Monday, 26 December 2016

No Christmas cheer at Wornington Green

This is the dream residents were promised.
They will be young, thin, and laughing as they move.
Yes I was a bit late delivering Christmas cards to local members on Christmas Eve. I'd had a cold, but I did get them out before the day. So I raced round the easy bits, Ladbroke Grove, St Lawrence Terrace, Portobello Road etc without too much trouble. But Wornington Green was somewhat problematic.  

I have visited quite a few old and vulnerable people there who are being unwillingly decanted to somewhere they don’t wish to live. The anxiety and insecurity takes a terrible toll on their health, and I've just heard that yet another old dear has succumbed to illness before experiencing her 'lovely new home'. I am heartbroken for her family, who have been a bedrock of the community for decades.

It’s been a while since I walked around the whole estate.

I was shocked. The estate is filthy. Security doors are broken. Entryphones are out of order. Lifts aren’t working, and the stairs are full of rubbish and steeped in urine. No wonder that crime and anti-social behaviour are on the rise; Catalyst Housing just don't care.

It reminds me of the old days. So before I head out again next week with my proper camera to record the filth they expect people to live in, while they wait for the 'glorious new era' they have been promised, here’s a reminder of what they’ve had to put up with over the past six years:

2010, a view from Thompson House, rubbish thrown out of windows as paladins were hardly ever emptied. Disgusting, and it attracted rats and other vermin.

Unbelievably, an entire bird's nest was constructed, and eggs laid, in a staircase that should have been swept daily. Residents called in Environmental Health, who had to get in a specialist team to deal with it as the eggs had hatched when they arrived. Health hazard.

Just one of many instances of truly appalling black mould, in a child's bedroom in one of the 'old' blocks (just 40 years old). The damp came through because the gutters had NEVER been cleared. NEVER. This was in Pepler House, a building that was commissioned to last for 200 years but they never bothered with cyclical maintenance.

A small sample of the residents' protests as the dark shadow of the planning application drew near, in March 2010. This family lived in a perfectly lovely 1970s house, beautifully designed and compact, neat back garden overlooking the now demolished park. They loved it.

To add to the campaign of endless (subtle) harassment of residents, one day Catalyst Housing Group decided to change the locks on the Residents' Room. This was their oh so diplomatic way of disbanding the Residents' Association, who had been supporting the campaign against development of the estate.

This is the reality residents faced.

Catalyst Housing's actions grew less 'diplomatic' as they came to the point of sending eviction notices to families, some of whom had no idea where they would be sent. This three-generation family were distraught.

To counteract some of the bad press Catalyst Housing were attracting, they very publicly wrote the infamous SIX PLEDGES. Click to read.

None have been honoured. 

Here is the Catalyst Housing director of the time, Manpreet Dillon (now at Notting Hill Housing Group). See how he smiles as he signs the pledges. He even went on BBC tv to make his point that the development would tackle overcrowding. It hasn't. They are still moving families out of the borough.

Despite all the pledges made, the new homes have been constructed with frankly appalling construction quality. I could do better than this with my toy saw and glue gun.

Windows have been fitted poorly. 
This is one of the worst examples,
in the show home!

This is the craftmanship behind
the new traders' lock-ups.
 They leak. Little wonder. 
Oh no, the new buildings
now have damp,
just like the 'old' ones. 

And more than one ceiling collapsed. Oops.

So the accommodation at Wornington Green has turned full circle, in just three years, with leaks and damp. Catalyst Housing are treating residents with utter contempt. 

You can be sure that I will be onto this in 2017. 

Sunday, 11 December 2016

DARK MATTERS: light means life in Kensington & Chelsea

The gorgeous Trellick Tower at night. Classic
'socialometer' with at least one-third of lights
on, evidence of social or long-term occupants
I still write periodically for the professional magazines I used to work for some years ago. And I have posted in the blog below an article which is being published in Building Design, K&C News and the Docomomo Newsletter.

We are currently engaged in a review of parts of the Local Plan, which is the bible for Planning and development in the borough. So before you dive into the article on ‘Balance and Sacrifice at the Design Museum’ I’d like to make some general points that highlight where I believe we are going very wrong in RBKC.

