour’s candidate, up against Conservative MP Felecity Buchan, who won by 150 votes in 2019.

screengrab from twitter / michaellcrick

“Whatever it takes”

Somebody close to events in Kensington outlined to us Labour’s approach to candidate selection: The key officials are Matthew Faulding, Selections Manager, and Morgan McSweeney, Elections Director, who oversees every candidate selection. According to The New Statesman, Faulding and McSweeney are two of the three “most powerful people in the Labour Party” in terms of “party management and operations”.

At London Region, some officials wanted Powell, and some wanted Coban; none wanted Dent Coad or Ali. Faulding liked Coban, but McSweeney preferred Powell and the NEC instructed London Region to “Support Joe Powell. Whatever it takes.”

Why was Councillor Ali blocked?

Kasim Ali asked the party for a breakdown of the results in the two North Kensington branches but was told “we cannot give everyone feedback.”

Despite party officials denying him the chance to fulfil his ambitions, Ali told us that he is “happy” with his position in Labour after meeting with senior party officials including Starmer.

Labour’s motivation for such a blatantly anti-democratic move against Ali is open to interpretation given Ali’s floating ideological commitment that has seen him transfer his enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn to public support for Starmer.

Two possible explanations exist, neither of which London Region hinted at in their response to us: Shortlisted candidates were chosen based on their alignment with the Starmer project before any campaigning took place. Or McSweeney and colleagues viewed a Black, Muslim, working class, British Somali with a track record of community campaigning and openness to more radical Corbynite policies as a risk.

The Starmer bureaucrats could rely on the mainstream media’s acquiescence over their authoritarian approach. The journalists who published the dubious ‘antisemitism’ email to attack Cllr Ali played their part to perfection.

Jewish fear is collateral damage for Starmer’s Labour

There are questions to be answered about the party’s invocation of antisemitism to control the Kensington selection process. In their brief reply to us, London Region expressed no concerns about Pearleen Sangha’s apparently false claims about “antisemitism” locally. The tactic of manufacturing the appearance of an ‘antisemitism crisis’ is used relentlessly against left-wing party members, seemingly without concern for the impact this might have on Britain’s Jewish communities.

Local Labour is divided

The CLP will meet this week, but the issues of dubious antisemitism smears and the NEC’s disenfranchisement of British Somalis are not on the agenda. Councillors are treading carefully under constant threat of suspension should they speak out against Starmer. A local party source told us that December’s Kensington CLP meeting saw the return of numerous right-wing party members, including former councillors “with a grudge against Emma Dent Coad”. This faction is now dominant in the CLP.

Another source said that former councillors exploited the obviously polarised CLP to persuade London Region that left-wingers would ‘rig the vote,’ triggering the first intervention that removed the two committee members.

A local councillor told us that the longlisted candidate Salman Sheikh accused these two selection committee members of leaking members’ contact details to a preferred candidate, although he did not name the candidate. London Region accepted the accusation at face value without seeking evidence. Two Labour sources separately told us that it is an “open secret” that candidates Joe Powell and Mete Coban were provided with members’ contact data “months before” campaigning began.

screengrab from twitter / tomorrowsmps

A more harmonious CLP might have been less vulnerable to intervention. This was the case in Sheffield Central where high-profile establishment candidates were parachuted in, yet there was no NEC interference and a pro-Palestine British Somali candidate with grassroots support easily secured selection. 

Whatever the failings of Kensington CLP, Starmer’s bureaucrats were ruthless in crushing party democracy as they move the party inexorably to the right.

 

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

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

Review: Kensington & Chelsea News

The latest propaganda from the Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives comes in the form of a glossy A3 publication with the tagline, Community News. The Spring 2022 edition of Kensington & Chelsea News has the look of a free local newspaper but is a campaigning leaflet for the Tories ahead of next month’s council election. Its mix of policy pledges and class-conscious signaling makes clear the council’s priorities five years on from the Grenfell Tower fire. We read and analysed it so you don’t have to.

Page One

‘K & C News’ bucks the trend in these dark times by starting with a feel-good story titled “Café Society is here to stay.” The article features reassurances that locals can still object to pavement licenses being granted if noise is an issue. Even more reassuringly, K & C News informs us that Café Society will operate “from Sloane Square to Westbourne Grove,” skidding to a halt just before it gets to North Kensington. This geographical description could be a mere rhetorical flourish to name two upscale streets popular with the rich Tory voter base. Or it could be more sinister; the first signal to K & C News’s readership that the north of the borough is of little concern to the council.

