50s pensioners: Time for you to put the boot into your local councillor at May’s elections

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Waspi Pensioners :Time to use your vote wisely Pic credit: BBC

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The 3.9 million 50s pensioners have a great opportunity to get their views across at the local elections to be held on Thursday May 3.  Elections will be held in all 32 London boroughs, 34 metropolitan boroughs, 68 district/borough councils and 17 unitary authorities.  There are also elections for mayors in the London boroughs of Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and just outside London in Watford.

Local elections are of course about local matters. However the performance of political parties at local elections is always judged by the media as a snapshot of national voting intentions. Also the attitude of local councillors towards the plight of women denied their pensions for up to six years could well be symptomatic of their attitude towards other injustice issues.

You can do this by first getting on top the House of Commons library constituency estimates of the 3.9 million people affected here

Go to the end of the summary and download the constituency estimates ( You will need Excel on your computer).Then look up your constituency and the total number of people affected. You will find it is thousands in your constituency.

Next go onto  the  Wikipedia link at the end of the report and see if your council has elections. Then go on to the council’s site and chase up your ward councillors.

Challenge them to  put pressure on their MP to get government policy changed so you will get your money. If they refuse vote for the nearest challenger who will.

So where are the key places where 3.9 million women can make their votes count. Here are some good examples with all the links  set out for you.

In London where all the seats are up for grabs, the most obvious place to register a protest vote is Barnet. There are 18,200 women affected in the borough and the council is narrowly Conservative who oppose any change or concessions to the women.

The ruling Conservative group has a majority of one (32 Conservative, 30 Labour and one Liberal Democrat) in 2014. You can check the result for the ward you live here. 

Another is the London borough of Hillingdon where there are 16,100 women affected and it is represented by two high profile MPs, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor. The current council has 42 Conservatives and 23 Labour. You can get a ward breakdown here.

And for a different slant the Royal London borough of Kingston has 12,000 women affected (though some are in Richmond) and a council with 28 Conservatives, 18 Liberal Democrats and 2 Labour councillors – a Conservative majority of eight. You can check your ward here.

Some of you may find yourself in Richmond as  Tory Zac Goldsmith’s Richmond Park constituency straddles both boroughs.

Conservatives have a bigger majority in Wandsworth with 41 seats topping Labour’s 19 and there are 11,900 women affected living there. You can find your ward here.

A longer shot is the London Borough of Bexley which has 45 Conservative,15 Labour and three UKIP councillors. But it has 15,200 women affected. A run down on your local ward councillors is here.

.Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire is currently not under any party control. It has 25 Labour councillors, 18 Conservatives, 13 Liberal Democrats and one UKIP councillor. One third of the council is up for election. There are 14,400 women affected in the borough. So it will provide an ideal opportunity to put all the parties on the spot. You can check your ward here.

Calderdale also has a third of the council up for election. The council which covers Halifax and the surrounding area has 12,900 women affected. The council is also not under any party control. The council has 23 Labour members, 21 Conservatives , 5 Liberal Democrats and two Independents. You can find your ward here.

The full list of councils where elections are being held is here.

They include big cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne as well as smaller places like Hastings, Gosport, Portsmouth, South Lakeland, Maidstone, Huntingdon and West Lancashire.

 

Elm Guest House: Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry to probe whether there was a conspiracy or cover up

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Elm Guest House in Barnes, south west London

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Often it is the conspiracy and the cover up that is worse than the  original scandal.  I am not sure whether that will apply to the notorious Elm Guest House in Richmond, south west London if it really was a mecca for child sexual abuse as well as a bed and breakfast for consenting gay couples.

However the decision of the independent inquiry to focus on this as one of six major strands of the Westminster investigations  into alleged paedophile activity next year is very welcome.

The inquiry is also being careful to avoid findings of fact on whether any of the survivors and complainants were sexually abused or not by concentrating on whether there were cover ups when people reported sexual abuse in the 1980s and 1990s.

That is why it is good that the inquiry has accepted Esther Baker as both a complainant and a campaigner against child sexual abuse to  be a  core participant in the inquiry.

It does not mean that the inquiry  – as was made clear today  -takes a view on whether she was sexually abused by prominent people  but it does confer a status on her long standing and very outspoken campaign against sexual abusers.

