Thursday, 14 August 2014

Democracy vs Aristocracy in Kensington and Chelsea



The very peculiar world of Kensington and Chelsea Council barely reflects the reality of everyday life in the borough.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the pantomime of Full Council meetings. The idea that this is somehow part of a statutory decision-making process is simply depressing. When residents hand petitions to their ward Councillors, they often attend Full Council and sit in the Public Gallery to witness democracy at work; this may be the first and last time they ever attend. The petition is read out and the moment is quickly over. Then they stay to watch the debates. Several Council members, despite warnings, continue to play computer games or read the papers, with no pretence that it is work-related. Visitors find this shocking. Then when the debates start, they hear the bickering, name-calling and blatant disrespect. To top it all, despite the hours of work they have put into getting signatures, the petitioners may not get any response whatever.


Democracy at work, K&C style. 

To make it worse, while Labour and our single LibDem Councillors research and write their own speeches, it is clear that Cabinet Members often read out texts written by officers. They are not familiar with them, and cannot ad lib if challenged. So if they have misjudged the Labour Group position they are quite unable to alter their speech to fit; they just plough on anyway. At times the Tories are quite unable to hide the disdain they feel for their electorate; we record and date every incident.



The ‘Cllr Shut-Up’ [link to Evening Standard] episode was appalling, but not unusual. The only difference was that the offensive comment was directed at members of the public rather than the Labour Group; total disdain plus a hint of venom directed at a Public Gallery full of parents and carers who had been very badly let down by the Council, and their children put in danger.

This attitude comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what democracy means:




They seem to think they are some kind of elected aristocracy, born, or elected to rule.


So they see the borough as a mini-state and treat residents as troublesome subjects, and the Council as a humungous business, and treat its staff as their own employees.

Then they justify expense on unjustifiable items and projects in terms of ‘prestige’, as if the Council were a huge corporation or brand touting for business and placating its shareholders. 

No. We are all public servants, together, in our different roles, some of us are appointed and some are elected. The borough is a geographical area under our care. The Council is a public service that should serve the public, first and foremost.

Residents of all political persuasions, and none, are increasingly frustrated and angry that their concerns are very poorly represented by their Tory representatives. They keep residents at arm’s length, and wash their hands of the more difficult issues, such as planning matters that are changing neighbourhoods forever, or basement excavations that blight their residents lives and create a living hell for our families and older people. These are the people holding our borough together by creating networks that form communities; the very people we should treasure and respect.


Policy should be formed from residents’ concerns and priorities. These are very clearly laid out in the Annual Residents’ Survey, which reflects a far kinder and more humane and fairer and more inclusive approach to Budgeting.





Instead, without mandate and increasingly without even a pretence at meaningful consultation or democratic process, the Cabinet makes ‘difficult decisions’ to cut services that residents value and need the most, while spending to excess on pet projects and frivolities.


Saturday, 26 July 2014

'LABOUR REBEL, MADE IN CHELSEA': PREPOSTERITY


The pure idiocy of it is irresistible to comment upon, though being name-checked in the Daily Hate Mail is hardly my proudest moment. Two weeks ago, Andrew Pierce, amidst nose-snorting laughs, accused me of being a ‘Labour rebel, made in Chelsea’.

Now, I was ‘Made in Chelsea’, really, here I am in front of my house in Paulton’s Square (above).

Click to enlarge, if you really must
The other matter (his words on my tombstone, left) I will refute. Like most of the K&C Opposition Labour Group I have come to politics via another career which I am still active in; I am no career politician. So unlike the drones, clones, worker bees, back-bench ballast, political ladder-climbers and front-bench hoggers who are prevalent among much of national and local politics, I believe in the democratic system. So if I think the Mansion Tax in its proposed form is unworkable, I will say so, and if my colleagues agree (which they do) I will say so publicly. in the Evening Standard if I can, and it matters not who conceived it.

I know this is pretty radical stuff, so do sit down before I continue.

Call me an old romantic if you wish, but I still believe that policy should reflect what people think, and politicians should respond to their concerns. Politics, not only ON the doorstep, but FROM the doorstep.

