KENSINGTON and Chelsea’s authorisation of demolition and replacement of the once council-run but now closed Thamesbrook care home by a private facility confirms the Tory council’s social cleansing programme.
Instead of local NHS hospitals recommending elderly patients for care on the basis of need, the key in future will be an ability to pay £2.5 million to lease a luxury apartment and access private nursing.
The council has kept Thamesbrook empty for three years, awaiting the opportunity to sell off its prime site to a South African property development company.
It is engaged in a programme to run down, close and sell for redevelopment as much public property as possible to drive out poor working-class people and create an island of prosperity in inner London.
Barely a week passes without revelations about the scandalous treatment of Grenfell Tower residents by the council or its arm’s length tenants management organisation.
From penny-pinching on repairs to disregard or peremptory dismissal of complaints, Grenfell tenants’ abuse by those in authority epitomised the attitudes of an arrogant ruling clique.
Axing a public care home catering for poor people for its social opposite mirrors the Tory council’s public bad, private good attitude.
Its plan to close North Kensington library and lease its impressive listed building to the private Notting Hill Preparatory School — term fees £6,100 per child — is currently on hold in the wake of the Grenfell Tower inferno and growing local anger over council indifference to poor communities.
Whether it proceeds or is abandoned depends largely on the scale of public protest over this latest manifestation of Divided Britain.
Tories are past masters at putting their hands up when caught bang to rights, spouting soothing words and setting up inquiries from which “lessons must be learned” before watering down or ignoring recommendations and, when the dust settles, carrying on largely as before.
Kensington and Chelsea is a microcosm of a capital city in which it is increasingly hard for local working-class people to afford to buy a home while property speculators market housing as investments or safe bolt holes for oligarchs and corporate crooks across the globe.
A neoliberal-inspired assault on the very concept of council housing for affordable rent over nearly 40 years by governments of all stripes has fuelled price inflation in the private housing sector and widened the wealth gap.
Margaret Thatcher’s deregulation of financial markets — the so-called Big Bang — in 1986 ushered in US-style get-rich-quick spivvery, rapid inflation of City rewards and an air of entitlement that disregarded the rest of society.
Establishment media commentators repeat endlessly the neoliberal mantra that the spending deficit means that “we all” have to tighten our belts.
That means benefit cuts, a 1 per cent public-sector maximum pay rise, enforced zero-hours contracts, bogus self-employment and reduced pension entitlements while property owners’ wealth escalates, private-sector rents rise inexorably, shareholder dividends are unchecked and boardroom bonuses and golden handshakes are astronomical.
The upshot is, as the High Pay Centre and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reveals, chief executives pull down an annual salary 160 times that of the average worker.
While the gulf in incomes and wealth has widened, the neoliberal tide has eroded the social wage that made life bearable.
Stronger trade union organisation and a radical Labour replacement for the Tory government are essential to tackle the injustices embedded in Divided Britain.