It is worth  quoting the six main strands. The first is improper influence of police investigations.

On  Elm Guest House Mr Andrew O’Conner, counsel for the inquiry, said :

“A number of retired police officers have claimed that they# were indeed ‘warned off’ investigating possible cases of child sexual abuse committed by senior politicians in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Several of these cases are linked to the Elm Guest House affair, which was itself the subject of investigation by the Metropolitan Police in its Operations Fairbank and Fernbridge. The claims that have been made are claims of conspiracy and cover up, and we submit that they go to the heart of the Inquiry’s work in this investigation.”

The second is improper influence by politicians.

“Have there been cases in which prosecutorial decisions in child sexual abuse cases have been the subject of improper influence from within the Westminster establishment? Questions of this nature relating to Cyril Smith were raised in the Rochdale investigation; we propose that you should pursue those questions in this investigation.

“Similar questions also arise in relation to prosecution decisions taken in at least two other cases – those of Peter Hayman and Victor Montague. We submit that those cases also should be investigated. And it is possible that the disclosure exercise that we are currently undertaking will raise similar questions in relation to other cases.”

The third is whether political parties were involved in improper decisions or ignored allegations. “What, for example, did the leadership of the Liberal Party know about the allegations against Cyril Smith?

Did they take those allegations seriously, and did they react appropriately?

“Similar questions have been raised about the way in which allegations relating to Peter Morrison were dealt with within the Conservative Party.

And how did the Westminster establishment generally react to efforts made to shine a light on child sexual abuse and associated institutional failings? I have already mentioned the well-known allegations relating to the Elm Guest House – they clearly touch on these issues.”

Then there are the role of government  and opposition whips – did they know about theses scandals and what did they do about it.

” Is it possible that on occasions in the past the Whips may have received allegations of child sexual abuse made against politicians in their own party, and then failed to report those allegations, or to take any other appropriate steps?

Is it possible,indeed, that the Whips may have taken active steps to conceal such allegations – in part to avoid embarrassing publicity and in part to gain a hold over the politician in question? ”

And there is the role of the honours system.

“Concerns have been expressed publicly about honours granted to individuals who had been accused of child sexual abuse, or where allegations of this nature were made after the honour had been granted.

Prominent amongst the cases that have raised concern are the knighthoods that were awarded to Cyril Smith and to Jimmy Savile.
We submit that the Inquiry should examine these matters.

We propose to investigate what policies have been and are followed in cases where candidates for honours havebeen the subject of allegations of this nature.

We will look at all relevant records, including those relating to Smith and Savile.”

Finally the lawyers want to investigate the Paedophile Information Exchange.

Mr O’Connor said this :

“The key issues of public concern in relation to PIE are its membership, which appears to have included senior members of the Westminster Establishment, and the suggestion that the organisation may have been funded by the government.

“These matters have already been the subject of a review commissioned by the Home Office and by a further independent review of that work by Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC. The original review found no evidence that PIE was funded by the Home Office’s Voluntary Service Unit (VSU), and Wanless and Whittam subsequently found nothing in registered files or in testimony offered by contemporaries in and around the VSU that funding of PIE might have taken place with the knowledge of the police or security services as part of an effort to infiltrate PIE. But Wanless and Whittam were not able to dismiss the latter suggestion entirely, and we submit that this investigation should explore public concern about the alleged position and influence of PIE members within Westminster, while mindful of the reviews which have already taken place into these matters.”

Interestingly only the Labour Party has applied for core participant status while these investigations take place. I am rather surprised that neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Conservative Party have applied – are they ignoring the implications of this inquiry or  do they not want to be questioned about it?

Of course some people notably Daniel Janner, the QC son of the late Greville Janner, who faced allegations of child sexual abuse, believe everything that happened involving prominent people in Westminster is the product of fantasists. While I can understand his determination to protect the reputation of his father, his sweeping generalisation exonerating everyone in Westminster is absurd. Would he defend Sir Cyril Smith and say it is all lies?

He tried to get core participant status yesterday – but it seemed only aimed to brand everyone complainant or survivor as a fantasist.

Does the demise of UKIP offer a lifeline to embattled Tories?

