The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has been dominated by the Conservatives since its inception in 1964 but in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy their position looks precarious.
In the early hours of June 14 last year, Kasim Ali, 36, witnessed the disaster from his home and reacting to this unimaginable human suffering, ran seven marathons in seven days to raise funds for young people affected.
Now he is a Labour candidate for the Chelsea and Riverside ward, fully aware that next week’s local elections are his party’s make-or-break chance to claim the borough for the first time.
“If Grenfell Tower was filled with families in a rich area it would not have happened. The council would have looked after the people as they do in other parts of the borough,” he said.
“We will make sure tragedies like Grenfell Tower never happen again in our borough. We value everyone and would like to see the rich and the poor benefit from universal services and provisions.”
After coming to the UK from Somalia as an asylum seeker in 2001, Mr Ali worked as a bus driver before gaining a scholarship to University College London (UCL), where he is currently studying for an MSc in Global Prosperity.
He added: “The reason I’m standing in the Chelsea Riverside ward is to serve the local community in a different capacity than I served them about 15 years ago as a 328 route bus driver, which begins from the World’s End Estate.”
Last year, Labour’s Emma Dent-Coad became MP for Kensington, once considered a Tory stronghold, and after Grenfell published a damning report outlining the inequality the disaster came to represent.
The proximity of wealth and poverty outlined in the ‘After Grenfell: Inequality report’ is epitomised by the claim that average incomes can ‘drop ten times as you cross a street’.
“The policies of the Borough Council and government broadly have only added to inequality rather than fixing it, pushing people to the limit, to the point where they consider other parties,” Mr Ali claimed.
Grenfell Tower is in the Notting Dale ward which, currently represented by three Labour councillors, is one of the more deprived areas within the borough, where life expectancy varies drastically.
A man in Knightsbridge can expect to live to 94, whereas in poorer parts of the borough this drops to 72 – a staggering 22-year difference.
Mr Ali believes this gap in prosperity is tied to the quality of housing and according to research by Trust for London, an independent charity, this is the only borough where monthly rent for low earners is higher than their monthly salary.
To combat this, the Labour Party have placed housing at the centre of their manifesto, with a distinct emphasis on the provision of safe accommodation throughout the entirety of the borough.
“We plan to do something about it by providing education and building our own social housing. We want to put a stop to outsourcing and putting profit before the lives of our people,” Mr Ali said.
“We will empower the local community to do well for themselves and make sure the houses are built in a way that prioritises health and safety.
“If we are given the opportunity to lead we will not take anything for granted – we want people to feel part of their community.”
Conservative council leader Elizabeth Campbell outlined her party’s own attempts to promote equality, focusing on education, the provision of housing and care for those affected by the Grenfell tragedy.
She said: “The best way to improve equality is to give every child the best start in life through good education. That’s why we’re proud of our record as the only borough in London where every school is rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.
“We will improve housing by providing homes within the reach of local people, including social housing and by opposing developments that are built only to be left empty.
“We will continue to do all we can to support the families and wider community affected by the Grenfell tragedy so that all survivors have a new home and all those affected receive the care they need.
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