North Ken in Limbo

North Kensington is in a state of political, legal and emotional limbo. How and why? Here are summaries of some of the stories already published and the arguments already won….

This article contains references to the 14th June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

Two Significant Events 

After the initial post-fire outpouring of grief, energy and hope, things have slowed to a crawl in North Kensington. The most significant developments have been with the Conservative leadership of the council (RBKC); its survival and consolidation of power.

Neither of these things was inevitable, with RBKC having to make promises of “change” to stay in power, then having to break the promises to prevent the dilution of its power in the north of the borough.

 

 

 

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Two More 

Two things will happen soon which could impact the current unsatisfactory and traumatising deadlock in North Kensington: The first is on October 9th when Kensington Labour party Councillors launch a People’s Convention in a bid to undercut RBKC’s business-as-usual approach.

This push for a greater say in decision making for Northern residents will be ignored by the Council, who will kick any devolution proposal into the long grass when Labour and groups of residents persist. Expect RBKC to employ its tried and tested bureaucratic mechanisms, outlined in detail in our previous article.

The Labour-led campaign for modest devolution is augmented by other moves aimed at balancing RBKC’s power with a more prominent role for residents.

Lynton Crosby-style tactics of calculating the absolute minimum they need to appear to be doing to pacify the population have carried RBKC this far. But their latest recovery gimmick, a gameshow-style decision-making process to distribute Grenfell-related funds, has only added to the sense that the local authority is unable to act in the interests of residents they hold in contempt.

Along with the devolution push, the upcoming findings of the Tutu Foundation’s investigation into alleged institutional racism, and the selection of a new Chair, at the Westway Trust could revive the sense that North Kensington is an area still alive with the ability to force justice and political change in the face of entrenched power structures.

The second upcoming event is the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in January 2020. Phase two will consider the design, refurbishment, fire safety and management of Grenfell Tower. It will also look at how the authorities communicated with residents, the immediate causes of the fire and the response to the fire by the relevant bodies.

The ability or otherwise of this phase of the Inquiry to move towards genuine justice will go a long way to determining whether North Kensington will ever be given the space it needs to recover from its collective and individual trauma.

While we wait for events to unfold, here are some truths that have been laid bare by our scrutiny of RBKC’s post-Grenfell performance so far:

1. The Tories Do Not Want to Change

The Kensington Conservatives will not change their approach any more than they have to. That much is evident from their performance since June 2017.

The post-fire Kensington Tories were smart enough to promise change. Without that promise, they might well have been removed or put into special measures by the national government. But the council’s record before the fire was so abysmal here in North Kensington that their piecemeal approach to change since has fallen woefully short of satisfying anybody.

Some people split hairs about RBKC’s performance over the past two years and identify some individual Tory Councillors or Council officers who at times appear sincere. This is probably more a reflection of how unbearable it is for some to acknowledge the reality of an uncaring culture operating within an indifferent system. Can it really be that after 72 deaths and widespread trauma, that there is no real change to either the rules or the power balance? Rather than face the harsh reality of the answer, some choose the palliative of picking out hopeful signs of potential change.

The Tory promise of change was followed by political maneuvers to deny this change actually happening, highlighted on this website over the past two years, see the links below. The logic for this is that there is more incentive for the Tories to not change than to change. To alter the power balance, even a little bit, would dilute Tory power in Kensington and might set an ideological precedent for other downtrodden areas to demand their own devolution and liberation.

On an individual level, these Councillors’ future careers as property developers, consultants (to property developers) and politicians (representing big capital – including property developers) hinge on their loyalty to one class at the expense of another. No horror changes this equation.

So while the people of North Kensington are retraumatised by unmet promises, RBKC has been able to get back to business-as-usual, with enough superficial ‘change’ peppering their work to satisfy the national government (represented by the implausibly meek Grenfell taskforce) and to convince themselves that they are doing good deeds on behalf of the ungrateful hordes.

2. Post-Grenfell Systems are Structurally Weak

RBKC cannot be persuaded or pleaded with to change. They could only be coerced by a rigorous system of checks and balances, so they avoid such a system. As we detailed in our investigation, How RBKC Subverts Democracy to Prevent Change, the policies put in place following the worst fire in Britain since World War Two lacked an implementation mechanism – it was left to the goodwill of Councillors with vested interests in keeping the status quo.

The Conservatives in Kensington Town Hall have manipulated the political system to avoid scrutiny. This is outlined, blow by blow, in our article. To do this was a political choice made by Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, her deputy Cllr Taylor-Smith and a host of highly-paid RBKC officers, starting with chief executive Barry Quirk and including many under him who have been complicit.