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Will the Tories replace UKIP? Pic credit: Matt Dent; A mad man with a blog

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The performance of UKIP  in the polls has  been pretty disastrous for some time now. But if the party dies this weekend which other party is going to benefit from its demise.

After losing their only MP at the general election the party performed very badly at local level and is continuing to do so. And ironically Britain’s departure from the European Union will destroy its biggest base which is in Brussels. So by 2019 when we leave it is possible that UKIP will have completely disappeared from the political scene. It is very much a case  of don’t get what you wish for.

But the destruction of UKIP  at the moment appears to be more of a problem for Labour than the Tories. It is a considerable dilemma for Jeremy Corbyn on how he handles Brexit and suggests he, as well as Theresa May, is caught between a rock and a hard place over this issue.

Younger Labour Party voters – particularly in London and the South – are very strongly pro Remain – welcoming the diverse nature of the UK and enjoying the reality of visa free travel across most of Europe.

But Labour voters outside this group – in the North, Midlands, East Anglia and parts of Kent- are pro Brexit. And furthermore the former UKIP voters are obviously keen for Britain to leave.

So for Labour to get back these working class voters it has to be seen to be  both supporting Brexit and sympathising with Remain  at the same time. It also means the party – which has had success particularly at the last election – has highlighted domestic issues like the NHS, education, transport, housing and student loans rather than Brexit.

Labour’s dilemma is shown up in a scattering of local council by-elections across the country this month. Of course one should not put too much score on local election results – because of low polls and because simply that they are local.

But one trend has emerged where UKIP had a previous strong showing.in local areas and either doesn’t stand or puts up a candidate who is trashed by the electorate.

What appears to be happening  is that both Labour and the Tories are gaining votes – but the Tories are getting the lion’s share. This means that either Labour cannot win the seat or as in Bolton last night – they lose a seat to the Tories.

The results in Thanet in Kent –  a former UKIP stronghold where they got control of the council – is a case in point. It has seen the Tory and Labour vote go up – but has allowed the Tories to retain their seats with a bigger majority. Roughly two in three former UKIP voters seem to have switched to the Tories compared with one in three supporting Labour.

In Bolton where on a  nearly 30 per cent poll – the Tories took a seat off Labour – the result again showed  both the Tories and Labour gaining votes – but the Tory share of the vote went up 16.7 per cent to take a seat in a safe Labour Parliamentary constituency. Again UKIP had polled very well in the ward in the past.

Similarly in Newport Pagnell, a council seat on Milton Keynes council  where UKIP had got a big share of the vote last time – the Tory share jumped over 15 per cent – while Labour jumped just under 12 per cent. UKIP got  nearly a quarter of the votes last time but didn’t stand.

These actual votes may explain the closeness in the polls between Labour and the Tories – the Tory vote is simply being buoyed up by former Kippers. It may also explain why William Hague, the former Tory leader, would like to see UKIP wound up as the best chance for the party to stay in power.

It is also quite clever  of Boris Johnson to raise the issue that the NHS would get even more money after we leave the EU – it is aimed at those people keeping faith with Brexit believing the country will enter a Shangri La once we are out.

I personally don’t believe a word of it – but to my mind it does suggest to me that Labour should not take the next election for granted. They have to continue to work on these voters by offering a much fairer society. But it also leaves them with a very delicate balancing act over Brexit.

 

 

 

The top Tory power grab that turns their party members into mere pawns

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Rob Semple, chair of the Conservative Party Convention, and Theresa May – the ” Old Elizabethans” Pic credit: Twitter

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Update December 21: Since writing this piece I have discovered that the Conservative Home website, had already raised  objections to the power grab a few days after the convention. The link to their story is here .

 It is good news  for democrats everywhere that  some Conservatives are challenging this. For avoidance of any doubt my Conservative source and myself were unaware of this when I published the story.

While  the public and press have been absorbed in Tory battles over Brexit the top hierarchy in the Conservative Party have mounted an extraordinary power grab behind the scenes that strips their ordinary members of any meaningful say in the running of their organisation.

On November 25 the party held a convention in Birmingham attended by 100 invited people which rewrote sections of the party’s constitution. For policy nerds I attach the document sent out by Rob Semple, chairman of the Conservative Convention and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Board. I have also written about this in Tribune magazine.

