THINK “Election Special” #3
Last month, Kensington Liberal Democrat candidate (and former Conservative MP and Minister) Sam Gyimah made these comments regarding Grenfell to The Independent: “Clearly we know now that this was essentially a candle that people were living in, and that is why this horrific tragedy happened. We’ve got to deal with it, and I will be reaching out to the communities, but we’ve got to be very careful that Grenfell is not just part of the party political knockabout. It’s one of those issues that should be above party politics and about the people and their families rather than being part of the culture war that is happening.”
He continued: “If you look at the Phase One report [of the official inquiry into the disaster], which is a very bleak assessment, there are many things that went wrong. By the way, Emma Dent Coad was on the council and was part of all the discussions that went on in terms of the cladding. If we’re going to get into the blame game I think this is a very complicated one and to say ‘Oh the cause is Tory government’ [is wrong]. The council is responsible and there are Labour councillors on there that could of stopped some of the decisions and didn’t.”
Where do we start here? The blatant lie that Emma Dent Coad took part in “all the decisions” made about the cladding? The ignorance of pure fact? The lack of knowledge of the party political make up of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the limited power of opposition councillors? Or the complete lack of sensitivity towards the North Kensington community and everyone in it affected by Grenfell ?
The cladding was approved in 2014, two years after Emma Dent Coad left the TMO board. The decision was made by Rock Feilding-Mellen, not the TMO board. We know some former TMO board members ( some resident members and some councillor members) and we can tell Sam that specific discussions of particular materials used in refurbishments were not part of board meetings.
We can also tell Sam that back then, Emma Dent Coad was one of only one of 12 Labour councillors (there were 37 Conservative and 1 Lib Dem councillor) at RBKC, not exactly in a majority position of decision making, then. ( The only change to the political makeup of the council since last year is one additional Labour councillor and one less Conservative councillor, by the way .)
Sam also immediately contradicted hinself by saying we’ve got to be careful that Grenfell is not some part of the political knockabout but then goes and (very unjustifiably) blames Emma Dent Coad.
This does have a big knock-on effect however, as this causes people to believe lies and misunderstandings, and traumatised members of our community end up being trolled on social media and constantly having to correct some. . Emma has, since Grenfell, had to put up with a beyond unacceptable level of lies, smears, verbal abuse, trolling and harassment.
After not getting a response from Sam Gyimah, Emma Dent Coad taken things further with regards to legal action because it is illegal in an election under the Representation of the People Act, to publish any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct, unless he or she can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing that statement to be true.
Sam Gyimah, in his comments to the media , which he apparently will not comment on, has also as well as deeply offending Emma, has unsurprisingly upset many members of our North Kensington community.
So when he decided to go on last month’s Grenfell Silent Walk, not everyone there was exactly too pleased to see him…..
Many people questioned what he was doing there, he had also attempted to position himself among the front (where the survivors and the bereaved walk) and had apparently even asked to hold the banner for a photo opportunity.
Cllr Pat Mason, Leader of the Labour opposition group of councillors, was one of the first to approach Gyimah when he arrived and said : “I’m one of those Labour Cllrs you accused of being responsible for killing the people in Grenfell Tower which is a dangerous lie. You need to apologise and retract or there will be legal consequences
. Moments ago you were a Tory government minister from East Surrey who hardly knew where North Kensington was – now you are here to use Grenfell for votes – you should be ashamed“.
Another Labour councillor to encounter Sam before the Silent Walk was Judith Blakeman. Cllr Blakeman is one of the three Labour councillors for Notting Dale Ward (the ward that Grenfell Tower is in) and the longest serving councillor at RBKC.
Judith Blakeman had gone up to him after seeing him posing for photos there and at one point Sam had said ” I don’t know who you are”. Judith had replied “that is because you don’t know Kensington”. Upon learning who Judith was, Sam Gyimah had apparently said words regarding Grenfell to the effect of “it’s all your fault” Understandably, Judith and a number of others present were offended and very upset.
If the fact that Judith Blakeman was also a councillor board member on the TMO was some sort of excuse for Sam’s outrageous outburst, we will remind him that the TMO always had two councillors on its board – one Labour, one Conservative (and they were not personally responsible for decisions made over the cladding either). We will repeat (for the benefit of those who continue to misunderstand) ; decisions on the Grenfell refurbishment were by Rock Feilding-Mellen, not opposition and backbench councillors.
Here is a statement from the RBKC opposition group of Labour councillors:
Maybe Sam Gyimah just happens to be confused about the TMO, RBKC and Grenfell? That, on top of appearing to not have any idea of how little say Labour opposition conoillors here have in the rumning of and in vital decisions made?
Well, if so Sam, perhaps it is not such a good idea to give an interview to a national newspaper with your speculative views on a very sensitive to say the least, subject that you do not know much about the details of? Perhaps it is not such a good idea to upset and offend many members of a community in a constituency you are seeking to be elected to represent?
As for our North Kensington community and Grenfell, we do expect to be acknowledged, to be heard and not to be exposed to any further stress on top of our trauma and grief; that is the least we expect.
Grenfell is not exactly a straightforward matter, and anyone who has read up it will be all too aware of that and we believe there were a variety of both causes and contributory factors to this disaster.
One absolute certainty about Grenfell is that this was a needless, preventable, man-made disaster which took 72 lives.
We have said a few things before in the blog concerning blame because we do feel that there was a destructive pattern that had long set into the previous administration at RBKC of treating its’ residents in social housing with indifference, negligence and at times, outright contempt. This is not something we have just read or heard about; it is from our own personal experience and knowledge .
THINKers are not standing for office but we expect better professional conduct from tbose who are. We could go a lot further on this at but will not at this time because we do not feel that a General Election campaign is a right or appropriate time for this .
We cannot see why Sam Gyimah would level such an accusation against Emma Dent Coad unless it is in the vein of the lowest form of electioneering and political point scoring. To do such a thing in Kensington, over Grenfell , is really sinking to a new low.
THINK remind all Kensington candidates that Election day is two days before the 14th of December – which will be exactly two years and six months since Grenfell.
We will also let Sam know that his comments have caused recent arguments and hostilities between previously amicable Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters. We hope that after the election, that some peace between the different parties can be restored here.
It goes without saying that all politicians and would-be politicians should properly think through and consider the implications of what they are about to say before they say it.
This blog asks that Sam Gyimah retracts his comments about Emma Dent Coad and issues a public apology to her and to the survivors, bereaved and the North Kensington community,
We hope that he has read Emma’ s response in this article “Debunking the Grenfell Lies”:
Emma Dent Coad has signed up to the Compassion In Politics campaign and we think Sam and all the other candidates should do so too.
We will end this post by reminding Sam Gyimah and all the other Kensington candidates of what we said on our opening “Election Special” post:
Brexit, the economy, education, health, housing and the environment are all important to Kensington voters, but we remind all candidates that Grenfell is in this constituency and to please campaign thoughtfully and tastefully – let’s have a positive and meaningful election campaign and consider the community affected.