Nationally, the Conservatives need the Council in place. And at this point, Labour doesn’t see Grenfell as a big vote winner. Where is their outreach? Where is their mayor?

3. Trauma is Being Perpetuated

People in North Kensington have engaged with the process but have been re-traumatised and exhausted by their efforts being met with a lack of tangible change. They might not know what change looks like (revolution, devolution, evolution…), but they know what it isn’t.

A lack of seriousness when it comes to delivering change in North Kensington has left us in this purgatory, unable to move on. There is no argument about where the blame lies for this failure. 

Attention now falls on political and legal efforts to deliver change and justice to a community that deserves both.   

 

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Related previous articles:

Trauma: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/05/20/trauma/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.1: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/02/08/rbkc-council-selling-vital-community-aset/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt. 2: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/03/16/councilcanalside/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.3: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/10/02/rbkc-bites-back-canalside/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.4: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/12/07/canalside-curiouser/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.5: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/11/07/change-1/

‘Change’ @ Lancaster Youth: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/01/31/change2/

‘Change’ @ The Curve: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/03/18/curve/

‘Change’ @ KCTMO: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/11/16/kctmo1/

RBKC Scrutiny 1, GU: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/07/19/scrutiny-1/

RBKC Scrutiny 2: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/07/19/scrutiny-2/

RBKC Scrutiny 3, Administration Committee / Scrapping Grenfell Scrutiny: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/07/20/scrutiny-3/

RBKC & Toxins, THINK post for UD: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/10/17/grenfell-air-myers/

Unholy Trinity – RBKC, TMO, WT: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/02/05/unholytrinity-2/

All Grenfell-related articles: https://urbandandylondon.com/category/grenfell/

 

 

 

Urban Dandy Exclusive: The True Cost of RBKC’s ‘Change’ Programme

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How does a local authority go from being a national embarrassment on the verge of special measures to being secure in its position and back to business-as-usual in under two years?

The 2017 Grenfell Tower fire was the worst domestic fire in Britain since world war two and it happened in the richest borough in the country. Seventy-two lives were taken, more have been lost in the fall-out. There have been no arrests of politicians, council officers or others who made fateful decisions and ignored warnings in the run-up to the fire.

In 2018 Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) commissioned the Centre for Public Scrutiny and the Democratic Society to carry out a review of the Council and to produce recommendations to enable the local authority to move forward. The ‘Change’ programme that resulted has suffered from a severe lack of public scrutiny and has been anything but democratic…

Urban Dandy uses RBKC’s own documents to reveal how the Council adopted a policy known as the Twelve Principles of Good Governance, then proceeded to bury it in a complex bureaucratic system. The article shows how opportunities to apply the principles were spurned, and worse, how Councillors often seemed determined to ensure there would be no real change.

Overseeing the process has been the leader of RBKC, Elizabeth Campbell, who promised ‘change’ to survivors and the bereaved but who has appeared at key moments and in key meetings to help ensure no fundamental change has been implemented. We are awaiting comment from her on her role and the performance of her Council in delivering on her promises.

We also reveal the rising costs of the ‘Change’ programme, the methods by which RBKC has managed to stifle meaningful challenge to its approach and how they have been aided by the media and the national government. Questions are also raised about the role of the local Labour party and we look at the calls for devolution for North Kensington.

The article is a defence of democracy and transparency in Kensington and will be published at the start of September.

Our previous articles following this story can be found here.

 

@urbandandyLDN @tomhcharles

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 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

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

No Lions in England

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UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s latest offensive remarks triggered fresh calls for his sacking. But Johnson’s attitude is not exceptional. His callous comments on Libya are indicative of a mendacity towards the Middle East and North Africa that runs deep in the Conservative party and the UK’s wider political establishment.

At a fringe event for business people at the Conservative party’s annual conference, Johnson outlined his belief that Libyan city Sirte has the potential to emulate Dubai. He claimed to have met of “a group of UK business people, some wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte…all they have to do is clear the bodies away”. Johnson chuckled at his own wit. Continue reading

When Emma Dented the Unwritten Coad

Before the fire, this was written…

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

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

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

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

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

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

(note: their words were shared before the disaster)

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWWCd5mviY8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anab (Upstairs): “I voted Labour!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And for good measure:

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

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

Respect.

 

Postscript:

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

 

 

Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

 

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Art by Sophie Lodge