Masquerading as ” small suggestions to bring us into the 21st Century “the convention agreed to rewrite the party constitution to remove references to constituencies altogether;limit the right of local associations to choose their own candidates and scrap the annual meeting of the Conservative Convention where people could listen and vote for candidates for top posts. Instead on line voting would be used for all top posts in the party.

The changes will go for final approval next March at a meeting of the Conservative Convention and will be put to MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee in Westminster the same month.

The Tories are hoping that by removing the word constituency from the constitution it will encourage people to form wider associations – which has had some success in Kent where six associations in the Thanet area have combined. But it also reflects the dire state of activists in some Tory constituency associations – where a number have now fallen to fewer than 50 members and operate from a P O Box address.

 The change in selection proposed in the constitution gives power to the candidates committee of the Board of the Party – whose members are appointed rather than elected. The new wording is:“The selection of all candidates, including Parliamentary, Police Commissioners, Elected Mayors and local government candidates shall follow a process in accordance with rules and guidance published from time to time by the Committee on Candidates of the Board of the Party.”

Not surprisingly the proposals have been  vehemently attacked  by Tory members who quite naturally believe if they join a political party – they should have some say in its policies and be able to choose their own candidates.

John Strafford, chairman of  Conservative Campaign for Democracy. said: “If these proposed changes are not voted down you might as well say The Conservative Party: The End”

 “And if MPs don’t take any action to stop these proposals they will find the only activists campaigning for them at the next general election will be themselves.”

 I did contact Conservative Central Office last week  for a comment but there has been no response and there does not appear to be a press release.

And in addition the review  into the failed General Election campaign by  Sir Eric Pickles, the former MP and chairman – probably about to be made a peer by Theresa May – contains one extraordinary overlooked proposal.

It suggests the Tory Party – which wasted £4.5 million on consultants to the failed campaign this year – could hand over lock, stock and barrel – the running of the next campaign to a private company.

This frankly is an extraordinary state of affairs in British politics for the 21st century.

Two parties – Labour and the Liberal Democrats – will fight the next general election with  the largest number of members and supporters  they have had for ages- reflecting a democratic revolution.

The top Labour Party people will be elected by the membership – there is an election for the National Executive Party going on now. So will the candidates.

But the  cash rich Conservative Party will basically turn itself into an unelected commercial organisation – where investors and private companies will decide the presentation of policies for the people.

The contrast could not be much starker. Labour will go into the next general election as a mass movement with a mass membership who can influence policy and decide on who stands for Parliament, the police and the local council.

The Tories go into the election as a small clique with their members little more than cannon fodder.

A libertarian academic suggested to me that the Tories had turned politics back four centuries – to the days when the Elizabethans and the Dutch Indies companies – used private investors to  create a joint enterprise to rule parts of the globe and general populus had no say. What an achievement in 2017.

 

 

 

 

Hypocrisy and double standards: How a Tory flagship council denies the ” just about managing ” their new homes

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Nickie Aiken – Westminster Tory leader and a bit of a hypocrite over housing

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Today Philip Hammond the Chancellor made a big statement aimed to help the young get on the housing ladder with promises to build hundred of thousands of new homes and no stamp duty for the first £300,000 of the cost of a first time buyer home.

At the same time the Tory flagship council of Westminster has just decided NOT to make available affordable homes for young people which  it could provide by legally demanding a deal with a developer to provide cash and new homes for ordinary people in the centre of London.

The development around Baker Street by Portman Estates will allow the company to make a mint by building 51 homes, new offices and shops in a part of London where flats easily go for over £1m and much more.

By law Westminster could demand that nearly a third of the homes are made available at affordable (still high) rents to ordinary people and that the developers given £12.5 m towards the council’s own affordable housing fund – this is used often to export the homeless to other cheaper places.

In fact council documents show Westminster is about to agree a deal to accept the wealthy developer’s offer of providing just ten affordable homes ( under 20 per cenr) and contribute less than half the £12.5m the council could demand  from them = by agreeing to their offer of £5m.