When people say ‘you work for the Council’, I say ‘no, the Council works for me, and I work for you’. Councillors (and MPs) are public servants. We may have been through various professions and training that helps us work our way through the labyrinthine and deliberately obfuscated system of Council decision-making - that is a useful skill - but we are the instrument of the electorate, whether they vote for us personally or not, and not of our political parties.

This is why (put your fingers in your ears now you Tories) residents come to us with their concerns, whoever they are, wherever they are from. Along with my colleagues I will always go the extra mile for people who are more vulnerable, confused, disadvantaged or who for some reason find it difficult to speak out for themselves. But we are there to mediate between residents and the Council, whoever they are, even articulate but ignored and angry Tory voters.

Thus, I see no problem whatever stating in the Evening Standard that the Mansion Tax as currently envisaged would not work in K&C, I don’t see how it possibly can be fair given the totally preposterous housing market in K&C, and many residents are extremely worried about it.

It’s part of the job to speak out.

And you Tories still snort-laughing through your noses – watch out, we are working with YOUR voters. You know this is true, after witnessing several hundred of your natural voters cheering on the Labour Group at Council this year. Oh dear.

_____________________


While on the subject of public service and preposterity, it may be a good time to remind ourselves that the Council is NOT a business but a public service.

Thus, when we are selecting organisations to work with our most vulnerable residents – children with Special Educational Needs – we must think of their needs first, and not our own profit or pleasure. Especially when we, as we are in K&C, so awash with money that we cannot be bothered to invest our Reserves, not even the teensie £100m we don't need for capital projects for five years. Thereby losing cc£12m over say five years in potential INTEREST. But 'Marie Antoinette-like' we still find the cash for the overrunning Arts Strategy - opera, multi-million pound museum refits, long-horned cows, 'n' all.

The disgraceful and avoidable disaster of the SEN Transport Contract has already been discussed in Private Eye and The Guardian [Guardian on SEN Transport fiasco], and will soon get further coverage. But for those who may have missed it, this is the story of three Councils ‘working together’ in an attempt to save an unbelievable 50% of the costs of the contract for picking up our most vulnerable and idiosyncratic and often brilliant but poorly AND OFTEN FUN AND FUNNY children, taking them to school or daycare, and home again at the end of the day. The ‘new cheap’ contract began in April, and there were problems from day one as revealed at the committee meeting at H&F  [Notes of Meeting on SEN Transport, H&F 8.7.14]. 

Did anybody pause to think, maybe the previous cost of SEN Transport was 'best value'? No. No more fun for our precious children; just daily f***-ups.

We are told that in Westminster there have been few if any issues, but in H&F as you will gather from the documents, it has been frankly disastrous. One child could have died, and if any child comes to any harm from this moment onwards, K&C Council must take the consequences.

At a specially convened Council Meeting to discuss the matter last week, the Tory Whip, bored of hearing some home truths from outraged parents in the Public Gallery, told them to ‘SHUT UP’.

Now Mr Whip, or ‘Cllr Shut-Up’ as he has been re-named, just imagine for a moment that one of your children was in this situation and subjected to appalling treatment every single day. Would you sit and listen to the drivel the Cabinet Member was expounding, or would you lose it, just a bit? As for the other Conservative Councillor, who accused the Labour Group in the most repellent terms of making political capital of what was (to him evidently) a minor matter, in case you didn't realise, some members of the public felt physically sickened at your comments and had to leave the Chamber. Yes you, the one your colleagues call 'Lord Voldemort'. Shame on you.

You will never, ever be allowed to forget what happened to SEN Transport, or your appalling conduct at Council. That’s a promise.

Along with the transcript of the meeting between parents, officers, and – love them – the new Labour team in charge of H&F, plus the Minutes of the Special Council meeting last Thursday, plus all the upcoming press coverage, this will go down in -















Sunday, 29 June 2014

Anti-Social Landlords #2: the human cost of 'regeneration'

Will the Peasants Revolt in Chelsea Old Town Hall as the Council
'wishes to destroy local communities in favour of developers'?
Barely a week goes by in Kensington and Chelsea without some new alleged outrage being visited upon one or another group of residents.