  • The obsession with ‘landmark’ (tall) buildings could eventually ruin forever the very human scale of K&C, where for the most part buildings are no higher than our magnificent plane trees. Trellick Tower is exempt as quite properly it was designed to be surrounded by green space and long views. These may now be built upon, which would be a huge mistake.
  • The pernicious habit of seeing buildings as precious objects placed 'just so', not genuinely knitting them into the area they land in. Instead developers use their highly- paid and deceitful marketing teams to create a false environment and false optimism, which has a negative impact on the neighbourhood.
  • The sheer insanity of imposing floor to ceiling windows (is this recommended in some design guide?) on people whose lives do not resemble a page in Architectural Digest, is an architect’s conceit. There is no consideration that simply affording decent window-coverings for massive windows is beyond the purse of many tenants, who end up with cheap curtains drawn 24/7. 
  •  The neighbourhoods, places and buildings that people most appreciate have arrived organically, and it is very hard to create from scratch a neighbourhood or centre that functions, and feels authentic and not synthetic. Which is why you have to start with what is there and not erase it all. Though this hasn't really worked at the Design Museum due to its poor planning history.
  • People recognise the blatant dishonesty when their neighbourhoods are being marketed as an area of affluence and creativity, while the creativity being publicised has been imported and subsidised, and there are no plans whatever to increase the income of locally based artists or to subsidise their creative output.
  • You cannot contrive spontaneity, officially sponsored 'pop-up' markets will ultimately fail, because they are imposed rather than building on what is genuinely needed there.
  • The visuals of some proposals to ‘improve’ areas appear so contrived it is like a stage set. A stage set in which local ‘actors’ are expected to roam to add colour and diversity (while they search for shops and services that have been priced out of the area). For some reason I don't wish to name this 'diversity rule' applies to Afro-Caribbeans, but not to our Muslim community.
Some of our 20th century Kensington estates have been designed as modern versions of the essential garden square, with homes leading out into communal gardens. Where these have been well cared for and properly managed, they can be precious community commodities. Instead they are being ‘re-imagined’ with streets running through them 'to reinstate the original Victorian street pattern', with perfectly awful kitsch neo-classical inspired housing blocks that are simply modern slab blocks with twiddles attached, which they have the impertinence to describe as ‘mansion blocks’. They are not.

Alternatively we are to be decanted into the ultimate fakery of urban ‘model villages’, that resemble Noddy’s Toy Town with all the associations I do not intend to repeat here.

In essence, you must start with what you have and not impose what you would like to have, or how (still mostly male) architects would like people to live. 

Some people do not wish to be on show day and night. Some people value their privacy.

Finally, a word on dark buildings.

Kensington and Chelsea has suffered its share of high-end new residential buildings bought as safety deposit boxes rather than homes. And the most recent of these are currently blighting Kensington High Street, which is being run down to the extent that only the phone shops and brothels are prospering.

Trellick Tower above is an example of an occupied building. So is this, flats above shops in the 300s of Ken High Street.

Now look at this, one of the new blocks squeezed into the square in front of the Design Museum. The entire block has been bought by one family. 

It is entirely unoccupied. Dark.

Just down the road is 'One Kensington'. It was marketed as having lovely views over Kensington Gardens towards Kensington Palace, and indeed it does. But no lives in the flats overlooking the park. Out of 90 flats, just two ever have lights on. 

'One Kensington', just two occupied flats, looking east

'One Kensington', facade looking west, no lights and no one at home

Dark matters. These dark buildings are destroying our high streets, our shops, and our communities. 

Our Planning system and regulations were woefully ill prepared for the last round of development, and the effect has been stultifying. Now is the time to reassess who we allow to do what and where. 

Let's find a way to put the lights back on in K&C.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Design Museum: are we sacrificing our legacy to Mammon?

Photo of EDC at the Design Museum, by Dave Mullen Jnr
It is very difficult to write about a building that feels like a family friend.  I have visited the Commonwealth Institute throughout my life, starting with regular primary school trips. We would traipse up Earl’s Court Road in twos, to the inspiring building where our very international mix of pupils felt entirely at home. We even used the theatre for school plays. Later I took my children there, we giggled at the cow milking exhibit and admired beautiful and strange artefacts from around the globe. Later still I campaigned with the Docomomo-UK Working Group to save the building from dereliction and demolition. Finally as a Councillor I sat on the Planning Committee that approved the application to accommodate the Design Museum (though I voted against), and there could hardly be a more worthy tenant. But how would I cope with the ‘re-purposing’ of this icon?

