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’

Saturday, 5 March 2016

OUR FRANKENSTEIN DEMOCRACY: Pernicious petitions, controversial consultations and sneaky surveys

The national media are currently obsessed with stories about politics and party loyalty. In uncertain times, when we are engaging in wide-ranging debate about issues of long-term national importance, any divergence from the ‘norm’ is considered disloyal.

There seem to be two kinds of loyalty at work here. There is the loyalty some exhibit when, despite not being huge fans of their Leaders of the moment, they vent their frustrations with friends in the pub, and find a way to work for the long-term benefit of whichever party they support. This is disinterested loyalty.

Then there is the other kind of loyalty, where the backing of patrons – and matrons – in the form of financial support, preferment, sharing personal contacts, giving references – comes with a repayment schedule. ‘Loyalty’ to the patron is expected at a future and unspecified date. As in the mafia, you owe your dues. This is interested loyalty, or rather, a bribe.

The 'cake' of influence
Political parties are bandying around the words ‘loyalty’ and ‘disloyalty’ in reference to the various debates of national importance that are being played out in the media: EU; the economy; inequality; welfare.  The problem with working to this particular programme is that this ‘exchange of favours’, like a Pacific Island potlatch, does not favour talent, skills or competence. It is in essence a ceremonial performance, with attention focussed on one person.

In a world of personality politics, integrity and competence are left hanging in the wardrobe like an old-fashioned suit. By giving ‘preferment’ to those who are ‘agreeable’, we engage in a cycle of replication that ensures compliance and obedience. This demeans the democratic process and we deserve better.

In such a world it is not the cream that rises to the top – it is the scum.

There is a narrow and self-serving world view that supposes that residents will always vote for self-interest. In RBKC our annual residents’ survey proves precisely the opposite. This self-selecting group votes year on year on how the Council spends its money, and is clearly shifting towards a preference of paying more Council Tax, not less, to support our most vulnerable neighbours. Year on year, however, the Council proposes a freeze on Council Tax, assuming that the electorate thinks as selfishly as they do. They are wrong.

The good people of Chelsea are fighting on two fronts to preserve what they hold dear. A petition to save the Sutton Estate attracted 10,000 signatures and the support of the Chelsea Society, the Victorian Society, various MPs and architects, and Create Streets. Despite this their petition has been dishonoured and ignored. The No Crossrail in Chelsea campaign has also gathered 10,000 signatures. They have been called NIMBYs, ‘selfish’, and signatures found to be ineligible.  It’s the same story with the Westway 23 group, fighting to have some meaningful input into the Westway Trust’s development plans.

Petitions are regularly undermined by the assertion that signatories do not live in the area they concern. But if you shop, work, study, visit relatives or health facilities in the borough, the future of services may be more relevant than those of someone who only sleeps here. And surely, in these days of tri-borough working, residents from our neighbouring boroughs should also have a say?

The consultation process can be difficult to engage with, and is also open to abuse. Percentages are often used to mask the actual numbers of respondents. Questions can be confusing or opaque. Sometimes this is not deliberate.

The ‘Local Plan Issues and Options Review’ might as well be written in Latin. If you can read Latin it makes perfect sense, if not it is utterly confusing. But this process is quite simply a review of the planning rules, regs, guidelines and ‘visions’ that will shape our borough in years to come. How far you have to walk to catch a bus, post a letter, buy milk, visit the doctor, go to school or work, and have advice or help on a range of issues – plus where to squeeze in more housing of various kinds – this is all it is. It is the rulebook that governs the everyday functioning of our everyday life.  And yet the interface with those most affected – you and me – is not user-friendly. Result: very few people bother to engage.

The future of Carnival?

Surveys offer yet another means to mould, subvert and side-step public opinion. Two current examples: bizarrely, both the Council and the Kensington MP have sent out surveys about the future of Carnival. Many have stated that they are both deterministic and do not allow comments – that both are aimed at getting a pseudo-consensus to sanitise, control, monetise, commodify or even stop the Carnival. Those ‘on high’ see only the end-of-Carnival trouble that blights everyone’s enjoyment, and the costs of policing they do not believe to be justifiable.