There was indignation about the assignment of a lease of Council-owned Isaac Newton Centre to a prep school group that was considered to be little more than a Trojan horse for future residential development. This led to a petition of cc2,000 furious residents – considered middle-income in K&C but elsewhere they would be ‘rich’ – who stormed the Council Chamber in their hundreds and made their fury very public. Their complaints included a deliberately convoluted bidding process, and the Council selling out to the highest bidder, with no thought for parents who had set up a local school with many community benefits. A cross-party committee of Councillors agreed with residents that the process had lacked transparency and appeared unfair or even partial. Some parents threatened to stand against Tory incumbents in the elections. The Cabinet ‘listened but did not hear’, a recurrent theme these days.

No sooner was the election over than anti-social landlord Affinity Sutton accelerated their proposal to demolish and ‘regenerate’ Sutton Dwellings, a well-loved Edwardian estate off Fulham Road that, if properly maintained and updated, could last another 200 years. Local residents from all sides of the social spectrum, in a classic ‘old Chelsea’ manner, have rallied to the cause of saving the estate from the ‘voracious’ developers. Three even stood as Independents against the Council, attracting the support of many previous non-voters.

Now we hear that a long-time TfL plan to deliver the Chelsea/Hackney line (Crossrail 2) with a station at Dovehouse Street, has been challenged by the Council. TfL officers were forced to staff the exhibition that included the Council’s counter-proposal and they suffered verbal battering from residents, as the Council’s ingenious plan would flatten the perfectly sound Cremorne Estate and move residents as far away as possible – or so Council tenants believe.

'The lovely new Kings Rd Crossrail, with Westfield Mall,
it only lacks some riverside residential towers'
This would provide an ‘opportunity to regenerate’ that has caused heavy drooling among certain Cabinet Members and senior Property officers, with their eye on humungous financial gain.

As I once explained to the Leader of the Conservative Group, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of ‘regeneration’ - a very much misused term within the Council as elsewhere.

Here is my definition:

Regeneration is an aim not a process. Development or redevelopment carried out with intelligence, good planning and reasonable expectations of profit can result in regeneration.

‘Regeneration’ implies an uplift of economic and social benefits and wellbeing for existing residents and businesses in the long term; means other than development can also achieve regeneration in its true sense.
True regeneration improves the physical without changing the soul
If development only achieves improvement in visual amenity, built form, additional residential or business units, but does not produce other long-term sustainable economic or social benefits, this is not regeneration.

Other outcomes – intended or unintended – such as displacement of long-term residents and local amenity businesses and services, is not regeneration. This is social cleansing, pure and simple.

When the Council or TMO in its typically cack-handed and insensitive way begins a CONsultation during the Christmas or summer holidays, or Ramadan, or without informing those affected in an open and transparent and thorough way, in good time for comment and while there is a genuine possibility of influencing the outcome, when the Council seems to be by-passing genuine input, residents become distrustful and angry.

This applies to beleaguered residents subject to an intrusive subterranean excavation by a next-door neighbour, just as it does to Council tenants whose homes are viewed as ‘regeneration opportunities’.

We need to ask, ‘who is this development for?’, ‘who will it actually benefit?’. Tenants? Home-owners? Neighbours? Business? Or the developer (who may be the Council)?

What do we actually care about in the borough? Does the Council care about the same things as its residents, who it is supposed to represent? Does the Council spend the Council taxpayers’ money on the projects, services and issues that the public cares about? A close review of the Annual Residents’ Survey suggests not.

Residents I speak to agree with me on this:



In the past year this Council has done its best to crush individuality and difference of opinion. In doing so, their reputation has been tarnished and they have lost the respect of thousands of residents of all income levels and all political persuasions.

I know this because I have been approached in the street by residents who said they voted Labour for the first time, because in K&C we as the Labour Group and as individual Councillors had stood up for them.

I am proud to stand up for those who feel like I do about preserving communities, and will fight for their right to continue their contribution to the glorious DNA cocktail of our neighbourhoods, now and in perpetuity.

That’s what is so special about Kensington and Chelsea, and it’s worth preserving.


Sunday, 18 May 2014

Anti-Social Landlords, Portobello Square, and the Threat Repression Nexus


They come like robbers in the night, when you are tucked up safe in bed. Your doors and windows are shut tight, but still they enter and take your money, your security, even your home. Exposed to the evil but seductive attractions of monetising the few square metres of land your home sits on, they get sucked into a web of greed that so often leads to deceit. 