The best approach to the building is through the park. The beautiful sweep of the roof, and the renewed exterior cladding, is tastily updated without being compromised. The courtyard when entered from the park is pretty and welcoming. And then you enter, and it all changes. In place of the processional route past the flag court via the famous loggia and lobby, into the exhibition hall with its sweeping stairs and galleries, you are smacked in the face by the awesome wood-cladded atrium rising far above you. There are few clues as to its purpose. The first impression is more of a prestigious hotel cum conference centre. In Dubai.

Legibility has been sacrificed on the altar of architecture. Circulation space is generous, if not excessive, but it is also very confusing. Some visitors quickly got lost. ‘There’s a lovely library, where IS the library?’, ‘Is this the way to a basement car park, or another gallery?’. Anonymous  doors may lead to a private office, meeting space, gallery, auditorium or – eventually – a library, but the building keeps its secrets and some found this annoying.  If this is deliberate, a public building is not the place to mess with people’s minds.

Spaces such as course rooms, the library I eventually managed to find,  and most other public spaces are generously located on the outside of the building with lovely views of Kensington.  There are cafes where we will all feel blessed and privileged to be seen, if we can afford it. There will be a lot of sponsored exhibitions, for which the justification, to some, may be questionable. But that is the sad and inevitable path taken by many modern cultural institutions. Students will of course flock to the exhibitions, which needless to say will be intelligent and inspiring, and they will love it.
Others more qualified than I have written at length about the building itself, so I will turn to how it works within its physical location, and how it might change the dynamics of the neighbourhood. As a Planning  Councillor  I have been involved from the ‘game-keeping’ end of this story, which began in 2011. I was unsure then about the placement of the three OMA blocks – and I was right. In essence the original courtyard has been sacrificed to Mammon. The housing blocks completely obscure the view from the street of the well-loved Commonwealth Institute building, infuriating local people who have to look at them every day. The blocks are heavy on architecture and light on sensitivity in relation to the street, more like funky battery chargers keeping the old building  going, than any kind of urban improvement. Paving stones carved with the names of Commonwealth countries – a tribute to the former flag court – are a graveyard to our imperial ambitions.

From the street it is, frankly, joyless.

I left the building and walked down Kensington High Street with visitors who hadn’t been in the area for a while. They were truly shocked at the state of the formerly vibrant High Street, barely clinging onto life with its empty, charity and pop-up shops, looking more and more like Edgware Road, but without the buzz. I explained to the visitors that the Council is gambling the entire future of the High Street on the success of the Design Museum. This reactive rather than proactive position is a frustration to those of us who have seen Ken High Street decline over the past decade. School or uni students will be looking for McDonalds not The Ivy, and I’m unconvinced that the better heeled evening and weekend visitors will spend enough to sustain a bright new future for central Kensington. A  Planning ‘fail’ in my opinion; time will tell.

Right across the road from this hothouse of education and design idolatry sits another casualty of Mammon, our beautiful Art Deco Kensington Odeon, boarded up and awaiting its outcome. On the table is an execrable Ritblat/Minerva plan to wrap a mere vestige of the façade in luxury flats. This application was so unsympathetic that it was thrown out by a usually developer-friendly Planning committee, but sadly it won on Appeal. An alternative scheme preserves the current building and its gorgeous marbled lobby and stairs, and turns it into a mixed-use arts centre, which has the support of 20,000 residents and a shed-load of money. In another Planning ‘fail’ however, the Council has controversially refused applications to designate the building as an Asset of Community Value so the alternative plans can be drawn up. The good people of Kensington are enraged.

The irony is that the OMA flats that have supposedly saved the Commonwealth Institute building from demolition have made the area so insanely expensive that positive and trip-generating ventures, such as reinvigorating the High Street with independent shops and the proposed arts centre, could lose out to yet more luxuriously empty flats.

All this brings us to the attitude of Kensington and Chelsea Council to the conservation of the borough. We are currently undergoing a Review of our Local Plan, and I am charged with coordinating the response from the Labour Group of Councillors (numbering 11, for you disbelievers). 