When 50 people rioted outside Boujis nightclub in South Kensington, resulting in arrests and hospital admissions, nobody said the gilded youth of South Ken should have their club shut down. When the costs of protecting Julian Assange, an alleged rapist (from what? I’ve never been sure) in the Ecuadorian Embassy rose to £11m, nobody intervened to stop his protest. When embassies in K&C and Westminster rack up unpaid parking and congestion zone fees of £87m, nobody impounds their cars. And when the protection of the Royal family reaches a staggering £103m a year, nobody suggests they should walk around like normal human beings or the Queen of Denmark.

The ‘Royal Bank of Kensington and Chelsea’ is a monopoly game, but the dice are loaded, and we all know who is more likely to ‘Go to Jail’. So there is one form of democracy for the rich, and another for the poor. The rich can play, misbehave and break the rules at our expense, but the poor must behave like circus performers and not get drunk or out of order at Carnival. If not, they could be sent for trial by survey.

Accountability and transparency is at stake, as what passes for democracy is cobbled together, manipulated, dishonest and abused. Until we recognise this, our Frankenstein democracy will make fools of us all.  

Sunday, 17 January 2016

TRUTH AND BEAUTY: but not as you know it

Haywain, museum piece
Despite the threat of world economic crisis, property investment is still deemed to be safe here in Kensington and Chelsea, and there are many residential development projects still in the pipeline.

Athlone Gardens was a pretty park, this is its bleak future
Many residents - whether they are home-owners, mansion flat dwellers, private renters, social tenants, or indeed business people from outside the borough - know these huge developments are not for their benefit and may instead damage their neighbourhoods, forever.

So, the prospect is bleak. But the spin is sublime.

Click to read how to con residents
The language used by the developers’ highly specialised highly paid planning consultants is carefully and expensively honed. And if you decide you do not wish to embrace this development in your neighbourhood, equally expensively honed language will be used to undermine side-line or stigmatise you, your campaign, your followers and your views. They may tell others that you are unstable, unrepresentative, don’t live near enough to have an opinion – there must be a list somewhere as they all use similar tactics.

Whatever your economic status or position, if you feel inclined to trust the developer, if their planning consultants are the most engaging and friendly people on earth – don’t.

Many will say anything to persuade you to support their development. They’ve done courses, see above.

The proliferation of bland, sub-standard, bricky, blocky, lowest-common-denominator pseudo-K&C architecture being spewed out around the borough is breath-taking and testament to the planning consultants’ expertise.

We are decidedly NOT ‘renewing the legacy’. Like Chinese whispers, new proposals repeat one just completed - with reconstituted stone base cladding, bricky façade with ‘stone’ window surrounds, ‘stone’ cornice and attic storey (and possibly another one on top). The archetype may have been ok, but as ‘successful’ applications repeat the style, the format becomes degraded.

Designing new developments with deliberate irregularity does not create an interesting town or cityscape that mimics evolution or history, or indeed anything of any integrity. Instead it creates a cloying uniformity that erases history and makes a mockery of architectural history and diversity.

Charles Windsor's Toy Town, Poundbury
It is pastiche. You cannot recreate authenticity.

But people, beware! They are calling this ‘Truth and Beauty’. You’ll see.

We are or are planning to lay waste, in RBKC as elsewhere, to swathes of inhabited and beautifully patinated neighbourhoods housing actual living beings and communities. Some of these are social housing estates, but 19th century schools and other public buildings are also under threat. Demolishing venerable old buildings that need a little love and care and reconfiguration, after years of deliberate managed decline, with yet another bricky blocky and banal lump of construction materials, makes no sense long-term. Sutton Estate in Chelsea comes to mind, but there are also innumerable post-war estates all over London, beautifully designed but poorly managed, that are at risk.

In their place we may end up producing set-aside property supported by a twisted tax system that benefits virtually everyone not intending to live here. We have become the safety deposit box and money laundry for every corrupt regime and tax-avoider world-wide.

And here, in Golborne ward, still the joint poorest ward in London with one in Haringey, and where health in one area is actually worsening, we have this:

Oh so alluring; the final insult in Golborne Ward
As the scaffolding comes down on ‘The Ladbroke’, at the north end of Ladbroke Grove, a new luxury apartment development is revealed in all its glory.

Splendid architecture and well-crafted brick detailing (if you like the bricky blocky thing) is focussed around a four-storey atrium with full-height light sculpture leading to an attractive courtyard garden. The 93 market flats cost around £1m for two-bedrooms, all very high spec. It was first launched at the Westin Hotel, Kuala Lumpur to the super-rich Malaysian market:

The W10 and W11 areas have become synonymous with celebrity homes, fashionable brands and trendy restaurants. The entire area has become the epitome of urban living. This cosmopolitan community is serviced by an excellent transport infrastructure.’