They are social landlords gone bad.

In 2010 when the planning application for Wornington Green was about to be heard, there were mixed feelings on the estate. This was despite a recent survey that stated ‘69% of people surveyed said they had concerns about the redevelopment but on the whole thought it was for the best’.

We don’t know which buildings were surveyed, or how many people from each household were surveyed, but 69% of 252 people is just 173. In an estate of nearly 2,000 adults that’s barely 9%. And if they had cunningly focussed their survey on the worst maintained and most overcrowded buildings, 9% is still a lot, but not such a surprise. 

In response to local misgivings, Kensington Housing Trust (now Catalyst Housing Group) reassured their tenants with the following Pledges:

March/April 2010
Wornington Green newsletter
‘Kensington Housing Trust will keep the community together. We pledge to:

·         Re-house everybody who wants to remain on Wornington Green
·         End overcrowding
·         Create local jobs and apprenticeships
·         Provide all tenants with private outdoor space
·         Build a new home for the Venture centre and provide an improved same size park
·         Build homes to the same space standards as your home now
·         Charge the same rent levels as you have now
·         Build homes that can be adapted as your needs change’

Well.
-      The first is physically impossible unless they build additional homes, which they have no intention of doing
-      Second, ditto. We were told the estate was over 100 bedrooms short.
-      Well, the jobs are there but very few local people are involved
-      Gardens replaced with a tiny balcony or sunless patio; no thanks!
-      Venture Centre and park; wait and see
-      Ask residents if they can fit their old furniture in their new homes. NOT.
-      Residents are definitely NOT paying the same rent levels as previously
-      Adaptable homes; you gotta be kidding.

The existence of these pledges has been called a ‘myth’; but see below.


Other popular myths vs the horrible truth:
1, ‘marketing by Hamptons International is focussed entirely on London’; but see below.

Trendy village living

Situated in a prime location in West London's iconic Notting Hill, Hardy Mansions is the final block to be released in Phase 1 of the luxury Portobello Square development. Portobello Square offers the best of 21st-century city living, with its sustainable design, distinctive village atmosphere and an enviable range of attractions right on its doorstep.
Nia Tam
Friday, January 17, 2014
Situated in a prime location in West London's iconic Notting Hill, Hardy Mansions is the final block to be released in Phase 1 of the luxury Portobello Square development. Portobello Square offers the best of 21st-century city living, with its sustainable design, distinctive village atmosphere and an enviable range of attractions right on its doorstep................
Available exclusively to the Hong Kong market, 42 flats and penthouses featuring one, two or three bedrooms in sizes from 559 square feet to 1,430 sq ft will be ready for occupation in the autumn of 2015......
Hardy Mansions, Portobello Square
Address 354 Portobello Road, London W10
Layouts 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and penthouses
Developer Catalyst
Exhibition
Date: January 18-19 (Sat-Sun)
Time: 11am-7pm
Venue: East Room, 23/F, Mandarin Oriental, 5 Connaught Road, Central
Agent: Hamptons International


2, ‘the ceiling did not collapse’

'spectacular build quality'
3, ‘this is a heroic and incredible achievement … the quality of build is spectacular’











.......................................

If anyone ever thought that the way social landlords approached their role this days is akin to a repressive dictatorship, this is of course ridiculous.

Repressive dictatorships behave in highly specified ways. Firstly of course they repress their people through poverty, poor infrastructure and health, and lack of employment. This can be deliberate, or due to incompetence, or sometimes greed. While the masses are cowed and the regime is strong, they have no need to impose repression; this is the first stage of the Threat Repression Nexus.

Secondly, when faced with the consequences of their action/inaction, they deny everything, including the right to access basic human rights (‘All individuals have the right to live in peace so that they can develop fully all their capacities, physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual, without being the target of any kind of violence’).

Then if faced by opposition from within, and pressure from outside, together with the offer of funds via a structural adjustment programme, they make tactical concessions – just enough to qualify for outside financial support.

