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'|
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.