So we have Policy CF 7 on Arts and Cultural Uses, and we have Strategic Objective CO5 on Renewing the Legacy. Their relationship is somewhat tortured. CO5 reads thus, and is pretty encouraging: ‘Our strategic objective to renew the legacy is not simply to ensure no diminution in the excellence we have inherited, but to pass to the next generation a borough that is better than today, of the highest quality and inclusive for all. This will be achieved by taking great care to maintain, conserve and enhance the glorious built heritage we have inherited and to ensure that where new development takes place, it enhances the borough.’

This is all very reassuring as an objective, but the actual policy, on which Planning Councillors have to base their determinations,  is antithetical, and sets up a conflict around the lurking gremlin of ‘enabling development’.  There have been more hotly contested debates on this issue at committee than any other, and unless we get this right, now, it will continue to allow vested interests to triumph while our built legacy is sacrificed on the altar of developers’ 20% profit margins. 

Versions of this article have appeared in Building Design, K&C News, and will be published in Docomomo-UK Newsletter. Copyright EDC

Friday, 2 September 2016


I first visited Carnival in 1980. It seemed wild and exciting. I came with a black male friend with shared tastes in music and dancing. He was not my boyfriend, but as he took my hand to guide me through the crowd in All Saints Road a group of Rasta elders nodded approval, one saying, ‘now THAT’s the spirit of Carnival’. I will never forget that moment.

The freedom of dancing and drinking in the street was new to me and exhilarating, and the atmosphere of pure joy – and love – was uplifting.

Then suddenly, when it was dark (Carnival ended late those days) my friend panicked and shouted ‘run this way NOW!’. As he grabbed my hand again I peered over the peaceful dancing crowd to see a row of policemen, arms linked, charging at us.

Six years later I moved to North Kensington. I didn’t have to go to Carnival. It came to me. I have always loved those few days (it used to be three), the neighbourhood transformed with no traffic, people sitting and chatting on their front steps, everyone taking time to talk to neighbours and strangers, the fantastic goodwill – and love – of a massive street party. The food, the music, the dancing, the costumes. You can’t beat it.

My children all went to Carnival from tiny babies, and still do. There are obvious places it’s sensible to avoid with a baby in a buggy, otherwise it’s a truly family friendly event.

There have been good years and great years, and years blemished by the criminals who sadly come to steal, sell drugs and cause trouble. This happens at large events, you can only work to control it. It also happens at other times. We had five stabbings in Golborne Ward last Boxing Day. No one said we should ban Boxing Day. There was a 50-strong riot outside Boujis nightclub in South Kensington six months ago. It’s still open. There was a major incident in Hyde Park when an end of term water-fight turned violent. Hyde Park prevails. Epsom Derby this year … the list continues.

And yet, criminality disrupting Carnival is being used as an excuse to ban, move or drastically change it.

But Carnival doesn’t create crime. Criminals attend Carnival.

Sadly, some of these criminals are very young and their lives must be desperate and hopeless indeed for them to engage in such violent behaviour.

Now, those politicians who ruthlessly agreed to cut youth services and destroyed community policing by voting for cuts to police funding, wish to punish those they have failed.

This is leading to a very serious and unpleasant threat to eviscerate our massive and joyful street party. Those with no understanding whatever of the importance and value to local people of the second largest cultural event on earth wish to destroy what they don’t understand. This campaign seeks to ‘civilise’ Carnival.

Last year there were two public surveys on Carnival, which set alarm bells ringing. The Council survey was, despite local fears, a genuine attempt to review arrangements and run things better. The Council – to date – seems to ‘get’ Carnival, as the second largest cultural event on earth, which brings £94m into London every year. For their £500k input into funding, the Council makes their best efforts every year to control those elements they are responsible for – mainly placement of wee, collection of rubbish, closing of roads, local policing, event and stall licensing and noise nuisance abatement. We truly underestimate the time and care they put into this, and their close work with the London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprise Trust, police, residents’ groups and all other services.

Here is the response to the Council’s survey from Carnival Village Trust, the development agency for Carnival Arts, which puts things neatly into perspective:

‘Carnival is both an event that happens in a public space and an art form.
As both an art form and a street festival, Carnival has three main modalities:
1.   A ritual of resistance
2.   A festival of otherness and
3.   Performance Art.