The desired outcome here is for the regime to absorb new practices and move towards a more internationally acceptable norm. However. What often happens at this point is that strictures and savings imposed from outside have an opposite and deleterious effect, actually impoverishing the people further. This is destabilising, particularly as aspirations have been raised, and can lead to previously peaceful communities rising up against the regime. This is the point at which a repressive regime will impose the full force of repression in all its bloody horror.

As I said, nothing whatever to do with the subject to hand.

 ...........................................

THE BRUISER
A word of advice, also nothing whatever to do with the foregoing. When dealing with unreconstructed males working in property development, IF, after a disagreeable meeting at which nothing is resolved, said developer offers to shake your hand, do not give it. You could end up with a ‘haematoma between the second and third metacarpo-phalangeal joints’. 


And that effing hurts.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

EDC WINS CLEAN AIR IN LONDON AWARD: reposting 'NOlympic Legacy, Beware the Twinkling Shard'


To celebrate winning the Clean Air in London Award 2014, here I am with my certificate, and a repost of a very popular blog I wrote in October 2012.



Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London, said:
“Kensington and Chelsea joins Westminster as the two most-polluted boroughs in the UK.  I witnessed the human side of this crisis when Emma showed me sports fields under some of London’s busiest elevated roads and described many other local policy failures.  Hearty congratulations therefore to Emma on winning the Clean Air in Cities Award after leading, over many years, calls for action to tackle air pollution.  We urgently need a fresh approach from the Council that puts air pollution at the top of the policy and political agendas in planning, road transport and public health.  Vote for Clean Air on 22 May.”

___________________




If you look out over London at night, that beautiful, classy, slutty, feisty, difficult city with its towering blocks and City spikes and other Pharaonic dreams, something puzzles.

There are steady lights, white, yellow and blue. Then there are the twinkling red lights of the Shard, Telecom Tower and other communication towers on the skyline. Something is strange. Seen with the naked eye the red lights twinkle. Seen through binoculars the red beam is constant. Some nights everything twinkles. What is going on here?

This is not a municipal statement of gorgeousness and romance, like the shimmering Eiffel Tower.

 It’s simple, and shocking. It is caused by particles of pollution, among which is PM2.5, that so tinily and easily wafts up your nose, into your lungs, and slithers silently like a hooded assassin, into your bloodstream. It is the carcinogenic poison of taxi and lorry diesel fuel that works invisibly and effectively, confusing the symbiotic balanced relationships between cells red and white, causing the physiological catastrophe of cancer that is often discovered too late to counteract. 

Or it could be the larger particles, the mucky sooty visible filth that sticks to walls and clogs up ducts, tunnels and filters.

'Let's Talk Dirty' Climate Rush reverse graffiti protest in Rotherhithe Tunnel

Our national government, ‘the greenest government ever’, is so committed that its Leader burnt unimaginable amounts of airline fuel flying to the Arctic Circle to hug a husky. Our capital’s government, whose Leader is so committed that he cycles whenever there is a convenient photographer to record the moment. Our local Council, which steadfastly refused to agree to a borough-wide Low Emission Zone, is now so behind in its carbon reduction programme that it has been fined this year, for the first time, nearly £200,000.


There is a sickening hypocrisy in the inaction of London’s Mayor and of our own Council, weeping crocodile tears at the estimated 75 early deaths due to air pollution in K&C, while refusing any mitigating measures, let alone leadership in reduction programmes that would actually produce cleaner air. The London Mayor has spent £100s of thousands sticking pollution to the road to reduce the measurements near monitoring stations. K&C Council imported solar panels from China to stick on the Town Hall roof in the ultimate act of greenwash, and is insistent in its denial that locating sports pitches from the site of the new Kensington Academy to another next to West Cross Route will have any effect whatever on the health of our children.

And yet the London Mayor and K&C Council, in a convenient road to Damascus conversion, are allegedly shocked and horrified to discover, in a specially commissioned report (who commissioned and paid for this?) that a third runway at Heathrow would cause more deaths than increased provision to the east of London (ie, estuary or Stansted).

While the politicians carefully choose their statistics to fit their current campaign, close their eyes to the facts one day, and the next, because the political climate has shifted, are ‘shocked and saddened’ by these same facts, people continue to suffer and to die horrible and lingering and ultimately avoidable deaths from the effects of air pollution.  