Across the road, social tenants who comprise 75% of Golborne ward have watched with dread as limos have drawn up, the driver emerges with umbrella, and the back seat occupant is escorted, one bodyguard each side, into the exquisite glass-fronted sales office.

That’s for private flats.

Steps to 'affordable' housing
 Down some steep and grotty steps, round the back by the car park entrance and the rather unloved end of Southern Row with its Council blocks, is what looks like a tradesman’s entrance.

Tradesman's entrance/poor door
This is the entrance to the ‘affordable’  housing.

Poor doors.

Kensal Town, North Kensington, where The Ladbroke has landed, has more than its fair share of problems. The neighbourhood lies just north of the mainline tracks, and is forced to breathe its toxic diesel discharge. The lower super-output area (cc500 households) around Southern Row is very deprived. There are good, honest, decent, hard-working people living there, but here are some very sorry stats:

-      General health is a disgraceful 12pts below K and C average, and 2pts below English average, with incapacity benefit double that of K&C

-      Only 36% are full-time employed, 6% unemployed (average for K and C), but 30% get in-work benefits, evidence of the part-time work and low rates of pay they are forced to accept

-      People working at senior management/director level comprise 9%, compared to 23% K&C average; this is lower than the English average

-      23% have no formal qualifications whatever, and reading and writing skills are below English average

-      Deprivation index is second worst for income and employment, crime and living environment, lowest third for health and education, and barriers to housing are the worst in England.

The irony is that the ‘affordable’ housing component of The Ladbroke (called Grand Union so it doesn’t sound too posh), which is to be managed by Affinity Sutton, is far from affordable to the majority of residents in North Kensington.

There are 22 shared ownership flats, but to buy a quarter share of a one-bedroom flat worth £497,500, they recommend a minimum income of £43,000 – double that of the mean average in the whole of North Ken which includes streets of large family houses beloved of the upper echelons of the current government. You would then need legal costs of cc£4,000, a deposit of cc£6,000, your mortgage would cost cc£776pcm, service charge from £150pcm and Council Tax £108pcm – that’s a total of £10,000 upfront then £16,000 housing costs a year.

That’s a good 50% of net income for someone earning £43,000pa before they buy a bag of lentils and tinned tomatoes or even consider energy bills or transport costs to get to work.

So, NOT affordable then.

Those who are eligible to buy shared ownership, who must live in Kensington and Chelsea and earn over £43,000, may be a little miffed to discover that they will be sent round the back to the Tradesman’s Entrance, have no access to the courtyard, that it is permit free (ie they can’t get a Residents’ Parking badge) and a parking space would cost them £45,000, which is pretty useless for say a junior doctor or indeed anyone working shifts.

£43,000, ‘the new poor’ in the poorest ward.

This really is the final insult.

'Truth and Beauty' at Wornington Green
And what about the 18 social rented flats? Affinity Sutton haven’t publicised this yet, but if a nearby comparison is helpful, social rent for the new flats at Wornington Green, just over the railway, may give some clues.

Despite Catalyst Housing’s pledge that new homes would be charged ‘at the same rent level’ this is far from the reality. Like for like for a one bedroom flat including rent, service charge and Council Tax, in total is up from £6,966 to £10,410. Given the average income of social tenants is £18,000, which amounts to around 65% of net income paid for housing, this is hardly ‘affordable’ either. As local shops selling food they can afford are squeezed out by rent rises, the daily insults to the local community pile up.

And all in the name of Truth and Beauty - coming to a Council estate near you.

The facts and figures I have are being compiled into a small booklet as open data. Watch this space.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

TWO MEETINGS, ONE VOICE: let north and south combine

You had to be there. North and south of the borough are up in arms. Different faces, different voices, but one common message: ‘Don’t destroy our community for profit’.

On 3 November the angry voices were at Chelsea Old Town Hall. The reason – Crossrail 2’s proposal to carve an underground swathe down King’s Road, for a station many do not want or need, accompanied by years of disruption and a level of development ‘to pay for transport  improvements’ that residents will not accept and which they believe are entirely motivated by avarice not necessity. Months of petitions, meetings, street protests and lobbying, culminating in a standing-room-only public meeting, angry words against Crossrail as the developer, and the Council.