However, for many, the Carnival is also a street party; the annual Bank Holiday festival whose popularity and appeal is participating in a joyous, care free celebration with very few inhibitions.’

The other survey, from the office of our parliamentary representative (not wishing to get personal here), was an ill-judged effort with highly deterministic questions, that resulted in polarising and inflaming opinion.

This is hugely disappointing. We expected better.

Kelso Cochrane, the first victim
of racist murder, 1959
It is ironic that an event set up by local people to heal the community -  after the appalling Notting Hill race riots, leading to the first racist murder, of Antiguan carpenter and law student Kelso Cochrane, by neo-Nazi Blackshirts in 1959 - is now under threat by an arguably racist and undoubtedly anti-community campaign. 

Let's not forget those days of 'No Irish, no blacks, no dogs'. 

In 2009 the community put up a plaque where Kelso fell; seven years later some have determined to erase our history.

One suggestion arising from the second survey is to move the sound systems to Little Scrubbs. This is laughable. The sound systems that brought the music of the Caribbean to our shores, and changed the British music scene forever, cannot be disconnected from the event that created them.

Would you go to the opera, with no singing?

Another proposal has been to move Carnival to Hyde Park and charge for tickets. But Carnival is not a show, it’s a participatory event. This may be confusing to those who don’t wish to see people whose costumes and physicality don’t conform to white cultural norms of classical beauty. Hyde Park was the venue for the Great Exhibition, where ‘colonial tribes-people’ were put on show to amaze and amuse the paying public. Is this what they want?

Among many other things, Carnival is a celebration of our wonderful North Ken melting pot, on our doorsteps. You can have a beer at home, go out and have a brilliant time, for nothing, in an area of London that is still shockingly, and inexcusably, poor (despite increasing gentrification) - Golborne and Colville wards where Carnival is focussed are among the poorest wards in London. It is a wide-reaching community relations exercise whose social and community value, at a time of rising hate crime, goes far beyond its financial cost. And frankly, while all our communities in North Ken feel they are being squeezed out – by estate development, rising rents, CPOs, Pay to Stay, Bedroom Tax, property prices – it’s needed more than ever.

It’s a necessary counter to what many see as the attempted ‘bleaching’ of Kensington.

Currently Carnival is classed as a community event so the policing costs aren’t chargeable to the organisers. Ticketing would turn it into a commercial event; the £6m policing costs then payable would destroy the event forever. Job done for the haters.

Let’s put that £6m cost into perspective. Protecting Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge – from extradition to Sweden for alleged rape - has cost £11m. Nobody is threatening to evict him for this unpaid bill.

The cost of unpaid parking fines by embassies in K&C and Westminster is £87m; nobody impounds their cars. The amount owed by the Russian embassy in Notting Hill Gate alone would just about cover the full cost of policing Carnival.

Protecting the Royal family, whether on official business, their endless holidays, or nights out clubbing, costs £103m a year. Nobody sends these billionaires a bill.

So here we are. One rule for the rich, another for the poor, clear as day.

CVT also said in their response to the Council: ‘Carnival is .. a barometer of British society’.

Sadly true.

We’ve come a long way since that police charge I saw on All Saints Road in 1980. Let’s not turn back the clock.

As the Black Eyed Peas said it: ‘Where is the love?’.

Monday, 22 August 2016


Welcome to the playground. Not the friendly, welcoming, properly managed space with quiet and active areas, buddy benches, high expectations of conduct and behaviour, and trained play-workers empowered to keep benign order.

Not that one.

This playground has little supervision, few rules imposed rarely and only in extremis,  and is therefore a place of bullying, intimidation, forced isolation and name-calling of the worst possible kind. They work in packs, wear clothes to identify their allegiance, and mock anyone not of their ‘kind’, a combination of – let’s say it - class snobbery and fashion despotism.

You know what I’m referring to.

What kind of example does this set the next generation of voters? How can we expect them to learn respect? And why on earth would anyone want to support, let alone join this hostile and anti-democratic system?