The next headline is also good news but comes as a bit of a shock: “South Kensington saved by local campaign.” In my ignorance, I hadn’t known that South Kensington, the richest area in the country, faced an existential threat. The detail is that London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, wanted there to be a big glass building there, but heroic local (Conservative) councillors thwarted his plan. South Kensington was rescued from the jaws of Khan back in November, but this newspaper is campaign propaganda to remind core Tory voters and donors that the council remains devoted to them. For those who follow the politics of RBKC, particularly its public relations approach to the five years since the Grenfell Tower fire, it is interesting to be able to read a document that sets out their true priorities, however dressed up in deceit they might be…   Continue reading

RBKC Propaganda Policy

The word propaganda is rarely used by politicians, who prefer to use ciphers like public relations, communications strategy and messaging. Propaganda is reserved for foreign enemies like Nazi Germany or Iran. Like the word imperial, the negative connotation means it is avoided. And like imperialism, it goes on every day, it has a home here in London and Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) is fully committed to it.

The propaganda we discuss below is generated by RBKC. It is not an abstraction to be debated by intellectuals, but a real problem destroying people’s life chances across the borough. For RBKC, propaganda is not just a way to put the best possible spin on a policy, it is their policy.

Lancaster West

Back in August we wrote about Lancaster West estate, site of Grenfell Tower, which has been undergoing refurbishment since 2018 when RBKC stated that the estate would be transformed into “a model for social housing in the 21st century” through an ambitious, resident-led approach. 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.

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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

The Unholy Trinity & Writing in Kensington

The Un-holy Trinity

Writing about life in Kensington sometimes creates friction with Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC), the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Association (KCTMO) and the Westway Trust. The three constitute what has been referred to locally as the Unholy Trinity.

Roles & Responsibilities

RBKC is the local government, responsible for provision of many public services and dominated by councillors from the Conservative party, which retained control of the Town Hall by winning the local election in May 2018. For years the political leadership of RBKC has been dominated by moneyed property speculators who have sought to sell off North Kensington’s public assets, such as its library, youth club and college.

KCTMO is an Arms-Length Management Organisation and was given control of the borough’s 9,000 social housing properties from 1996. It was taken in-house, back to RBKC, after the Grenfell Tower fire; KCTMO staff now work in the same roles but use council, rather than TMO, email addresses. KCTMO is being maintained as a legal entity at a high cost to residents so that it can participate in the Grenfell inquiry.

The Westway Trust is responsible for ensuring the mile of land under the A40 flyover in North Kensington is used for the benefit of the local population who suffer from the noise, darkness and pollution imposed by the Westway.

 

 

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Power & Mortality

The three institutions form a power establishment in the north of the borough. Between them they have the keys to properties and can move families out of London; they hold the purse strings for many charities, small businesses and community projects. Senior positions at all three tend to be held by people with a capitalistic approach and a natural class bias for maintaining the status quo.

History has shown that their agendas overlap and, on their watch, Kensington is “the most unequal borough in Britain,” not an abstract fact: here in North Kensington we men live for 22 years fewer than the wealthier men in the south of the borough.

Writing in Kensington and possessing a modicum of socio-economic or political consciousness requires awareness of how the trinity impact the population.

Paradoxical

It is important to explain the phrase Unholy Trinity as it is a pronoun for three paradoxical institutions. All three are significant local employers: the council has well over 2,000 staff; KCTMO over 200 and Westway Trust approximately 100 (these figures do not include casual or contracted-in workers). They also provide vital services, sometimes effectively. Within each of the three organisations are fine and noble people, but the Trinity have not only failed to alleviate chronic poverty but have added to the misery in North Kensington.

Despite the misery, they carry on. The council has weathered the political storm after the Grenfell fire, mainly by playing silly and propagating corporate waffle about ‘change’ and ‘stronger communities’. Nobody in North Ken believes it, but they have no way to reject it. The government’s taskforce that oversees RBKC on behalf of the Home Secretary offered only token criticisms in its latest report which was a whitewash serving only to veil RBKC’s ineptitude. The property parasites of RBKC have proved ignorant and unteachable when it comes to the rich culture and dynamic potential of North Kensington making them less useful to the area than his fleas are to a dog.

