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KENSINGTON will be under the spotlight on election night in under a week’s time when millions of people will see if the once-Tory stronghold and one of the most diverse constituencies in the country will remain red.
Emma Dent Coad was just days into her new job when the 2017 Grenfell tragedy struck, and the pain of the catastrophe that killed 72 people is still very raw in the local collective consciousness.
I met her in Kensington where she was born and has lived for decades - on the same road where I have lived most of my life.
On the next road along stands the burnt-out shell of Grenfell Tower, the charred structure symbolising the dangers of deregulation and authorities’ woeful neglect of the working class.
“Grenfell was more of a threat to the government than Brexit — and it will be even more so in the second phase of the inquiry,” Dent Coad warned.
The second phase, starting next month, is expected to look into the actions, or inaction, of the Conservative-run Kensington and Chelsea Council, the tenant-management organisation, and the companies that supplied and fitted the flammable cladding.
Dent Coad has reported Sam Gyimah, her Liberal Democrat challenger and a former Tory MP, to the police for alleging that she had a role, as a local councillor at the time, in discussing the use of the cladding in the tower’s renovation.
She has stated that as a backbench opposition councillor she had not been on committees that would have made those decisions.
“Gyimah put me in danger actually, I had hundreds of death threats,” she said.
She also recalled that at a monthly Grenfell silent march, Gyimah “got it completely wrong” by placing himself at the front with survivors and the bereaved. She said Labour MPs always march at the back: “it’s not a gig.”
Dent Coad also described him as “entitled and disrespectful” for having repeatedly told residents that he gave up his East Surrey seat and a ministerial job in order to stand in Kensington.
Also out to unseat Dent Coad is Tory candidate and local resident Felicity Buchan. Rather than local issues, her campaign literature focuses on her pledge to the pro-EU constituency to “move on” from Brexit by embracing PM Boris Johnson’s deal, and promises to campaign to cut business rates and stamp duty.
For Labour, dozens of people have come from across London to canvass for Dent Coad, a hard-working, committed socialist who describes the volunteers as “absolutely amazing”.
On a cold, drizzly evening I bumped into a cluster of the canvassers who were accompanied by a reporter from Japan’s only communist newspaper, who said the constitiency is the subject of international focus owing to Kensington’s diversity and Labour’s slim majority.
Labour’s bedrock support is in the north of Kensington, where there is a higher concentration of social housing, which is home to Notting Hill Carnival and used to be the stomping ground of notorious slum landlord Peter Rachman.
The south of Kensington covers Kensington Palace and the “billionaire’s row” of mansions and embassies stretching up to Chelsea.
The choice for Kensington residents, when it comes down to it, is between Labour and a blue or yellow Conservative.
In the words of a canvasser, when I asked about what they thought of Gyimah: “He’s a Tory, that’s all you need to know.”
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