You might think that this is well par for the course for the council that was famous in the 1990s for the ” homes for votes ” gerrymandering scandal under Dame Shirley Porter. They tried to move out poor families by letting new council homes to the middle class in Tory marginal seats.

But the new feisty leader Nickie Aiken  – she gave a good compassionate speech at the Tory party conference in a local government fringe – has made the point of NOT being another Dame Shirley.

She has told the Financial Times in June : “My view is that too many times we have not always pushed back enough in requiring affordable homes on-site, have buckled on viability or surrendered to the idea that brutal market economics simply denies housing opportunities for most people and that is just a harsh fact of life.”

And in case you missed it told the London Evening Standard  the same thing in January this year.  They reported : She suggested she would do things differently by no longer accepting “cheques” from developers in lieu of building more affordable homes.

“I can tell you there will be a lot more built under me than today.”

Well really – what a hypocrite – obviously not accepting cheques from developers meant they needn’t pay her so much to make even more money.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Labour’s Business, Planning and Public Realm spokesperson, said:

 “Once again the Conservatives prove that they cannot be trusted on delivering new affordable homes for Westminster residents. The Conservatives talk tough but roll over when developers plead poverty on major multi-million pound redevelopment schemes. The Conservatives are giving the go-ahead to more luxury housing and failing those in need of an affordable home in central London.”

If anything he was probably being too polite. The Tory leader is very keen to show a compassionate face for next May’s elections. The trouble is deeds count much more than words for the plight of young people who can’t get homes. Hypocrisy is not necessarily a good vote winner. I bet you don’t see this story in the London Evening Standard.

The full details  of the planning application and Westminster’s recommendation are here.

 

Exclusive: How newly found “destroyed” papers revive the mystery of the notorious gay and paedophile Elm Guest House

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Elm Guest House: Run jointly by Carole Kasir

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UPDATE: Since this article was published a fresh source has come forward to my colleague Mark Conrad, who also wrote about Elm Guest House, showing that Carol Kasir was born Carol Linda Jones in the West Riding of Yorkshire on 4 July 1942 and was never born in Germany. She and her family grew up in south London. Carol moved to the USA with her mother when she was a teenager, but did not like the States and soon returned.There is no direct family link to the name Weichmann – Carol’s relatives think she made up the name, or adopted it to cover her background, before she married Harry. Harry would have thought her maiden name was Weichmann as it was declared on her marriage certificate.

Coroner’s papers covering the controversial inquest of Carole Kasir, the madam who ran with her husband, the notorious Elm Guest House in Barnes, south London. have been discovered after the police said they had been destroyed

They revive the whole business of whether the venue for consenting gay adults was  used as a haunt for paedophiles. I have written  today with Keir Mudie, the Mirror’s deputy political editor, an article about it in the Sunday People and it is also on the Mirror website here.

The verdict by the Hammersmith coroner way back in 1990 was that she committed suicide – and given two suicide notes were found – so it should have been a slam dunk case.

But other people who gave evidence thought she might have been killed because she was alleged to have kept records and photographs of some of the visitors who came there – one of whom the Met police confirmed was Sir Cyril Smith, whom even the biggest naysayers about VIP paedophilia, would have difficulty today making a case that he was innocent.

What is extraordinary is that the Met Police did a recent investigation – Operation Fernbridge-  into Elm Guest House  and a Richmond Council children’s home Grafton Close – that led to the conviction of a Roman Catholic priest Tony McSweeney and the arrest and charging of the deputy manager of the home, John Stingmore on child sexual abuse. Yet they told an MP Tom Watson, now Labour’s deputy leader, who raised questions about the case, that all the papers relating to Kasir at the inquest had been destroyed.

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The covering page of the” destroyed” inquest document

That is plainly not the case as these redacted documents show. I understand that more recently the police may have checked back though there is no evidence that they are re-opening the Richmond investigation.

McSweeney was not charged with anything about Elm Guest House only in connection with the children’s home and abuse at Stingemore’s flat in Bexhill. Stingemore was charged with one count involving Elm Guest House but he died just before the case was due to come to court. So it was never tested in court.

What the documents do show illustrates how difficult it is to investigate historical child sexual abuse and the mass of contradictions -surrounding the story.

