The 2018 local elections in Kensington and Chelsea*

Mohammed Tehrani said, “Grenfell hasn’t had an impact in the south of the borough. In the south they don’t give a damn about Grenfell.1

The 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy killed 72 people in the richest borough in the richest city in Britain. Eleven months later the May 2018 local elections showed a very marginal Grenfell effect with one Labour gain. This is surprising because the Conservative administration is being investigated on the competence of their decision-making procedures in relation to the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. There are investigations focused on decision-making concerning the external cladding which accelerated the inferno. The possible flawed decision-making is so egregious it has provoked both a police investigation and a Public Inquiry2. There have been profound changes to the ruling Conservative group in the pre- Grenfell and post-Grenfell period. The Conservatives have done the work of the electorate for them: behind closed doors. Tehrani is saying Conservative councillors are clones and the new councillors would have made exactly the same decisions as the old ones.

The political and social divide in Kensington and Chelsea 2018

The principal decision-making body for K&C was a ten member cabinet. They were so tainted post-Grenfell that six lost their positions. This began a political cull in response to Grenfell. Notwithstanding the fact that ‘Conservative’ wards continued to loyally elect Conservatives, there were massive changes. In 2014 there were 37 Conservative members, which became 36 after the 2018 election. However of the 37 members who held their seats in 2014 only 16 still held them in 2018. Let’s put this in a different way. Rock-solid Conservative wards deselected, or caused to resign (for whatever reason) 20 members between the 2014 and 2018 elections, with just one losing a public election3. Those 20 Conservative members were not voted out by an enraged electorate. Safe Conservative seats stayed safe and Mohammed Tehrani’s prediction is apparently spot on. Of the sitting Conservative councillors from the 2014 elections 56% didn’t stand in 2018. Why?

Six cabinet members lost their position post-Grenfell. None of them stood in the 2018 election, suggesting coercion. Any connexion to the Grenfell tragedy was assumed to be toxic and the new Conservative leadership feared that pre-Grenfell cabinet members would attract effective campaigns against them to the detriment of the party. The Conservatives had lost the parliamentary seat of Kensington in a shock result in 2017 and so the leadership was taking no chances with the borough election. A Public Inquiry and a police investigation and 72 deaths was too much for the new leader, Councillor Campbell4. It’s less easy speculating about the (non-cabinet) fourteen members who didn’t stand. Victoria Borwick didn’t stand in Abingdon ward. She’s a former MP with a whiff of scandal about her. She claimed both an MP and a councillors’ salary, which is clean contrary to convention (but not illegal). So she might have resigned for personal reasons, or, for alienating her local party, or, a connexion with Grenfell. It’s impossible to know. As is drawing a straight line from Grenfell to the 20 Conservatives successful in 2014 but not standing in 2018. Nonetheless it points to turmoil in K&C’s Conservative party.

Tehrani can be interpreted as making a ‘class-war’ remark. In that narrative the Grenfell tragedy is collateral damage in a class-war waged by the south of the borough against the poor in the north. In which case the re-jigged Conservative Administration is changing of one set of clones for another. Tainted councillors causing reputational damage were removed and any blame occurring from the conclusion of the investigation and Public Inquiry will be borne by former councillors whilst business at K&C continues as usual. Only time will tell whether Tehrani’s cynicism is accurate.

*henceforward K&C

1 https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/grenfell-impact-kensington-chelsea-council-election_uk_5adf43eae4b07be4d4c53e0a Tehrani is 62 and lives in the north of the borough and went on to say that voting by the rich always wins a majority in Kensington. The public inquiry is led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41262914

3 If you wish to see K&C’s election result history go to their excellent site https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/local-democracy-and-elections/election-results-archive

There was one Lab one gain in St Helens ward. Cllr Allison lost her seat but the ward was already split Con/Lab and so this isn’t amazing.

4 Who incidentally increased her vote with 1907 against the highest Labour vote of 349 in Royal Hospital ward. The Kensington parliamentary election was lost by 20 votes when Victoria Borwick was defeated.

Chris

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