Tuesday, 24 February 2015

‘ILL FARES THE LAND’ in Kensington and Chelsea

It is enlightening to recognise where political figures and movements embrace pseudo or recreated traditions, and impose self-serving hierarchies and power structures to ‘authenticate’ their right to rule.

I often referred to Eric Hobsbawm’s excellent ‘The Invention of Tradition’ while researching for my MA on architecture and politics in post-civil war Spain. My thesis looked at Franco’s adoption of the Spanish Imperial architectural ‘style’ (and I use that term carefully) to fill the post-civil war longing for stability. He spoke of Spain’s return to international status, while he drew up fictitious family trees claiming descendence from the royal line. He embraced classical art forms as representing 'eternal beauty', and denigrated modern art and its meaning. For ten long years, Franco built neo-classical monuments, memorials, stately public buildings, and created processional routes in the capital – while a million people are said to have died of starvation.

The imposition of fixed rules on architecture, the arts - and social mores – is a well-documented means to exclude those who ‘don’t fit’ the picture. This establishes a hierarchy that ‘authenticates’, justifies and benefits those who have put themselves at the top, and more importantly discredits and disenfranchises those with other values, aesthetic or social. 

Bizarrely, this process is often accepted without question by the population they wish to subjugate.

A social anthropologist would tell us that it is a very common predilection of the conquerors or would-be conquerors to subjugate the populace by means more subtle than physical force. Creating hierarchies and persuading the ‘lower orders’ to accept them has happened throughout human history, where societies have passed from an egalitarian co-operative community necessary for survival, to a self-serving, introspective and hierarchical system. If you can make the populace accept their inferiority and the superiority of their ‘betters’ then almost anything is possible.

If you think I’m about to make a parallel between the 1940s in Spain, and Kensington and Chelsea now, you are quite correct.

So we are persuaded that the taxpayers’ money is well spent as the Mayor needs a Bentley to ‘maintain dignity’, Holland Park needs an opera as ‘high culture’ benefits the local economy, the streets of South Ken must be paved with pink granite 'to attract tourist money', Holland Park School must be the most expensive in the western hemisphere because somehow that will improve education. We are told that the ‘Royal’ borough demands the best and it is money well spent.

However there is no evidence whatever that people care if the Mayor arrives in a taxi, that opera improves the local economy or life chances, or that spending £100m on a school will benefit students three times more than spending £33m.

Let's should stop accepting the PR. Let's demand the evidence.

Some months ago we asked 100 people on the street to pick their MP from a choice of eight; only 17 could do so. The past few days have revealed our MP’s sheer avarice, sense of entitlement and lack of compassion. How ironic that he is paid £60k/year by Adam Smith Institute. The Honorary MP is a totem of how some influential figures in our Council conduct themselves, and reflects their world view. 

But what has become very clear in the past year or two is that across Kensington and Chelsea there are values that many hold dear and share, and that there are people of all backgrounds and beliefs who are no longer content to be represented – in the Town Hall or in Westminster – by those who have created a world of self-interest that we are supposed to respect and subjugate ourselves to.
And this is how The Deserted Village ends:

Your choice, but I say, no more pot plants in politics. Vote for someone who will work hard for what we call ‘One Kensington’, and that means everyone.

Further information on inequalities in K&C here:

Sunday, 1 February 2015

STOP SHOUTING AT THE TELLY: time to show you care

As somebody born and bred in our wonderful and diverse borough (I was genuinely ‘Made in Chelsea’), I am very aware of the huge inequalities in Kensington and Chelsea. We know about the extremes of wealth, but the extremes of poverty in some areas are a surprise to many. As a local Councillor I cannot escape the harsh realities of my inbox, and the problems that come into Surgery in Golborne Ward, the joint poorest ward in London. Some days it’s heartbreaking.

The Independent has just published an excellent article on the subject: [link to Indie article]

Leading an Opposition Group on a very Conservative Council, I am thoroughly acquainted with the annual Statement of Accounts, and know that these extremes are not only severe and affect people’s lives – in our borough they are unjustifiable.

The daily battle for food on the table, credit in the gas meter, and a place to do your homework, is a war of attrition that affects many struggling and overcrowded families, with 26% of K&C children living in poverty.

And it is a world away from subsidised opera, Pre-Raphaelite art collecting, frog-hunts and the delights of long-horned cows grazing in Holland Park that are the experience of some in the self-professed ‘richest Council in the universe’.

Yes, Kensington and Chelsea really is the Marie-Antoinette of all Councils.

If you want to witness these disparities in action, I invite you to attend a Full Council meeting (next one 4 March), where you may be amazed and even shocked by the conduct of some Conservative Councillors who are supposed to represent you. Sometimes we have a packed Public Gallery of people attending Council for the first time. Yet TWICE in 2014 a Cabinet Member has told the people in the Public Gallery, who they are supposed to represent, to ‘SHUT UP!’.

So there is proof of the disdain they hold for the electorate, the residents whose vote put them there, and whose Council Tax pays their allowance.

A good Councillor represents all their constituents as best they can, and does not favour one group over another because of presumed political allegiance. A good Councillor stands for office to represent and help others, not to help themselves. And yet K&C Council is stuffed with self-servatives.

It is clear that the majority Conservative Group view the Council as a corporation and residents as shareholders, so they can then without conscience favour residents who are self-interested and may simply wish to park money here and leave, and contribute nothing (often not even tax).

What happened to our values along the way?

The Council is not a business, we are public servants and representatives; some Councillors would do well to consider just whose interests they are representing and what outcomes they are encouraging.

We tried trickle-down; it is a fallacy. We tried to ‘cut red tape’ on planning and development; it is ripping the heart out of our borough.

What has become very apparent over the past two years is that the thousands of small ‘c’ Conservative residents are also very poorly served by our Council. Left and middle have a great deal of common ground and we do work together effectively on matters we all care about: protecting our mixed communities, not just in words but action; keeping the borough’s special character, avoiding pastiche and Disneyfication; caring for our vulnerable residents, old and young; ensuring public funds benefit the public; a sense of value and good citizenship. The list of Lords, Ladies and high earners queueing up to save the Sutton Estate in Chelsea epitomises this community spirit, and the fear that we are in danger of losing it.

So I say to K&C Council: ‘Time to show you care’.

Kensington and Chelsea is not a corporation but a place, full of life and heart and soul, and should be governed to benefit people who wish to live in it and help the borough thrive.

Vote - so you don't need to protest! 
Let’s say it out loud, let's hashtag it: #itsmykensingtontoo.

Our parliamentary candidate Dr Rod Abouharb [website] stepped forward, he says, as he was fed up with shouting at the telly. So stop shouting at the telly, get out there and tell people to vote.

Here are some tips to help you decide where to put your cross at the General Election on 7 May:

1. Make sure you’re still on the electoral register, and use your vote. People died for your right to vote.

2. Do your homework. Look at your candidates, who they are, what they are, what they think and how they will serve you.

3. Vote for the person, not just the party.

That is all.

If you want to find out if you are still on the register email: elect@rbkc.gov.uk or call: 020 7361 3931.
Information on electoral registration: