grenfell tower

The bitter end: Battle scars show in Kensington on final day before election

By Danielle Manning
December 11 2019, 18.00

The man driving the mobile billboard can’t stop to talk.

He’s parked where he shouldn’t be and needs to get to High Street Kensington for the Conservative campaign by lunchtime.

On his trailer is a six foot high Liberal Democrat poster with the slogan ‘WIPE THE SMILES OFF THEIR FACES’ above Johnson and Farage’s grinning heads.

Carefully impartial, he says he did Labour last week.

Kensington looked to be just as split between the three main parties at the start of what will surely be remembered as the Brexit election. 

In what is now the most marginal seat in England, Labour’s Emma Dent Coad won by only 20 votes after several recounts in 2017 but her campaign has been buoyed by supporters turning out to knock on doors for her.

The historically slim majority gave Conservative Felicity Buchan confidence in an easy gain despite her hard-Brexit stance in a mostly Remain area. 

And Sam Gyimah, who joined the Lib Dems after having the Tory Whip withdrawn over Brexit, has pushed tactical voting in Kensington and seemed at first to be the right man to attract the BAME vote in a community still reeling after the Grenfell tragedy.

But in the final stretch of this extraordinary election it looks certain that either Buchan or Dent Coad will be sitting as MP for Kensington in the next Parliament.

Conservative Felicity Buchan out in South Kensington

A YouGov poll put the Labour candidate slightly ahead of her Conservative rival yesterday and made clear that Gyimah has become an outlier.

Hours later former Labour minister Ivan Lewis joined Buchan on her campaign trail and shared his remarkable message to the people of Kensington: vote Conservative.

Sam Gough from Twickenham took the week off work to volunteer for Dent Coad.

“Kensington in a way kind of sums up the country at the moment,” he says.

“You do have this huge disparity between the super rich and the rest of us. 

“Sometimes people who don’t have much money don’t come out to vote. 

“That’s going to make the difference in Kensington.”

Kensington is a place of contrasts, where the divisions made so obvious around the country during this election seem to be heightened. 

Rich and poor live cheek by jowl here and what was once a Tory stronghold, and might be again soon, has become emblematic of the growing unrest felt after nearly a decade of Tory rule.

Now on the final day of campaigning before the country goes to the polls, Kensington shows signs of a hard fought battle. 

The railway arches opposite Ladbroke Grove station are plastered with campaign posters of all colours while the houses lining Lancaster Road, a five minute walk from Grenfell Tower, have Christmas wreaths pinned neatly on their doors.

At the well attended Grenfell memorial site the flowers are wilting, but the 72 white candles placed at the foot of the tribute wall show that the people who lost their lives in the 2017 blaze remain unforgotten.

Pro Tory graffiti on a charity shop in Portobello Road
Graffiti on a charity shop in Portobello Road

Around the corner on Portobello Road, the manager of a trendy charity shop apologises for the graffiti scrawled on the front of the premises.

It reads ‘Defend Democracy Vote Tory Just Once’ but she explains that it changes regularly. 

She’s given up calling the council out to remove it and hopes that after the election it will stop.

In the early afternoon Labour campaigners gather outside the tube station to hand out leaflets for Emma Coad Dent. 

Gloria NHS Wildman
Labour campaigner Gloria Wildman in Ladbroke Grove

Gloria Wildman is covered in badges and stickers and has a cardboard placard in each hand with various pro NHS slogans on each side.

A familiar face in the area, she’s known online as #glorianhswildman even though she doesn’t own a smartphone. 

She sees Grenfell as a ‘continuing horror story’.

“Nothing has changed around Grenfell in reality,” she says, still holding up her signs.

“They say that 72 people died in the fire. 

“Plenty more than 72 people died because there is the living dead.

“The people who witnessed what happened are living with that. 

“It’s a living death.

“It’s there all the time when you close your eyes. It’s terrible. It’s crazy. 

“This is 21st century Britain.”

The country will wake up on Friday 13th with many questions answered, and eyes everywhere will be on Kensington.

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