 One week later the angry voices were at the Tabernacle in Powys Square, North Kensington. The reason – Westway Trust’s plan to redevelop and monetise the 23 acres of land they hold for the benefit of local people in compensation for the Westway flyover, that carved an overground swathe through their neighbourhoods 45 years ago, demolishing entire streets on the way, belching toxic fumes. The plan is accompanied by a level of development ‘to pay for the improvements’ that residents will not accept and which they believe are entirely motivated by avarice not necessity (Westway Trust operates a healthy reserve). Months of petitions, meetings, street protests and lobbying, culminating in a packed meeting and angry words against Westway Trust as developer, and the Council.

The main difference between the two? Westway Trust did not show up, citing their need to ‘safeguard staff’. Apparently the £100,000pa chief executive of Westway Trust fears the community she is employed to serve.

Both groups are being stigmatised and their legitimacy eroded. Old Chelsea with its suits and pearls are ‘NIMBYs against the future’. Old Ladbroke Grove with its t-shirts and head-wraps are ‘jobless rastas’. Neither stereotype is in the least bit true. Both neighbourhoods are, thankfully, still a glorious cocktail of people, albeit with different spirits predominating.

Both communities are faced with massive change they neither want nor need.

Both fear their neighbourhoods will change beyond recognition for the benefit of outsiders, becoming what planning consultants call, with all the enthusiasm they can feign, ‘destinations’.

Both fear they will be priced out of the areas they were born in and belong to.

Both are faced by a juggernaut of rapacious developers with their lawyers, consultants, smarmy spin-doctors and phony consultations involving what some call ‘decision-based evidence making’.

Both are told their petitions and protests are not valid, the signatories unauthentic, and their campaigns are not representative or legitimate.

Both groups are told that yes, there will be disruption, but if these changes do not take place now, future generations will curse them.

Both groups say the Council, which was elected to represent them, is working against them, saying it knows ‘what is best’ and that the development will ‘improve the area’.

It won’t.

When challenged, senior Councillors are careful to stick to the script. But sometimes, just sometimes, the mask slips. After a typically stage-managed event of difficult questioning at a recent ‘Ask Nick’ in North Ken, the Leader of the Council was asked once again, why local people need £1,000 handbag shops and all the accompanying fol-di-ra of gentrification. This response was overheard:

Given the very similar issues faced in the borough, north and south,  wouldn’t it be interesting if these groups worked together in the fight against the Council for the long-term sustainability of their communities - around King’s Road and Portobello Road - not of businesses and shops, but of people?

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Cameron, union reform, The Spanish Falange, and architecture

Cameron sees himself as a world leader; he is losing the plot. On welfare reform and tax credit cuts, many on his own side are appalled at the severity and the implications on low- and middle-income working families. The effects of the DLA ‘review’ have been proved – desperation, worsening health, stress, even suicide. His NHS reform is falling apart at the seams, and whatever his spin doctors say, actual medical doctors are protesting in the streets today. Those judged to be fit for work may die of starvation, or cancer, while those trained to treat them have their salaries cut.

But hey, we can afford to go to war. 

And so it goes on.

And now he is turning to union ‘reform’. Some of the reforms are stark bonkers, others are a clear infringement of human rights that could mean we are the only EU country with no right to strike.

Interestingly, as I know something on the subject, his union ‘reforms’ have been likened to Spanish Falange sindicatos. To give a brief synopsis, these syndicates or vertical unions, planned by the Falange and introduced under Franco, comprised vertical structures of workers, technical specialists and management, with representatives chosen by the employers. Strikes were forbidden, and the policy (which is not the same as the reality) of full employment meant no benefits whatever were available, and no rights to work for married women.

So, the pundits are correct. Arriba Espaňa.

Do bear in mind however that under the first ten years of Franco’s dictatorship it is said that one million people died of starvation. Would Cameron aspire to that too?

The Falange many have been the ‘caring conservatives’ of the day - they brought in land reform and ended serfdom - but yes I mean that ironically. Post-war they were put in charge of infrastructure such as road-building, hydro-electricity programmes, reservoirs – and housing.

But mainly in areas that had not been on the side of the ‘Reds’. Of course. It was a moral crusade!

Some of the architecture was quite good really, though they fell into the old trap of designing vernacular housing for the workers and peasantry, just so you would never mistake them for anything other than what they are.

