Kensington is arguably the most varied constituency in the whole of the country. It has the widest wealth-spread and one of the most diverse ethnic mixes. In some ways it encapsulates modern Britain in all its aspects – the best and the worst.
For many decades Kensington and Chelsea (as the constituency was until boundary lines were redrawn in 2010) was a safe seat for the Conservatives, partly because so many of them lived here. It must have come as a huge shock to them when Emma Dent Coad took the seat for Labour in 2017.
I voted for Emma in 2017. Because of a mess-up with the mail I didn’t get my postal vote form, and it took a very long visit to Kensington Town Hall, just a couple of days before the election, to get the right to vote. Of course I thought, ‘Is it really worth all this time?’ But when the results came through, and it turned out Emma had won by just 20 votes, I felt very glad I’d persisted.
After nearly three years as our MP, Emma has the advantage of now being known and respected in the community – so she’s not starting from such a difficult position as last time. However, she also faces one big obstacle: the Lib Dems have targeted her and are out to defeat her. There is as much chance of the Lib Dems winning this seat as of me becoming centre forward for Manchester United, so their efforts here will primarily have the effect of strengthening the Tories.
Put simply: If Emma loses here, the seat will go to the Tories, not to the Lib Dems. Voting for the Lib Dems might seem to some people like a ‘safe’ choice. It isn’t. It’s voting Tory without admitting it.
Why is it important that this seat remains a Labour seat? For the reasons I mentioned at the start: if there is one place in England where many of our social stresses (and triumphs) manifest themselves, it’s here. This place could and should be a petri dish for new social policies addressing wealth inequality, interracial harmony, fairer educational opportunity, and – since Grenfell – public housing policy.
It isn’t the time to settle back into a ‘business as usual’ Tory regime that not only fails to deal with such issues but often even fails to notice them. Everyone knows things are no longer working, so to vote for a Tory party whose only promise is not to change anything seems truly perverse.
Kensington must be at the very heart of a courageous Labour experiment to drag this country out of the rich-get-richer neo-feudalism into which it has descended in the post-Thatcher years.
Support Emma! Get out there and vote whatever it takes, and drag your friends along with you. This election is possibly the last chance to set things on to a proper bearing.