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

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.

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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496