A Kensington CLP member explains how victory has been tempered by catastrophe of Grenfell Tower fire ON A NIGHT filled with drama, a microcosm of Labour’s advance could be seen in Kensington, where veteran Kensington campaigner and Labour councillor, Emma Dent Coad, who overturned the incumbent Tory Victoria Borwick’s 7,000 majority and won by 20 votes on a swing of 11.11 per cent. The third recount took place the day after the election and with a fourth recount rejected by the officials, Dent Coad adds to the slew of new pro-Corbyn MPs in the House of Commons.
The right wing press and Tories were in shock at losing a constituency, which is among the richest in the country. Yet the constituency perfectly reflected the dynamic that led Corbyn’s anti-austerity manifesto to secure Labour’s best result for over a decade; with unimaginable wealth and poverty side by side, the affluence of South Kensington stands in stark contrast to the north of the borough which contains some of the country’s poorest wards.
But is Labour’s victory really so surprising? Kensington is not only home to gross concentrations of wealth and “investments” for property speculators, who own thousands of empty flats and houses, it is also home to established working class communities who have lived there for decades.
Council estates and social housing compete for space and the right to exist. 97 per cent of the council’s social housing stock is scheduled to be sold off. Many estates are threatened with “regeneration” projects, forcing residents to be housed miles away – some as far as Hastings – to create space for profitable housing at market rents. This is the same story across the UK. In Kensington there is no shortage of empty housing – so why don’t the council knock down the empty luxury homes to build new high-density housing?
Such contradictions are starkly exposed in this small constituency. While it is one of richest in the UK (the council are sitting on a reserve of £300 million) working class communities in Kensington would be hard pressed to find any of this wealth coming their way. Public services like childcare, social care and libraries have been slashed to the bone, dumping the cost on poorer residents. It has one of the highest rates of households in temporary accommodation; other residents are “decanted” to make space for property developments, even as food bank use spirals and child poverty rates are as high as two-in-five in some wards.
Labour strikes a chord
In line with the rest of the UK, a larger turnout of working class voters and young people helped to secure Labour’s victory. In Kensington there was a 7 per cent increase in voter turnout.
The increase in the Labour vote is further proof that Corbyn’s manifesto was able to galvanise residents to vote because communities traditionally taken for granted by the party strategists finally saw a vision of society that could be a meaningful alternative to decades of neoliberalism.
The urgency of this alternative is demonstrated in the worst possible way by the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower. The outsourcing of social housing management, cost-cutting and sub-contracting, pressure on the fire services, all these factors contributed to the disaster.
That this occurred after a Tory government blocked attempts to force landlords to ensure their houses were fit for human habitation only underscores the justified anger people feel. Thousands of people fear they live in similar death traps.
As Emma said in her victory speech, Kensington is a “microcosm of everything that is wrong in this country after seven years of incompetent and uncaring coalition and Tory government”.
The local Labour Party is determined to ensure it is a voice for residents in the weeks and months to come – by helping with solidarity and holding the council to account, but above all by helping up the pressure on the Tories and joining with the rest of the labour movement in campaigning for a new general election and a Labour government.