Political expediency does not save lives. Next time you wonder at the twinkling lights of London, remember that. 

Bad air day, K&C surrounded by '9's and '10's at Gypsy Corner,
Shepherd's Bush roundabout, and Marylebone flyover

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

SOS K&C - Save Our borough’s Soul, Sold to the highest bidder



Hundreds – if not thousands - of Kensington and Chelsea residents, many of whom have never been active politically or in their communities before, are rising up in fury in the run-up to the local elections.

Some are furious because, fairly or not, they see the Council as toothless and complacent in the battle of the basements. One Chelsea street has no less than eight subterranean basements being excavated at the same time. Is there really NOTHING that can be done, or is the Council playing victim so as not to upset wealthy property investors?

Some are furious because they cannot understand why the Council, despite ‘reviewing’ the decision five times, still came to the conclusion that the Isaac Newton Centre should be leased to Alpha Plus - allegedly for a new location for four of their schools - with no consideration whatever of the benefits of letting it to a local business, Notting Hill Prep, or of the potentially lethal effect of additional traffic on a quiet residential road. (FWIW, the K&C Labour Group has consistently, and in public, stated that the Centre should be kept in community use for professional development. Given that that is not on the table, we decided to support the ‘least worst’ option, Notting Hill Prep.)

Others are furious because their neighbourhood has been earmarked for demolition and development, and the landlord Affinity Sutton has forgotten their principles of housing ‘not affluent’ people near their place of work and have sold out to the Ritblat motto ‘Buy, monetise, sell’. With no apparent support or input from local Councillors there, the approved masterplan for the Sutton Estate clearly shows the existing social tenants shoved away in a dark corner of the estate; Wornington Green all over again.

Yet more are furious because the approved plans for Earl’s Court are so far away from the Supplementary Planning Document agreed, and even that was a million miles from the values of our Core Strategy. Twenty years of construction hell for Earl’s Court residents will bring no obvious benefits whatever.

CORE VALUES, CORE STRATEGY

Our Core Strategy or Local Plan is NOT a set of vague aspirations or a woolly manifesto, it is a rule-book. And yet developers and their CONsultants find a way around these rules. However do they do it? Here's a clue: 

This is a genuine advertisement

Our residents have, and are entitled to, modest requirements from their Council. Instead of satisfying them, the borough is subjected to wholesale pillaging by developers. Are residents to stand by and let this happen?

The Council has been judged by its residents and found lacking. Is the Council and its self-appointed Cabinet continually going to ignore the concerns of its electors?

Our Council knows the cost of everything, but the value of nothing. Communities and neighbourhoods are valued above all else. Just this morning I witnessed an elderly woman, with very swollen feet, offering to care for the cats of a neighbour who was going into hospital for a major operation: ‘We have to look after each other, don’t we?’ she said, looking wistfully at her feet. I assured her that one day, it would be her turn to be looked after, and a kind neighbour would be helping her.

Such is the value of a stable community, it is more valuable than gold and even more important, it cannot be bought. Neither can it be created, ‘re-visioned’ or ‘re-imagined’. I remember Terry Farrell 30 years back and still can’t believe what he’s doing now.  The idea that his plan for Earl’s Court is considered worthy of the name ‘village’, is beyond laughable. It is tragic.

A DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT

To add to the sense of disentitlement and disenfranchisement that many residents are experiencing, we have just heard that the Chronicle local newspaper series in Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington are to be discontinued – next week, just a month before the local elections.

How is the local voice to be heard? Where are we to have a balanced view of what is going on in the borough? Not everyone can go online and check half a dozen websites to get an overview. Many people rely on their local newspaper for local news and views.


Residents in the three boroughs are so disheartened by this, that an ugly and disgraceful rumour has been circulating. This rumour has it that the Triborough Councils, alarmed by the rise of popular democracy and dissent and afraid of major electoral losses, decided jointly to pull their advertising from the papers to force their closure. While this is clearly improbable and if true possibly illegal, it is a sign of the strength of residents’ feeling that they can even consider such an explanation.


