Keir Starmer’s Middle Way

With a civilian death toll that is likely to outdo even the Nazis’ air bombardment during world war two (70,000) we experience the full impact of the policies of the right. What of the parliamentary left? Labour wound up its foregone conclusion of a leadership contest a month ago. Sir Keir Starmer won, but who is he, politically? A smart move by the Labour electorate? Starmer steers as close to the middle of the road as possible. History will soon demand he chooses which side he’s on.

Starmer is seeking a clear break from Jeremy Corbyn while not entirely abandoning the popular policies of his predecessor. Even Corbyn’s staunchest supporters were worn down by four years of relentless, puerile attacks and the choice of Starmer was surely a relief, even for members who voted for the more leftist candidate, Rebecca Long-Bailey. Starmer is a politician whose style is approved of by the full spectrum of media commentators and the Labour backstabbers who loathed Corbyn.

Narrow Parameters

The contrasting attitudes towards the two men reflects the narrow parameters of thought in British public life. Corbyn was deemed ‘unelectable’ by most Labour MPs and harassed with media absurdities (claims that he was a Czech spy, a fabricated antisemitism crisis etc) that compromised his public image. From the right-wing (inc. Murdoch) media, this was expected. For the centrist liberal media (there is no major left-wing media in the UK) Corbyn’s unforgivable crime was that he didn’t play their game and never would. He treated journalists with respect. But he treated everybody that way, no matter their status. Never distracted by sycophancy, Corbyn wanted to change society. Keir Starmer is more malleable.

The leadership election result also signalled the narrowing vision of western Europe’s largest political party, Labour. It is worth considering the figures that have elected the party’s leaders. In 2015, Corbyn won a stunning victory with 59.5% of the vote in a four-horse race that included ‘electable’ opponents Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. In 2016 he was forced by the right of the parliamentary party to face Owen Smith in another contest, with Corbyn securing victory with 61.8%. That contest is noteworthy only in that Smith received 38.2% of votes; a miserable defeat, but 193,229 of the Labour electorate backed him and presumably form the basis of Starmer’s support.

The switch from leftist Corbyn to ‘centrist’ Starmer suggests that a lot of Corbyn supporters, socialists, voted for Sir Keir. Labour members have tacitly agreed to a centre-right consensus in British politics: nothing too radical, with the debate framed by a media which spans the centre-left to the far right. The boundaries of what is possible have been reined in.

It is worth taking a moment to consider what might happen if members of leftish political parties just voted for their own interests rather than playing political pundit. In the UK, as in the US, people now vote for the leader they think other people might vote for, rather than for policies. Presumably, the decisive thought here is that the masses have not yet reached the level of enlightenment required to grasp what is being offered to them by straight-talking politicians like Corbyn or Bernie Sanders (who surely would have walked it in November against an incumbent president who advises the population to inject bleach into their veins).

Keir Starmer is the man for this political moment on the left. But by considering just a few of his stances to date, we see trouble brewing for the new Labour leader. He will have to concentrate to maintain his balance.

Sabotage

“The leader of the organisation carries the can, stands up for what goes wrong and takes responsibility” said Starmer during a hustings. He was criticising Jeremy Corbyn’s regime for “turning on its staff” during the so-called antisemitism crisis. This is Sir Keir taking the middle ground, making what he judges to be a politically safe criticism of his predecessor – not of his policies, but of his leadership. The problem is that we now have all the evidence we need that the crisis in the party was a fabrication, one entangled in a marriage of convenience with the Blairites obsessed with overthrowing Corbyn.

A leaked report from within the party since Starmer’s victory reveals the depth of the internal campaign to sabotage Labour’s chances of gaining power under Corbyn. The document shows that senior officials including the then Secretary, Iain McNicol, diverted money to right-wing candidates in safe seats rather than to left-wing candidates in marginals in 2017. This probably extended to Kensington where Emma Dent Coad won a historic victory for Labour in June 2017. When the Grenfell Tower fire atrocity took place days later, McNicol refused to send the help the new MP had requested, presumably for ideological right-left reasons.

The report also reveals the withholding of information from the leader’s office; officials boasting about not working professionally during the campaign; racism; sexism and more. Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner have ordered an investigation into the leaks, but the greatest scandal in the party’s history will need to be dealt with properly if the leadership is to retain credibility within the base – crucial if they are to keep the momentum of grassroots campaigning.

Antisemitism

Some of the disgraced officials featured in the report had been tasked with investigating cases of alleged antisemitism. The report shows that these officials deliberately slowed down the process to create the impression that Corbyn was indifferent to Jewish suffering. It worked, and a lifelong anti-racism campaigner was politically assassinated as an anti-Semite.

At root, the concocted crisis was always about Palestine, which Corbyn would have recognised as a state on day one of a Labour government. British Jews were deliberately and cynically scare mongered for political purposes, surely one of the basest tactics employed in our political history.

Starmer cannot be entirely ignorant of the reality of the antisemitism debacle. He must know that the Home Affairs Select Committee found “no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.” And that official Labour party statistics released in January showed that a total of 2,178 Labour members had been accused of antisemitism since 2017, just 0.4 % of the overall membership. Almost all the 0.4% were not genuine cases of antisemitism. A total 56 Labour members had been expelled for alleged antisemitism at the time of the statistics being published, 0.01% of party members. “A third of all cases in 2019 have the same single individual as the main complainant,” states the 2020 document.

