Created: Friday, 01 December 2017 11:18
Written by William Harrison
Local residents confront Cllr David Lindsay Photo: Peter Marshall, MyLondonDiary
On Monday 27 November RCG comrades organised with local residents of North Kensington and allies from Focus E15 and the campaign against the Notting Hill Housing/Genesis merger to conduct a mobile protest of the homes of several councillors of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). Around 50 people participated, bringing with them banners, placards, pots, pans, fairy lights and an open microphone to mount a loud street action demanding criminal charges for those responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire and the immediate rehousing of survivors, the majority of who remain in inadequate temporary and emergency accommodation almost six months on. The protest was organised at a meeting with local residents the week before.
Two residents, including a mother living on the Lancaster West estate whose children lost friends in the disaster, gave impassioned speeches before the march set off. ‘Today is about getting answers. We want to see charges for what happened… this didn't affect [the councillors], they're more interested in money, money, money.’
The lively procession wound through the streets of North Kensington, stopping to protest outside the upmarket properties of councillors. The group chanted, ‘Justice for Grenfell – criminal charges now!’ Car drivers and bus drivers waved and pipped their horns in support, and a number of people joined the protest spontaneously.
Our first stop was the home of Cllr Rock Fielding-Mellen, former deputy leader of the council and Cabinet Member overseeing properties and regeneration, who was ultimately responsible for the refurbishment which turned Grenfell Tower into a deathtrap. Fielding-Mellen resigned from these positions shortly after the fire, and though he remains a councillor has failed to attend council meetings since then. As expected, we arrived to find the councillor had hastily renovated his property and vacated the area. More aware now than ever of his landlord's pariah status, the tenant in the property asked what he should do if more people come angrily to his door thinking Fielding-Mellen still lives there. 'Put up a sign saying "down with Rock Fielding-Mellen" and you will get no trouble,' a comrade advised.
The protest marched on to the home of Cllr David Lindsay, Lead Member for Finance and Corporate Services at RBKC. The councillor arrived at his house shortly after we did and was challenged to speak on the microphone and answer the crowd's questions: why had it been left entirely up to the community to provide support on the ground after the fire? Lindsay said that he and his wife had volunteered at the Clement James Centre in the aftermath, and that he 'had no position of authority'. A protestor replied: 'Then join the protest!' Lindsay declined to do this. Why haven't the survivors been rehoused yet? He said that the council is spending 'hundreds of millions of pounds buying housing' and that it had promised to rehouse survivors 'on identical terms'. What has he done personally to hold the other council members to account for their role in the refurbishment, which was not approved by the residents? Why are the people responsible still getting paid? His answer, that 'a good number of council colleagues… are not standing for re-election next year', was met with groans of derision. Shouts of 'criminal charges now!' went up.
Shortly we were on the move again to visit a further two properties: those of Cllrs Julie Mills and Warwick Lightfoot. Neither councillor showed themselves while rallies and speeches were held outside each location. The protest concluded outside Cllr Lightfoot's house with final speeches from the residents calling for further action and urging 'No justice, no peace!' They implored everyone to be at the next council meeting. The residents of flats opposite Lightfoot's house cheered from their balconies.
Politicians and businesspeople are not afraid of public inquiries, least of all the official public inquiry into the Grenfell fire. It is still unknown when the inquiry will start its first hearings. The guilty have had six months to prepare their defence and will have months more to do so. The inquiry will be conducted by people just like them – local government executives and property developers. They know what they will be asked and what they won't be asked. What they do fear is direct action – people uniting to confront them directly, when they least expect it, demanding real action and real answers.
The Revolutionary Communist Group will again be joining allies at the next meeting of the RBKC, taking place at 6.30pm on Wednesday 6 December at Kensington Town Hall, Hornton Street, W8 7NX. Join us there to keep up the pressure.
*The inquiry recently announced the appointment of Joe Montgomery CB as one of its assessors, who acted as director for regeneration at Lewisham Council, where the redevelopment of Deptford and New Cross has met with accusations of social cleansing (Why are Labour councils being accused of social cleansing? Kirsty Major, The Independent, 3 November 2017). He was also appointed as non-executive director of Re, the joint venture through which Barnet Council has privatised most of its services (Outsourced and unaccountable: this is the future of local government, Aditya Chakrabortty, The Guardian, 15 December 2014)
Photos: Peter Marshall, MyLondonDiary