The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the richest part of Europe, recently held elections for the borough council. The elections were believed to be unpredictable because of a terrible tragedy that had occurred last year, where a public housing tower block called Grenfell Tower burnt down, killing 71 people. The tower burnt because it contained low-quality cladding. The council had been warned by residents that this was unsafe, yet chose not to take action. Although the fire was technically an accident, it was also a needless tragedy- it would’ve been avoided had basic fire safety standards been adhered to. And while the obvious story of the fire was one of the council’s neglect, it also showed how poor people are often treated by the wealthy.
As a consequence of the Grenfell Tower disaster, you would expect the council’s Conservative administration to be voted out of office due to a total abdication of responsibility. Not only did they fail to prevent the fire, they have since failed to permanently rehouse many of the tower’s former residents. But astoundingly, the Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives emerged from the election barely unscathed, losing only one councillor in a 50-member council. The opposition Labour party increased their representation from 11 to 13 councillors. And the third party, the Liberal Democrats, went from having 2 councillors to 1. But with 36 councillors out of 50, the Conservatives retained a comfortable majority. This was because most of the borough is very wealthy, and all of the wealthy wards chose Conservatives. Turnout was up considerably, which meant that some of the richer residents would have chosen to vote specifically to ensure the Conservatives retained their majority.
This is a perfect example of why many people question the basic morality of the super rich. Is paying a bit less in council tax really that much more important than holding people to account for an appalling disaster? Is it possible for a potential Labour council to be any worse than the incumbents? Most importantly, isn’t living in a fair society more important than enriching yourself? If the rich are as uncaring as the Kensington and Chelsea election results suggest, then perhaps radical steps must be taken to reduce their political influence.
Overall I don’t know whether its fair to say that the rich are uncaring. I don’t believe voting Conservative necessarily makes someone selfish- I’m just as sceptical of Britain’s left-wing parties as I am of the Tories. I certainly accept than many rich people, including in the United Kingdom, do not vote Conservative; the well-heeled London borough of Richmond upon Thames ousted a Conservative council in favour of a Liberal Democrat one the same day Kensington and Chelsea re-elected the Tories. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are increasingly popular amongst middle-class young people like myself, which is why the thriving university cities of Oxford and Cambridge no longer have any Conservative councillors. In socially liberal wealthy neighbourhoods in cities like Bristol, Edinburgh or Sheffield, liberal and left-leaning parties are entrenched.
The point is that in the context of the Grenfell Tower disaster, I think re-electing the Conservatives was a very callous and parochial thing for Kensington and Chelsea to do. I certainly hope groups like Justice for Grenfell hold the council to account, even if they can’t achieve electoral success. Were I the Labour Party, I would use the Kensington and Chelsea results as proof the wealthy only care for themselves, and so must be forced to contribute to the society that made them rich. The Conservatives may have won a local election in Britain’s wealthiest borough. But if they aren’t careful, they could lose the trust of the rest of the country.