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In the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, anger remains at a council that went awol

A weekend on the edges of a disaster zone.

The Grenfell Tower fire was one of the worst disasters the UK has seen in decades. The media's attention in the days following Wednesday morning's blaze rightly focused on the scale of loss and misery, the frantic and chaotic response from the authorities, and the work of volunteers and residents to cope with the fallout.

But as the cameras began to leave over the weekend after the attack, the community was still seething over what many see as a betrayal by the authorities meant to look after them. 

Saturday

On a sweltering day in North Kensington, along the cordons keeping people away from the tower's burned-out carcass, a traumatised community's anger spills over. Small groups clustered around residents airing their grievances against those they hold responsible for a tragedy that is thought to have killed at least 79, and those they blame for the wholly inadequate response.

This area sits between the boujis stalls of Portobello Road and the grim concrete of the M40 overpass, a hodgepodge of estates, million-pound townhouses and everything in between. With the gleaming Westfield shopping centre to the west and Holland Park and Chelsea to the south, the area around Grenfell reflects the borough's rich and poor.

Lancaster West Estate, on which Grenfell stands, is itself a mix of social housing tenants, private renters and homeowners. Just beyond it, but within the cordon, are quiet streets that wouldn't look out of place in the more homogeneously wealthy parts of London.

Near Notting Hill Methodist Church, locals, camera crews and the occasional tourist hear a man and woman discussing, loudly, white privilege. There is a feeling among some that this community was left to burn and smoulder by a council which identifies more with the white faces of residents in South Kensington than the diverse make-up of people living in places like the Lancaster West Estate. 

The air seethes with rumours. As people debate, a young man wearing black rides past on a bike shouting that there are 160 bodies inside the cordon: "Don't believe the news."

The community's ambivalent attitude towards the media extends to signs on the ground in front of the church’s memorial to victims, where flowers and messages are piled up, saying "No Press in this area". Someone else in a different hand and in a different colour had added a "Thank You".

Others are wary but want to keep their tragedy in the spotlight. Around the corner, a crowd is listening to an older man with a thick Scottish accent calling the fire "a corporate murder". 

"This is a crime scene, a murder scene. Show them they are not above the law," he declares. "We need a million man march."

And then in the shadow of the Westway overpass, a young woman, voice already hoarse, echoing the questions most of this community are asking: "Where is the council? Why am I speaking? The council should be here. Where are they, why won't they give us a real statement? They gave us 100 words, we waited three days for that?"

The local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, is not only being blamed for the deadly destruction of Grenfell – which was managed on its behalf by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation – but also for a wholly inadequate response to the attack.

Where the state apparatus should have swung into action, community organisations, churches, mosques and the local rugby club have instead had to provide a front-line response. These community efforts have kept people fed and provided emergency shelter, but the coordination expected from the council never materialised. 

"There was nothing," says William Wake, a resident from near the tower who was one of the group who met with Theresa May in 10 Downing Street three days ago. They asked her for the council to be taken off the main relief effort. "The council was completely awol. There was fury in the community."

The council says it has been working to address the needs of those affected since the early hours of Wednesday morning, that shelter and emergency funding were quickly made available and that council officers are now on the ground. And yet none of the locals believe the the local authority's response was in any way adequate, and most described them as effectively absent.

Sunday

By Sunday some of the anger has dissipated. Workers wearing high-vis jackets from other London Boroughs including Westminster, Ealing and Croydon move in to fill the void left by Kensington council, providing coordinated efforts to sort out necessities such as replacement documentation, and almost as importantly, a visible presence on the streets.

These council workers say there are representatives from Kensington and Chelsea council in the area, but it is impossible to actually find one. When I tell one of the workers I am looking for any officials from the local authority meant to look after this area, he simply says: “Good luck.”

Monday

Simon, another of the residents' representatives who went to Downing Street, who asks not to give his surname, tells me residents want the organisation which managed Grenfell Tower suspended. They also want increased support for all the residents affected – both survivors of the fire and those living nearby who still lack hot water, gas and, in some cases, front doors.

What he doesn't want is for control of the situation to simply be handed back to a council the community has lost trust in.

"We went to the PM, we got results, we got Kensington and Chelsea removed from Westway, we requested immediate money from the government," he says. "Not one Kensington and Chelsea or tenant management organisation representative came and knocked on doors on the Lancaster West Estate."

Jasper Jackson is the New Statesmans digital editor. He was formerly assistant editor of Media Guardian, and editor of TheMediaBriefing.

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Labour will win the London elections – they’ve just lost the spin war

The question is, does that matter? 

Cancel the champagne in Jeremy Corbyn’s office? A new YouGov poll for Queen Mary’s Mile End Institute shows Labour slipping back from the record-breaking heights of 53 per cent in the local elections in London… to the still record-breaking heights of 51 per cent.

There are two things to note first off: the first, of course, is that Labour would still be posting the best result of any party in the capital since 1971, and its best since these boroughs were founded. The second is that as the change is within the margin of error, it could all be noise.

My sense, from talking to the local parties throughout the capital is that there has been a slight fall in Labour support but it is not evenly spread. In Barnet, the party’s ongoing difficulties with antisemitism have turned what looked a certain victory into a knife-edge fight. In Wandsworth, stories in the Standard about the local Momentum group have successfully spooked some residents into fearing that a Labour victory in that borough would imperil the borough’s long history of ultra-low council tax, while the presence of a fairly well-organised campaign from new party Renew is splitting angry pro-Remain vote. But elsewhere, neither Labour nor Tory local activists are reporting any kind of fall.

However, it does show how comprehensively Labour have lost the spin war as far as what a “good” set of local election results would be next week: as I laid out in my analyses of what a good night for the major parties would be, Wandsworth and Westminster councils, both of which would stay blue if this poll is borne out, should not be seen as essential gains for Labour and should properly be seen as disastrous defeats for the Conservatives.

However, CCHQ have done a good job setting out a benchmark for what a good night looks like to the point where holding onto Bexley is probably going to be hailed as a success. Labour haven’t really entered the spin wars. As I noted on our podcast this week, that’s in part because, as one senior member of Team Corbyn noted, there is a belief that whatever you do in the run-up, the BBC will decide that there is merit in both sides’ presentation of how the night has gone, so why bother with the spin war beforehand? We may be about to find out whether that’s true. The bigger question for Labour is if the inability to shape the narrative in the face of a largely hostile press will be a problem come 2022. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.