KCTMO has been absorbed into the council, along with thousands of outstanding repair jobs it couldn’t carry out, despite £11 million a year of public money. And the Westway Trust’s 2018 keystone cops AGM was a mess, with allegations already carried over from previous years going unanswered. Every establishment, profiteering instinct of the decision-makers within the Unholy Trinity leads them to mess up big time in North Kensington and it is not possible to shame them into improving.

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Look closely: KCTMO cover up

Many staff members at these institutions are comfortable with constructive criticism of their big bosses, and often agree, but others get jittery when local writers consistently, accurately identify the seriousness of the failings and when the finger of blame points steadily at those whose doctrines have done so much damage to the people they are paid to serve.

Lancaster West – Urban Dandy

Urban Dandy started off in 2011 covering art, music, local businesses and whatever else we felt like talking about. Jen, Angel and I were always philosophical, ear-to-the-street, socially and politically conscious types though.

The blog was conceived on Lancaster West estate, which probably set in train the trajectory Urban Dandy has taken. In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, in a climate of rage and truth, no issues were raised about our comments on the local power system. Now, in the post-Grenfell world, it’s different; people have adjusted their minds to circumstances that would have been unthinkable before 2017. Being sensitive to the times, it was inevitable that if we kept writing we’d come up against the Unholy Trinity.

 

 

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The Masque of Empathy

It is painful to write but what we see now in North Kensington is a gravy train about to smash into the buffers. Profiteers motivated by personal gain, not limited to the business or political classes, have cashed in on tragedy. Integrity has been trumped by fear of missing out, not helped by the panic-stricken local authority almost literally throwing money (£400 million and counting) at the community, to maintain the established order, rather than investing in people to transform standards of living and create opportunities.

Financial corruption in the third sector, corruption of the minds of those who are first to proclaim their piety, adds to the corruption so obvious in the upper echelons of the council and KCTMO. The perversions possibly peaked with the presence of the leader of the council on the monthly silent walk for Grenfell. Her deputy feels relaxed enough to poke fun at those who attend council meetings to demand justice. Eighteen months is an infinitude in politics.

‘Change’ at RBKC amounts to a masquerade of empathy for which they are sent on training courses, funded by residents.

The Masque of Anarchy

Back to the blog, and when Mark joined us, we had London’s greatest poet, the perfect foil for news stories and the op-eds. Philosophical, social and poetic. Perhaps something is stirring in England, but in Kensington, the Royal borough, the Unholy Trinity still decides the life chances of many families and the council has a democratic mandate for power.

What to do? Blogging, or citizen journalism, is the fourth estate in this borough. Temporarily, Urban Dandy is the only show in town outside of the social media echo chamber. We hope we won’t be alone for long though: others cannot be matched for their assiduousness; and one local blog takes the fight to the Unholy Trinity almost daily.

Rage, though it manifests in our words, was never the purpose of Urban Dandy and it won’t chew us up. The power system endures because it was designed to, that is a fact of life but we remain philosophical, knowing that big doors swing on small hinges.

Massacre

The second centenary of the Peterloo massacre is marked by Joyce Marlow’s brilliant, authoritative book. Making use of all that was published in Lancashire and across Britain at the time, she tracks the fear among the ruling elite of revolution in England and the spirited, non-violent call for dignified living conditions in Manchester that was turned into a massacre of its own people by the British army. The book also tells the story after the massacre as the population is subjugated by the state’s control of the courts, parliament, media and arms. In 2119, we hope historians researching the atrocity in North Kensington find our blog and recognise an honest account.

Stepping back and renewing is the early year theme of the poetry, articles and art on the blog, as we mop up the chaos of 2018 and look forward.

The anarchy we glimpsed in Summer 2017 has given way to the old order, and it is a great sadness that an alternative system for North Kensington has not been established. A mechanism to enable the community to make its own decisions in its own interests, which briefly seemed possible, is not even discussed any more. Squabbles and petty ambitions dominate North Kensington while the privileged, dividend-collectors at RBKC relax, bloated by their success. 

