Kensington makes no attempts to hide its overwhelming bougie-ness, so it’s no surprise the poverty within its constituent boundaries often goes unnoticed. With its huge, white-washed Victorian houses, private gardens and a palpable sense of entitlement, it’s no wonder the area has consistently voted Tory. It’s home to Kensington Palace and to Hyde Park, and offers second or third homes to numerous Russian oligarchs and former 90s pop stars.
My family moved to West London before I was born, and we were what you’d describe as “definition gentrification”. I attended the state school, where I got to learn steel pans, and used to sell Ribena on my doorstep during Notting Hill Carnival. It was clear to me the extreme privilege under which I lived – but also that the area was still attempting to cling on to a culture that was being eradicated by rising house prices.
But don’t be fooled by the sparkling white properties. Kensington, the UK’s richest constituency, also contains the joint poorest ward in London. My old state primary school still exists, but the houses in the catchment area sell for millions of pounds, pricing out local residents from a decent education.
The area’s problems had been growing, and this time it reached breaking point. For the first time ever in its existence, last week’s election saw the constituency go Labour by just 20 votes. What felt like screaming into the void turned out to be one of the most important votes I had ever placed.
I’m surprised the constituents of Kensington came through, but when you take a closer look, it doesn’t seem as strange as you might think. At the core of the Kensington vote is the fatal mistake of placing an ill-fitting, Eurosceptic MP in a highly pro-EU borough. Lady Victoria Borwick voted to leave, despite 68.7 per cent of her (former) constituents voting to remain.
A friend of mine told me how her family, who had only ever voted Conservative, refused to do so because of Borwick’s betrayal over Brexit. Labour and Lib Dem posters started to appear in the area. Despite Kensington’s rise as a haven for the super rich, those who have lived there for years and in particular, the young who grew up there, refused to forget its past. While Brexit may have pushed the core Conservative voters away, its combination with a politically engaged young vote gave Kensington that final push it needed.
Borwick was also not the most palatable of Tory MPs. She consistently voted against laws to promote equality and human rights, voted against higher taxes on banks, and against laws to combat climate change. She refused to attend the second hustings of this general election campaign, after being heckled by constituents in the first. She apparently convinced Theresa May to remove an ivory trade ban from her manifesto.
She also disliked one of the area’s most defining features: Carnival. Despite its affluence today, in the mid 20th century, Notting Hill was a rundown slum. In the late 1940s, West Indian workers arrived to solve a post-war labour crisis. They started what is now the Notting Hill Carnival.
You might think keeping such an event going might be seen as the least you can do for pricing out an entire generation and community, but Borwick hated Carnival. Despite the event being statistically less dangerous than Glastonbury, she constantly scaremongered about it on her blog, writing about the negligible crime rates and damage to small business. Her ultimate insult to the area? Starting talks to remove Carnival.
No doubt it was Brexit that motivated traditional Kensington Tories to vote Labour. But Corbynism may have also increased the young vote in the area, and compelled those who felt disenfranchised to vote. Despite its affluence, Kensington deserved a change. Carnival is going red this year.