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Emma Dent Coad: "Privileged to have Carnival on my doorstep"

FUN FOR ALL: Dancers at Children's Day (Carnival Sunday) last year

A LOT of people were surprised that Labour won in Kensington in June's General Election, overturning a majority of 6,361. I wasn't. And neither were the local communities, campaign groups and voluntary organisations I've worked with for years.

Many had felt disenfranchised, as if their vote was wasted. But the world turned. National and local government cuts mobilised them, and there was a party leader and a local candidate they trusted. Many of Kensington's better-off voters, who had watched in despair as their lower income neighbours struggled to pay household bills and put food on the table, also held their noses (so they tell me cheekily) and voted Labour for the first time. In Kensington.

We'd all watched as the Coalition and Tory governments looked after their own in the top 1% with income and corporate tax breaks, while benefit cuts to those on low incomes and our most vulnerable friends made life barely tolerable for so many. And while local services and funding to voluntary organisations were cut or frozen over the years, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) Council was amassing huge reserves of £300m. Unlike many councils, which were struggling with significant reductions from government grants, RBKC lost an average of just £10m a year since 2010, mere pocket money for what a Tory Cabinet Member called 'the richest borough in the universe'.


A WELCOME CHANGE: Emma Dent Coad speaking after she was elected as MP for Kensington earlier this year

While unnecessarily cutting public services such as nurseries, homework clubs, youth clubs and lunch clubs, further cuts were made by the council to staffing. In essence, a whole tier of experienced and dedicated council officers were pensioned-off early, made redundant, or made to re-apply for their own jobs, and - in their own words - effectively bullied out of long-term careers when they had many years of faithful service still to give.

Which brings us to the morning of the fire at Grenfell Tower.

We are told that as soon as the news of the devastating fire was announced, offers of help from London boroughs flooded in. Housing officers, social workers, and other staff members were given immediate leave by their home councils to report to Kensington & Chelsea and help with implementing the emergency plan. But their offers of help were refused, day after day. I've been told, though I have no proof of this, that the second in command at the council walked out of the building at 11am on 14 June, and disappeared for five weeks.

The lack of council presence on the ground was evident. People were asking 'where is the Council?'. I was there by 6am on the morning of the fire and no one in authority was to be seen, only the countless dedicated community volunteers who without a second thought filled the vacuum, then and now, and are the heroes of this appalling tragedy.


WE ALL STAND TOGETHER: A silent march that took place on August 14, in honour of those who were killed in the Grenfell Tower

It was not until a full five days later, on Monday 11, that the government took over and outside help was deployed. The council's chief executive resigned that week. Connections between the loss of an entire tier of experienced officers, the cause of the fire itself, and the utter chaos that prevails, two months later, will be determined by the Public Inquiry and criminal investigation. But we know what we saw.

The council's lack of response was the second disaster visited upon the community.

So what we have, in one corner, are huge and unnecessary cuts, in another, vast reserves, in another, the loss of valued officers, and finally, in the last corner, the blackened skeleton of Grenfell Tower, tributes, candles, flowers, vigils, and at least 81 funerals.

Then there is the achingly slow distribution of donated funds and support to survivors and evacuees. This is the third disaster visited upon our traumatised community.

It is a short leap to connect this chaos and the barely disguised contempt for social tenants, to the attitude of some to Carnival.

While many comfortably-off Kensingtonians respect and understand and even enjoy Carnival, certain of the top 1% blithely reveal their unchecked privilege with dismissive and even offensive remarks. My usual rule is 'don't do personal' but I have made an exception for my predecessor as MP, Victoria Borwick, who is continuing her ill-informed and inflammatory campaign against Carnival. Her demand 'don't bring your guns, your knives or your acid' criminalises, for her own political ambitions, an entire community and cultural event that has the backing of the council.


ILL-INFORMED: MP Victoria Borwick, who has spoken out against violence at the Notting Hill Carnival

A few criminals - less than 1% - come to Carnival with intent to cause trouble, commit crime and settle scores. They are not part of Carnival and are not welcome. I can't imagine why they would listen to Mrs Borwick.

The 1% addressing the 1% - two extremes of trouble-makers intent on undermining Carnival.

Members of our community save their pennies and work all year on their themes, costumes and dance routines. It is the highlight of the year for thousands of children as well as adults, and is a true community-run event. Countless people contribute in various ways and participate, including of course our Latin American cousins. I feel privileged to have Carnival on my doorstep and will attend this year, and enjoy the buzz, the music and the freedom to dance in the streets, as I have since the early 1980s.

Notting Hill Carnival arose from the ashes of the Notting Hill race riots and murder of Kelso Cochrane. This year, of all years, North Kensington needs to come together, with due respect for those we have
lost, to unite in peace and love, and begin to heal.

Emma Dent Coad is the MP for Kensington, in whose constituency Grenfell Tower was located.

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