Sunday, 23 March 2014

ILL-JUDGED SILENCE BRINGS LOUD REBELLION


The most articulate reaction to the Labour Group’s alternative Budget at Full Council on 5 March, focussing on the finding that RBKC is the most unequal borough in Britain, was that of a stunned silence. We spoke of pensioners attending Food Banks – nothing. We described residents with mental health crises being hauled off to police cells due to a lack of appropriate support – nothing. We told them ten children had been sent to hospital with rickets – this was ‘minor’. Ten children with rickets - in Kensington and Chelsea!

Their silence spoke volumes; the richest borough in Europe had nothing to say. The Council has lost its voice.

The Council Leader has been in place for a year, but has yet to makes his mark. He wishes to appear approachable, but ignores residents’ pleas. Had he whipped the Cabinet to be quiet? Or were they shocked into silence? All the evidence and statistics are here [End of Term Report] to confirm, they are undeniable.


Inequality in our borough is appalling, and getting worse; it is gob-smackingly bad. In my speech I quoted a timely and well-written report of 2006 on the subject. The Councillor responsible for the report missed the point entirely; I was NOT complimenting the author of a report that has done nothing whatever to narrow inequalities in eight long years!


It is very clear to me that the ethos, values and education – in its broadest sense – of most of the Conservative majority at RBKC has been strict and disciplinarian. When young, they are taught to obey their elders. When older, they are taught to discipline their juniors; they are ‘prefects’ for life. They apply the judgmental/punitive approach to all who they deem to be lesser mortals; sadly they lack the intelligence to function in any other way.

It’s as if they were saying, like a feudal overlord: ‘The estate will not be dictated to by the village’. One of the Cabinet is reputed to have actually said that in another forum; I cannot believe anyone would say that in all seriousness.


'We are Kensington'

In the Labour Opposition we are a broad church and representative of our community. We prefer to nurture, encourage, empathise, and hand responsibility over. Trust builds trustworthiness. Forthrightness is repaid with honesty. Our Council will engage on small matters, on trees, and planting and supporting photogenic local groups when it suits, but on more fundamental issues ‘will not be dictated to by the village’.  

Time to draw the line.

This narrow and self-serving world view supposes that residents will always vote for self-interest. Our annual Residents’ Survey proves precisely the opposite. This self-selecting group votes year on year and is clearly shifting towards a preference of paying more Council Tax, not less, to support the most vulnerable. Year on year, the Council proposes a freeze on Council Tax, assuming – wrongly – that the electorate thinks as selfishly as they do. This year they are giving a £100 bonus, or as the Telegraph called it ‘pre-election bribe’ to Council Tax payers; a classic example. It will cost the Council an insane £7.5m, that we were told was ‘spare money with no particular purpose’ - while they cut and slice essential services.

To counter the Council’s wilful ignoring of residents’ wishes, this year the Labour Group instigated ‘Ask Mrs Braithwaite’. Mrs B is an indomitable and forthright grandmother to half her community in North Ken, for whom she speaks eloquently and fairly and with huge wisdom – if at great length. She is the famed Mrs B of Bloomberg News, whose Council Tax rate for her three-bed Council home comes in at just £40/month less than the Sultan of Brunei, for his (mostly empty) 16 bed mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens [Bloomberg News].

Let’s say this now. There is a causal link between our huge Reserves and the shameful inequality in ‘Europe’s richest borough’. If the majority party cannot see the connection, we in the Labour Group will be forced to remind them, regularly.

Labour Group Leader Judith Blakeman said of the borough in her Budget speech ‘we want to be a global village, not the world’s piggy bank’. But while bleating dismay at the ill effects of the over-heating housing market, the Council is itself monetising every square inch of the borough, and welcoming others who wish to do likewise. The ill effects of foreign investment hollow out the borough and destroy communities like flesh-eating necrotising faciitis; still the Council does nothing.

But residents will have their say.

Now we see that the Labour Group are not alone in their concerns for the effects of an increasingly disconnected and uncaring Cabinet. At the time of writing two groups of residents, who feel ignored by the Council on various issues, have stated they will stand as Independents in the local elections in May. The growing goodwill for these groups, from all quarters of the social spectrum, should be a wake-up call for out-of-touch senior Tory Councillors.

Now here’s a prediction, though I hope I’m wrong. They will not listen, they will fight.


And the fight will be dirty and dishonourable.