Somebody once spoke thus against democracy: “..since the system demanded that a majority be obtained, anyone intent on capturing the system had to make certain he gathered a majority of the votes – if need be by stealing them from the other parties. To this end, he had to slander the other parties without hesitation, to bombard them with the vilest insults, to resort to deliberate lies, to waste not a single ploy of falsehood and vilification … [bringing] the ruin of a people’s spiritual unity” (my emphasis).

Of course I don’t share José-Antonio Primo de Rivera’s solution – a Dictatorship run by the Spanish Falange – but it seems little has improved since 1933.

Up against this shameful ‘Mean Girls’ bombardment of – well, hatred – and standing up for democracy against MSM and ‘establishment’ attacks, Jeremy Corbyn is a people's hero if ever there was one. Corbyn doesn’t do personal abuse. He simply refuses to engage in the daily barrage of vilification, accusations and downright ‘untruths’ and nastiness. And the more he refuses to play, the more they prod, provoke and bully. It’s a shameful episode in political history, and surely the end game of something?  

Let us turn for a moment to the petty comments about how our democratically elected Leader dresses. A highly intelligent and educated person of my acquaintance has become obsessed with how Corbyn dresses, calling him a ‘scarecrow’, or ‘charity shop mannequin’. They even said his house was ‘horrible’. Corbyn’s anti-Trident position has driven this person to extremes, stating on social media that he should be ‘pushed under a bus’.

Now I don't mind if you wish to dress like a banker. But I do mind when you denigrate people who do not do the same. Labour politicians who dress like bankers and think everyone should do the same, are undermined by someone who refuses to play their game. They stole this refrain from Tories ‘put on a proper suit, do up your tie, and sing the National Anthem’, an actual ‘Your Mum’ comment, which reached a new low in parliamentary insults. And yet some of our own senior politicians repeat this.

I for one was disappointed when Sandy Olsson in ‘Grease’ dolled herself up for Danny Zuko. She betrayed us all. Why would we want Corbyn to dress like a banker? Reducing political discourse to the level of what people wear lowers the debate to a level that in our multi-cultural society, is risky at best. And this demeans us all.

It’s not really about the clothes, of course, it’s what Corbyn stands for that truly offends them.

He doesn’t use the militaristic language that is the norm of just about every politician in the land, which can whip up violent reactions, and is off-putting to many (especially, perhaps, to women). He chooses content over form, and nuance over bombast, doggedly bringing the debate back to issues and leaving the empty rhetoric to others. He is honest. He has values. He's a socialist.
So while the bunker is inward-looking and fighting among themselves, the actual membership of the Labour Party, to whom they are accountable, is determined to engage in meaningful, open and progressive debate.

So please, do not tell me or the people I represent that they are Trots, dogs or groupies. They aren’t.

Do not attempt to discredit or dehumanise our democratically elected Leader’s followers.

Do not tell them they need to ‘grow up’ and are in need of authority, when your side are trading playground insults.

This ‘otherisation’ of Corbyn’s supporters, is, sad to say, text-book fascism. Albeit mainly rhetorical for now, and – thank heavens – without the charismatic Leader that fascism relies upon.

So, a ‘soft fascism’, if you will.

It’s time to recognise that Corbyn has flipped the script. He has done this in such an understated manner that those who dress like bankers (male or female) or Mean Girls (female or male) have missed it. But THIS is the kind of politician that 100s of 1000s of members – and we believe, millions of voters – really want.

Not Corbyn-lite in a banker’s suit.

And if you truly cannot reconcile yourself to Labour’s return to socialism, it seems you have an option. Turn your face to the sun: ‘Labour Tomorrow’ belongs to you.


‘Soft fascism is a process of anti-democratic governing that is not as overtly totalitarian or authoritarian as more historically memorable fascist states. Soft fascist governing has features like: corrupt electoral processes. legislative tactics that undermine democratic engagement. warrantless monitoring of citizens.’

Sunday, 22 May 2016

REPUBLIC ANYONE? Why this IS the time to discuss it

At the February AGM, Kensington CLP voted by a large majority to affiliate to Republic: campaign for an elected Head of State. This was six months after they had agreed two Motions to Conference: one to scrap Trident, and the other to Stop Taxpayer Funding of the Monarchy (the Trident Motion was chosen to go to Conference).