Starmer knows that the ‘crisis’ had a major impact on Labour’s public image but he did not miss a beat in declaring his collusion with the illusion in his victory speech: “Antisemitism has been a stain on our party. On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry” and “I support Zionism without qualification.” A strategic move, or perhaps an indication of his willingness to ingratiate himself to power. He had previously made more neutral statements about Zionism, but in victory sought to establish his credentials, sending an apologetic letter to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, promising to “root out” Labour’s “antisemitism”.

Starmer is also declared supporter of Palestinian rights, opposes President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and has appointed Lisa Nandy, a long-term supporter of the Palestinians, as shadow foreign secretary. For justice in the Middle East, Labour is required to back Palestine’s self-determination and the right of return of seven million Palestinian refugees. Both positions contradict Zionism’s basic premise, an exclusively Jewish state in historic Palestine. When Israel annexes more land, or bombs the Gaza Strip again, Starmer will have to back the oppressor or the oppressed. He will shamefully bow to the Israel lobby while innocents die, or he will take a brave stand for peace and justice. No middle way exists.

Journalism

The new Labour leader opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but once an MP (he was first elected to the Commons in 2015) he voted against a parliamentary investigation into Tony Blair’s misleading MPs Iraq. While giving Blair a pass, Starmer has been determined to see a journalist who exposed the war crimes prosecuted. In 2010, as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) he played a key role in the persecution of Julian Assange, editor of Wikileaks, who had just published evidence of a litany of western war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the Collateral Murder video. 

As DPP, Keir Starmer fast-tracked the extradition of Assange to Sweden (from where he could be easily extradited to the US) for questioning over the most dubious allegations of rape. Starmer advised Swedish lawyers to reject Assange’s offer to be questioned in London, presumably understanding that the Swedes would have no option but to drop their investigation (the case had already been dropped then resuscitated by a right-wing magistrate). This set off a chain of events that have seen this one journalist harassed, imprisoned and effectively tortured and made ill by the British state on behalf of the Americans.

Emails from August 2012 show a sickening betrayal of Assange by the UK. Responding to a suggestion that Sweden might drop their phoney rape investigation, Keir Starmer’s office sent the following message to their Scandinavian counterparts: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”.

Julian Assange remains in squalid solitary confinement at Belmarsh, the prison reserved for the UK’s most violent and dangerous criminals. Despite his sentence (for skipping bail) having expired months ago, he is forced to stay in this maximum-security prison and wait for a judge to decide on his extradition to the US on surreal charges under the Espionage Act. A dangerous precedent will be set if Assange is sent to the dangerous president, never to be seen again. Who will dare inform the world about war crimes then?

Assange, who has a chronic lung condition, could die in Belmarsh. Perhaps this is what the British state wants, to save them the embarrassment of extraditing him. Parliament is quiet on Assange, but as leader of the opposition, Starmer is obliged to call for his release. 

With Wikileaks, the middle ground is untenable. Starmer either supports freedom of speech and the rule of law (a person cannot be extradited from the UK on political charges), or he does not.

Pandemic

With the government’s disastrous handling of the coronavirus, the Labour leader has aimed straight down the middle. He is withholding many obvious criticisms of the Johnson government, presumably until the lockdown phase is over and the public is more receptive to apportioning blame. In PMQs this week, the Labour leader challenged government claims of British “success” when the official figures, which are an underestimate, show 30,000 people have died. But by being eager to offer praise where he can, Starmer fell into the trap of repeatedly saying “hospital deaths are falling”. They aren’t falling, they rise every time somebody dies. It was a strange and possibly revealing use of language on his part.

The pandemic will end with a political divergence. A choice, austerity or socialism, will decide the future of the NHS. That Starmer abstained in 2015 on the Tories’ destructive Health and Social Care bill doesn’t auger well for us.

Jeremy Corbyn was unlucky in the sense that two national disasters – Grenfell and COVID – fell the wrong side of the 2017 and 2019 general elections. Starmer has some media support and a chaotic government that proudly declared a decline in shoplifting on a day that saw 813 people die in agony. He has Exercise Cygnus; Dominic Cummings; PPE; the list is long and growing. With these weapons at his disposal, there will be no need to abstain.

A radical change is needed – will Sir Keir seize the moment? To do so, he must break away from the deadening obsession with respectability and electability that gnaws away at the parliamentary Labour party. The middle way, centrism, is an abstraction. It has no meaning in the real world. Under a so-called centrist Labour government, the sale of parts of the NHS to the private sector was accelerated. Starmer cannot retain his pristine establishment image while delivering a revival of our health service.

Starmer

Like all of us, Keir Starmer is a contradictory person, but unlike most of us, he now holds immense power. In all the scenarios above, he faces a choice: justice or injustice; oppressed or oppressor; freedom of speech or tyranny; truth or illusion.

Soon, he must decide whether he stands for life or for death. If that seems shrill, look at the world around you and the impact of indifference.

A slogan for Keir Starmer’s new Labour? For the many, not the few For the many and the few? Not for the many, not for the few? For the few not the many? For some people, but who?

You?

 

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Frenzy in Kensington

For Emma…

 

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

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

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

Lies

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

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

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

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

 

Result
screengrab from the BBC

 

Grenfell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defeat

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

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

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

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

 

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Kensington Election 2019: Come Unity

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

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

George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn.

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

Untitled

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

Emma Dent Coad

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tao of Corbyn

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

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

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

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

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

Do these voters see the pattern?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote

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

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

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

Vote for anyone else and we all lose.

 

 

By Tom Charles & Jennifer Cavanagh

@tomhcharles @jannanni

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

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

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

20190821_134603

 

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

grenfell_projection_capture_0094

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?

IMG_20171108_155227988

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

IMG_20171004_182122389

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

 

come_unity
Art by Sophie Lodge