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Carnival clearing, not backing Boris, and Korean comparisons: politics in Kensington

Andrew Lomas is new to the borough of Kensington and Chelsea as a Labour councillor. Here he tells us some truths about the area and its history, as he cleans up after Notting Hill Carnival.

If you’re suffering from a post-Carnival hangover, spare a thought for local residents. Photo: Getty

I came, I saw, I carnivalled

August Bank Holiday can only mean one thing in this neck of the woods: C-A-R-N-I-V-A-L! That my ward is home to one of the biggest and best parties in the world (as well as a double Michelin-starred restaurant, the Portobello Road market, some incredible independent bookshops, and, err, endless gaggles of tourists photographing every blue door they see, just in case it's the one from the film) probably makes me the luckiest councillor in Britain. But if you’re suffering from a post-Carnival hangover, spare a thought for local residents: every year, upwards of 1m people descend on Notting Hill in less than 48 hours to variously urinate, defecate and copulate in streets, stairwells and garden squares. Few things in life are as tedious as clearing up after a party when everyone else has gone home...

Boris mania, part 85

Earlier in August, the news that Boris Johnson – zip-wire enthusiast and occasional Mayor of London – will stand for parliament in 2015 excited literally tens of people in the Westminster village. However, initial reports suggesting that the blond bombshell could seek to become the MP for Kensington and Chelsea seemed to neglect several key impediments, not least the fact that the constituency ceased to exist in 2010.

Kensington and Chelsea had a short life, only coming into existence in 1997, but one thing is certain: wherever Boris ends up standing, he would be hard-pressed to do worse than the first Tory candidate for seat. Sir Nicholas Scott – the MP for soon-to-be-abolished Chelsea – was selected despite having recently crashed his car into a pram carrying a three-year-old boy (he heroically left his secretary at the scene but was later arrested, breathalysed and convicted of three drink-driving offences). Not so long after, Scott was found face down in a Bournemouth gutter by police following “two glasses of white wine” at the Conservative party conference. Scott’s resignation opened the door for priapic Tory diarist and cuddly Hitler-fan Alan Clark to return to the Commons. Doubles all round!

I predict a Riot

Boris of course is no stranger to excessive drinking having consorted with like-minded imbibers in the Bullingdon Club at Oxford. Next month will see the big screen premier of the Riot Club, the film adaptation of a play about a group of entitled posh twits who plot to rule Britain while smashing up restaurants (of course nothing that outlandish could happen in real life, surely?). Glass houses and stone-throwing considered, it would be slightly de trop of me to criticise people who spent the better part of their student years pratting about in velvet-collared tailcoats. However, the depressing fact remains that drawing the line between high-jinks and vandalism seems to be largely a question of class.

That said, destroying a restaurant seems surprisingly lacking in ambition when compared to the fate of Kensington’s Italianate old town hall. In the early Eighties, a preservation order was slapped on the building in order to derail attempts by the then council leader Nicholas Freeman to demolish it. However, Freeman was not someone to be constrained by mere technicalities: the wrecking balls were instead called in the night before the preservation order came into effect with the Royal Fine Art Commission describing what happened as "official vandalism... decided upon covertly, implemented without warning and timed deliberately to thwart known opposition". Of course, if you or I decided to take a sledge-hammer to a protected building the police might have something to say about it. Freeman on the other hand got an OBE and a suite of rooms named after him in the new town hall. Nice work if you can get it.

Democracy in action

On the topic of the new town hall, it’s fair to say it has its own distinctive aesthetic: one person I showed around remarked that, “it’s what I imagine the North Korean parliament looks like”. Of course, comparing the Royal Borough to North Korea is entirely unfair: one is a dysfunctional one-party state that tolerates no dissent whilst the other shares a land border with China.

Nowhere was the ruling Conservative group’s contempt for democracy more on show than in a recent emergency debate about transport services for disabled children. In an ingenious money-saving wheeze, someone worked out that it would cost the Royal Borough a lot less money if, rather than treating vulnerable children with care and dignity, we essentially shipped them around like boxes of freight. Instead of minibus drivers with local knowledge and familiar faces to get the kids from A to B quickly (and safely), journey times started to creep over an hour each way as drivers got lost and dropped off disabled children at the wrong addresses. Unfortunately – and entirely predictably – absent the necessary care, one child nearly died. The public gallery was packed with concerned parents eager to see their elected representatives grip some fairly obvious failings, so when conservative councillor after conservative councillor got up to pronounce that the parents were being rather silly and that everything was in fact fine, the parents started heckling. 

At this point, the Tory whip – Cllr Tim Ahern – obviously meant to say, “we understand your concerns and will do everything possible to safeguard your children”. However, for reasons only known to him, he instead bellowed “SHUT UP, YOU’RE NOT ELECTED” at the gathered unwashed masses. Observing this spectacle, a warm fuzzy feeling welled up inside me, probably reflecting a deep pride at seeing democracy in action. Either that or his naked contempt for the public had made be a little bit sick in my mouth. It’s hard to tell which.

Andrew Lomas is a Labour councillor for Kensington and Chelsea (Colville Ward). He tweets @andrewlomas. Read the first instalment of his Notting Hill Notebook here.

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