The yoke is for the peasants of course
After all, maintaining the hierarchy is everything to those ‘born to rule’. Emphasising this through accent, language, pig or other kinds of forbidden love, misogyny and architecture is sadly as embedded and prevalent today in Cameron’s Britain as it was in Franco’s Spain.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

THE BATTLE FOR KENSAL TOWN: the stark reality of inequality in K&C

On the very day that the Attorney General published his findings on air pollution (current government proposals illegal!) a hundred metres down the road from my house a black, tinted-window BMW 4WD sits outside a house, all day, engine blasting filth into the atmosphere.

Another two blocks away, another similar 4WD stands guard outside a private nursery school, during school hours, engine blasting filth into the atmosphere.


Just up the road from this invasion, Kensal Town in North Kensington has more than its fair share of problems. The neighbourhood lies just north of the mainline tracks, and is forced to breathe its toxic diesel discharge. The lower super-output area around Southern Row [1] is very deprived. There are good, honest, decent, hard-working people living there, but here are some very sorry stats:

-      General health is a disgraceful 12pts below K&C average, and 2pts below English average, with incapacity benefit double that of K&C

-      Only 36% are full-time employed, 6% unemployed (average for K&C), but 30% get in-work benefits, evidence of the part-time work and low rates of pay they are forced to accept

-      People working at senior management/director level comprise 9%, compared to 23% K&C average; this is lower than the English average

-      23% have no formal qualifications whatever, and reading and writing skills are below English average

-      Deprivation index is second worst for income and employment, crime and living environment, lowest one-third for health and education, and barriers to housing are the worst in England.

So why put a super-luxury development in the middle of an area of deprivation? At an earlier stage, the mythical Crossrail station at Kensal Gasworks across the road may have precipitated interest in the area. Land is also ‘cheap’ in comparison to the rest of K&C, and next to the canal and trendy Portobello Dock with Tom Dixon restaurant.

This is it: The Ladbroke. If you believe the sales pitch, it is near Knightsbridge and Regent’s Park. It was first launched at the Westin Hotel, Kuala Lumpur to the super-rich Malaysian market.

Council tenants have watched as limos have drawn up in from of their block, door opened by one flunky, the driver emerges with umbrella, and the back seat occupant is escorted, one flunky each side, into the sales office.


Just what do they think they need protection from, as they inspect their investment? And how many flats did they buy – if any? Given that some prices have been reduced [2] maybe they are waiting for them to fall back to a ‘realistic’ level before they buy?

S106 'consultants' help reduce
affordable housing percentage
I well remember the planning application going through the process. The developer fought like a dog through its planning consultants to squeeze and squeeze the affordable housing. Replacing a 100% employment complex of affordable commercial units with a luxury housing development is a delicate business. They replaced the affordable commercial units with unaffordable, and it seems likely they may remain empty, as in their neighbouring student hostel in Kensal Road. The developer has a record on this [3].

To what extent will this super-luxury development ‘regenerate’ Southern Row, and more particularly the lives of its residents? It won’t. What will happen over time is that the land the Council housing sits on will become too valuable to allow mere Council tenants to continue to live there. Repairs and maintenance will be downscaled in the cruel process of ‘managed decline’, and eventually they will be judged unfit for purpose.  Plans will then be put forward to ‘regenerate’ the estates and squeeze out those tenants who can no longer afford to live at higher rents. 

Social cleansing, pure and simple.

The battleground is clear; profit versus people.

The battle for Kensal Town has begun.

3. From RTPI Friday Briefing, 27th September 2013

‘Tower Hamlets had refused urban developer Workspace Group’s proposals for 302 dwellings and 8.104 square metres of SME business accommodation chiefly because of the affordable housing offer of just 12.5 per cent.
The east London council had suggested that a 30.4 per cent level was justifiable (and economic), particularly as that figure was significantly below the 35 to 50 per cent range the council would normally expect.
The council also argued that level of provision was needed to ensure the scheme complied with development plan policies including those in the London Plan.
At the subsequent inquiry the developer offered obligations at two levels of affordable housing provision: 12.5 and 20 per cent, although it made it clear it was concerned at the viability of the scheme at the upper level.
Pickles accepted the developer’s concern but agreed with the inspector that “there is no certainty that these concerns are of such an order as to mean that the development would not be delivered in the reasonably foreseeable future”. He allowed the appeal on the basis of a 20 per cent affordable housing figure.’