Like any logical article, even a stream of consciousness comes full circle. In this case back to the Unholy Trinity. We’ve ignored the murmurs of discontent about our work and started 2019 with an insider account of alleged Westway Trust corruption and a serious look at the abuse of the word ‘change’ by RBKC. We’ll write whatever we feel like writing about and might step back from covering North Kensington’s Unholy Trinity quagmire. But stepping back means having a better view of the whole picture, and their injustice will remain on our radar…

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

 

Thrown Into The Wilderness

 

 

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Come Out The Wilderness – Bruce Kenrick, Fontana Publishers

 

It may or may not be something that caught your attention but if you live in Notting Hill, there is a conflict going on in your neighbourhood that’s similar to a tug of war and it’s been going on ever since the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June. Although technically the issue was alive way before the fire, the events surrounding the tragedy seem to have exacerbated the situation. It appears at first glance to be the community’s reclamation of property from the corporate real estate community killers, but it’s more accurate to describe it as the community trying to hold on to their right of abode and seeking some kind of guarantee that their landlords give a …(explicit)… and actually want them there.

While you sleep, groups of regular people like you that do not own property in London are awake at ungodly hours printing flyers, writing letters, emails, creating banners and appealing to any government official that will listen to them to secure YOUR homes. That is of course if you are a tenant of Notting Hill or Genesis Housing.

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Out in the grind

Forces

Two of the largest housing associations in the country, Notting Hill, and Genesis, both members of the G15 (an amalgamated group of UK housing associations), have decided to join forces merging their tenancy obligations into one big soup. On tacitly agreeing to this with no disclosure of the pros and cons underlying the merger, tenants are pretty disgruntled. Why? Well, to start with they have not consented to it and feel marginalised in such a major move. Also, there’s a resounding feeling that their acquiescence plays a large part in them moving this forward in a swift need-to-know only basis. The suspicious manner in which this is being executed raises questions as to the legality of it all especially in the way it was sprung on the community right after the fire. Continue reading

Happy Christmas? From RBKC

Warning: This article contains written content that you may find distressing

 

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Grenfell Tower, January 2013

As 2017 comes to a close, we mark six months since the Grenfell Tower fire claimed the lives of 71 people in North Kensington. Many will experience this Christmas as bittersweet: a time to rest and recuperate and be with loved ones; and a time of painful awareness that displaced neighbours are not in secure homes or able to spend time with their families as they would wish.

The Grenfell disaster did not happen in a vacuum, and this and a subsequent article will look at the socioeconomic context in which it took place, and consider the impact on individual lives and the North Kensington community. For many in Kensington and Chelsea, 2017 has been a year from hell. While for others in the borough, it has been another year of abundance-as-usual, despite the horrors of Grenfell.

 

Grenfell – The Context

A handy summary of the context for the Grenfell disaster is provided in the report ‘After Grenfell. Housing and inequality in Kensington and Chelsea’ written by Emma Dent Coad, Labour MP for Kensington, and launched in parliament last month. Click below to see the full report.

After Grenfell Inequality Report

The report dubs K & C “the most unequal borough in Britain”, a description backed up with eye-watering (literally and figuratively) examples and statistics that will echo through the borough for years to come. Perhaps most shockingly, as 2017 winds itself down, there is little sign that the gross inequalities outlined are being addressed, even in the aftermath of the entirely preventable, unprecedented fire.

The Grenfell Tower still stands on the Lancaster West estate: a Stalingrad-like monument to inequality in North Kensington, London, Britain, possibly the Western world. The sickening edifice, once a home to hundreds of people, now represents 303 children from the estate in temporary accommodation, including 226 in Bed and Breakfasts, according to the report. Many of these children have presumably been in this surreal state of insecure limbo since the disaster, despite it being unlawful for a local authority to leave children in B&Bs for over six weeks.

857 individuals were made homeless by the Grenfell disaster, with 20 having been permanently rehoused at the time of the Inequality report’s launch in mid-November.

The report states that K & C (population approx. 160,000) has 1,200 long-term empty homes, 9,300 second homes and over 6,000 homes registered as owned by companies registered in tax havens.

Class

The Grenfell sums don’t appear to add up. But Dent Coad’s report adds to the equation by detailing where the council’s spending priorities have been in recent years:

The Holland Park Opera cost £30 million up to 2014; £26 million was spent on paving Exhibition Road for the 2012 Olympics; Leighton House Museum (near Holland Park) will receive £7 million during 2017 and 2018; a flower kiosk at South Kensington tube station was given a budget of £100,000.