There was almost unanimous support for the Motion to Conference, and a very large majority of members supported the affiliation to Republic. There was also a small but articulate group insisting that ‘this is not the time’ to support a campaign for an elected Head of State under a Republic.

I wholeheartedly disagree.
The image that made me
 join 'Republic'

This is the perfect moment to discuss the iniquities and inequalities of the hereditary principle, and how one of the richest families in the country is also subsidised by the State via our taxes, to the tune of £300m a year. We have the most expensive monarchy in Europe. They own billions of pounds-worth of assets, from which they receive tens of millions in income. While *some* tax is paid, like savvy landlords they set this against costs that improve the value of their properties so pay little tax. So when Mrs Windsor (aka Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) states rather crustily that the repairs to Buckingham Palace will be paid out of income from visitors, there are major tax savings to be enjoyed.

One for the family album
Don’t cry for me Little England.

To be clear, and to anticipate the usual (snore!) criticisms of this position: I do not *hate* the Royal Family. I don’t know them. I am entirely indifferent to them. But to my mind the combination of Kardashian family-style worship, dodgy uncles allegedly involved in shady deals with dubious governments and other unsavoury behaviour, evident racism, considerable power and authority, with extreme wealth and influence - is a blight on our society. The entire system of monarchy and the hereditary principle is at fault. And I don’t want their money either.

Andrew Windsor and pal

Here are a few issues that have hit a nerve in past years:

-      - The Queen asking if she could apply for help with heating bills for Buckingham palace, via government grants aimed at people in fuel poverty
-      - Charles Windsor accruing £3m from intestate wills in Cornwall
-      - Tax breaks for Charles Windsor’s ‘charities’, that include his repellent Architecture Foundation and building toy town Poundbury
-     -  The outrageous sums paid from the public purse to protect the Playboy Princes while they were out clubbing
-      - The outrageous sums paid from the public purse to give the Playboy Princes hobbies in the army (when they feel like it) and keep them out of nightclubs.
-      - Fashion mags praising 'thrifty Kate' for 'only' spending £35,000 on her wardrobe for a five-day visit to India, while we have four Food Banks in Kensington and Chelsea

    In effect we have our own disfunctional Kardashians, subsidised from the public purse.

In the run-up to the local elections in 2014 I looked up various indicators for Kensington and Chelsea, and found what I feared: K&C is the most unequal borough in Britain. We supposedly have ‘the richest borough in the universe’ (according to a senior Tory). We house some of the richest people in the world (Sultan of Brunei) and some of the poorest in the country (Golborne being the joint poorest ward in London with Northumberland Park in Haringey.

So let’s spell it out. If trickle-down worked, we would have no poor people in Kensington and Chelsea. No Food Banks, no rickets, no TB, and a fighting chance for everyone to survive, healthy and lucid, to 90 years old.

Trickle-down is a fallacy. And this is a disgrace.

So our new Mayor of London may or may not be able to tackle the problem of non-doms, tax avoiders and evaders, money launderers, plutocrats and deposed dictators settling in the borough, while the Council allows it to become a Disney toy town theme park based on a picture-book idea of what it was. We will wait and see, work with the communities we can work with, and lobby till we drop.

Elizabeth Windsor’s birthday is not just a rich and cosseted old lady’s special day. It is a symbol of so much that is so wrong in a country accustomed to deference and subservience to those ‘higher up’ the social scale. A country where very few have the chance to reach 90 at all, let alone hale, hearty, marbles intact, and with no concerns about their care when they need it.

So I say, this is precisely the time to talk about a Republic and creating a more egalitarian society. A society that listens if you are wearing a hijab, a headwrap, or a jumper knitted by your Mum rather than the £2,000 Savile Row suit that is your passport to everywhere. Where you don’t have to look rich or royal to be taken seriously, where your humanity is prized above all else.

So come to the People’s Picnic, Sunday 12 June, 12 noon to 4pm (or later if fine), Kensington Gardens, off Dial Walk, just south of Kensington Palace.

Come and mix, mingle and communicate with other plebs, at our People’s Picnic. Bring your tea, home-made cakes, (or whatever you wish to eat and drink and it won't be tea for me), rugs, park toys, children, neighbours and celebrate being human.

Who knows? We might start something. Or just have a lovely time with new friends.

‘My most flattering outfit is my humanity’