In contrast, the architects of the 2016 Grenfell Tower refurbishment wanted to use more expensive cladding on the building, but the council and Tenant Management Organisation opted for a less fire-resistant option, which saved them £280,000.

At the launch of her report in parliament, Dent Coad labelled the council’s spending priorities “bizarre” and “extraordinary”. The MP, who has a background in design, architecture and planning journalism, said the council is willing to spend half a million on topiary and other cosmetics, but refuses to invest in Lancaster West or pay contract staff the London Living Wage.

The Conservative council’s reaction to the publication of the report was also bizarre and extraordinary. Council leader Elizabeth Campbell labelled Dent Coad “opportunistic” and said the report was “littered with typos” – I counted two, inconsequential next to facts and anecdotes that would appal any decent person.

 

Some Facts from the Report

Death North Kensington is at the sharp end of a class war codenamed ‘Austerity’ that is proving cruel, demoralising and deadly. Life expectancy for men living in the Han Town ward (south of the Borough, near Harrods) is 94. In Golborne ward (North Kensington) men can expect to live to 72, down from 78 in 2010, when the Conservatives came to power.

Slow motion replay:

Here in North Kensington we men live for 22 years less than the rich in the south of the borough.

Income The median income in K & C is £140,000 per annum, but one third of workers earn less than £20,000, and ten percent less than the London Living Wage.

Child Poverty 4,500 children live in poverty in K & C. Two thirds are from working families, with half earning less than £7:50 per hour.

In Queens Gate ward, south of the borough, 2.8% of children are in poverty. In Henry Dickens Court in Norland Ward, North Kensington, 58% of children are in poverty.

Education Low educational attainment runs parallel with poverty. K & C’s average GCSE A*-C attainment is 72%. But on the Dalgarno ward in North Kensington, this percentage drops to 30%.

Health and Fitness Since 2010 funding for primary school sports activities has been reduced. And in 2010, free swimming for children was cut. Obesity in year six (ages 10 and 11) children in the borough has more than doubled in this time from 8.6% in 2010 to 20% in 2016.

During the same period, the borough has seen exponential rises in diabetes, chronic heart and pulmonary disease and Tuberculosis. The report even mentions a case of a K & C child with “full blown rickets”.

Those with dual or triple diagnosis of mental, physical and learning disabilities experience the most extreme income inequality.

Housing The key to the whole game. Many K & C residents are housed in temporary accommodation, two thirds of which is located outside the borough. The average time spent in such accommodation is 27 months, which wreaks havoc on children’s academic prospects. So does the fact that 68% of children in the Golborne ward live in overcrowded homes.

Mortgage? The average home in the borough costs £1.5 million, while the average price for a flat in North Kensington is now over £700,000.

Rent? The average cost of a three bedroom flat in North Kensington is £738 per week. That’s 75 hours of work at the London Living Wage rate.

 

Policy Outcomes 

But the above are facts of life/death that are meant to pass unchallenged, as natural as the air we breathe. A bit like the existence of food banks in the Royal Borough, which were described by Nicholas Paget Brown, the erstwhile council leader, as “a fine and noble thing”.

The widening rich-poor gap outlined in the report is the consequence of deliberate and calculated national government policy, which emboldened councils such as K & C to pursue an extreme austerity and accelerate social cleansing after 2010.

The Tory policies collectively amount to a violent attack on the majority of people in North Kensington and similar areas around Britain. What could be more violent than a policy that kills men 22 years ahead of their time, keeps thousands of people rooted in poverty and housing insecurity and sabotages the life chances of the jewels of society, our children?

In this context, the Grenfell disaster should be a wake-up call to the ruling elite that their intentions have been exposed. Not so. A K & C Conservative councillor told Emma Dent Coad that the preventable deaths of 71 people, including a stillborn baby, are just “one of those things”. The show must go on, and it has gone on…

Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham Conservatives thought it appropriate to ask residents to rank how much they care about the Grenfell disaster, 0-10.

They made sure they included the number zero. No typos from the Tories.

Zero

 

Grenfell – The Aftermath

And what of the direct victims of the fire and the wider community? The human cost behind the statistics.

While the council and May government dithered and fudged their response to the Grenfell Tower fire, treating it as a public relations crisis, others got to work.

Psychiatrist and Creative Arts Therapist, Dr. Sara Alsaraf, has been volunteering as part of a group set up two weeks after the fire by four female therapists with experience in trauma work and two local women who are funding it independently of the council. Sara told Urban Dandy about her experience volunteering with victims of the disaster:

 

“One of the therapists is a local who lost five members of her family in the fire. She is of Moroccan origin and embedded in the local community. She has been canvassing people to attend counselling in every community centre, at hotels, at mosques etc. We started running the group every Wednesday evening at Trellick Tower and were kindly donated the space by MCWG (Making Communities Work and Grow). Unfortunately, attendance started to dwindle over the last couple of months despite our efforts to engage people. There are various reasons for this, which I will go into later”

 

What sort of stories have you heard in your capacity as a counsellor? 

“Initially, we heard stories from people who lived in the building or nearby and from relatives who had lost family. We heard stories from the night of the fire, the panic and confusion, the life or death question that all the residents asked, which was: ‘Should we leave? or should we do as the emergency services are telling us and stay put?’

 

We heard from people who had lost family members, including a family where all perished apart from a five-year-old now in the care of her Aunts. We heard from those who witnessed the fire and how they are unable to get the images out of their mind and how the local children have been affected, some talking about the fire constantly others avoiding even looking in the direction of the building, having to have curtains closed at all times so they cannot see it. 

 

We heard from locals who have lived in the area for years and who run businesses, about the sense of shock reverberating throughout the community and the inability to make sense of the loss of life as well as the aftermath.

 

Interlaced among this has been consistent disappointment, anger and shock at the incompetence of K and C council”. 

 

What are the issues that have come up – anything that has particularly struck you?

“In terms of symptoms of traumatic stress, I think that people affected directly by the fire are unable to realise how deeply they may be affected yet. Experiencing the Grenfell fire firsthand is incredibly difficult to process and there is no doubt that most of the survivors’ and witnesses’ lives will be profoundly affected. At present though, for most people, they are focusing all their energy into getting through each day. Living in a ‘limbo’ state in hotels or bed and breakfasts is draining and any motivation they have is being demanded constantly to sort out practical issues: housing, money, children, funerals and so on. The council is causing individuals and families additional stress and suffering by taking so long to sort out these issues and also demanding constant form filling. I am also being told that survivors are all being treated differently and there is no consistency in the council’s approach to rehousing.

 

Are people suffering PTSD?

Many people are suffering insomnia, anxiety, panic, depression, flashbacks, it will probably become full blown once the practical issue are dealt with. I am certainly hearing about people drinking more alcohol or using drugs to control their emotions. People are irritable and have a short fuse. Some are fearful and paranoid about everything, checking on their loved ones throughout the day.

 

In terms of safety – how will the people impacted ever feel safe again? This happened to them in their own homes, plus there is a possibility of corporate manslaughter. There are so many strong emotions being contained by people including mistrust, paranoia, senselessness, anger, shock…

 

Another issue now is that people are not attending therapy and support services that are on offer. According to our local therapist who lives in the community, those affected are stating that they need help but that they cannot access services. Maybe there are issues about the services on offer.  We are hoping to change the time of our group and location so that it is more accessible to the community. Of course people are dispersed in hotels and B&Bs which makes attending local services more difficult. There also needs to be consideration of cultural sensitivity to contact with mental health services. For some people they may never have experienced anxiety, depression or PTSD and worry that they are going ‘crazy’ and that this is confirmed if they see a psychologist. This is not the case at all and there are a variety of ways psychological support can alleviate the anguish associated with profound trauma.

 

It is important that people continue to engage with their community services such as Almanaar Mosque, Acklam Village and Al-Hasaniya Morrocan Women’s Centre. Healing can also take place in community groups around food and sharing with one another and does not always have to be done in a formal setting”.

Sara can be contacted at: saraalsaraf@gmail.com

 

2017 fades with no traditional, warm Christmas card scene…2018 will begin without justice for Grenfell. Happy Christmas from RBKC? In part two – more from those working with the victims of the disaster, and K & C council respond…

 

 

By Tom Charles

@tomhcharles