They even go down to Carole Kasir’s name  in the document. The official record gives her name as Weichman and born on 4 July 1942 in Germany. Her marriage certificate I have  recently learnt has Weichman as her father and her estranged husband at the time  said her name was Weichman. But a close relative  who should know said her maiden name was Carole Anne Jones and she was born in London.

The documents also raise questions about her suicide and here even the accounts are contradictory. Her GP, David Walker, who she had been a patient at his practice for 14 years, reveals she did have a history earlier of suicide, was diabetic and had a drink problem. But he concludes that she was NOT the type of person he expected to commit suicide.

The toxicology report from New Cross Hospital confirms she died from hypoglycemia and an overdose of insulin. But the examination did not bother to check the syringes or phials or the contents of her stomach. No alcohol was discovered.

But the most contentious  and sensational evidence came from other witnesesses One insisted that he had seen a pile of photographs of prominent people and documents naming which VIPs came there  at her home and another claimed she was being pursued by the security services and the police.

One piece of evidence from the inquest  does chime with the Metropolitan Police’s answer to Channel 4 Dispatches  is the involvement of Sir Cyril Smith. The detailed evidence to the inquest included a story that the overweight MP broke her toilet and wouldn’t pay for the repair which added a further dispute. between him and her.

The inquest also took evidence from Richmond Council  where Mr Jeffries, director of social services, admitted that Stingemore was a paedophile convicted in 1983 -a year after he left Richmond Council.

But Terry Earland, the head of children’s services, suspected that boys were being taken to Elm Guest House from Grafton Close earlier under Stingemore’s care. This appeared not to be taken up by the then director of social services, Louis Minster who  then suddenly resigned from the council.

Now you might say as many naysayers do, why should we be bothered. It is all in the past and we should move on. But I bet none of these people have looked into the eyes of people who have been abused and seen the havoc and destruction they have faced years after the event. They would prefer to just call them fantasists and say none of this probably happened anyway.

That is why we have an independent inquiry at the moment looking into historic child sexual abuse and certainly looking at the evidence it has already dredged out of  the sexual abuse of children at Knowl View School in Rochdale by Cyril Smith there was a cover up as well as abuse.

That is why painstakingly we need to get the nearest we can to the truth and pretending document’s don’t exist is not a way to get there.

 

 

 

 

 

The collapse of the local press: A disaster facing local democracy

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Grenfell Tower: The next morning Pic credit: Wikipedia

I recently wrote a piece for the National Union of Journalists campaign,Local News Matters fighting to keep local newspapers alive. While much time has been devoted to the plight of the national press losing swathes of staff, not enough attention has been given to the almost total collapse of local news reporting.

The catalyst was the appalling Grenfell Tower fire which erupted with a huge loss of life, and why ,until then, nothing had been written about it. The fire not only destroyed a community but exposed the appalling lack of local reporting in the months leading up to the fire.

The local residents association – the Grenfell Action Group – had been warning of fire safety issues in Grenfell Tower and other blocks of flats as long ago as 2013.

But they had been ignored and when their blogs got too critical they were threatened by  the solicitor to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea with defamation proceedings unless they took down the critical posts.

The reason why their concerns went unreported was entirely due to the state of the local press. As Grant Feller, a former reporter, wrote in Press Gazette
In 1990 there would have been two rival papers the Chelsea News and the Kensington News and a team of ten reporters looking at everything in the borough.
“But today there is no-one there. There is a newspaper that cares for Londoners, reflects London and does its bit for London – and that’s the Evening Standard. But it doesn’t do these types of stories.”
Indeed there are only two on line papers Kensington Chelsea and Westminster Today and the Kensington and Chelsea Times. Both are mainly life style and leisure publications. The KCWT contained just one article on the Tower disaster culled from coverage already broadcast by the BBC. The Kensington and Chelsea Times had one original story by a named reporter when the fire had taken hold and one story on an appeal for the victims.
This is not unusual. A damning submission from the NUJ to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, gives details of the parlous state of the capital’s papers and their reporting abilities. It warns that events are not being properly covered, staff have been slashed to the bone, pay is appalling with many journalists not able to afford to live in London in rented accommodation yet alone get a mortgage. The situation is similar in the rest of the country.
Ex editors feel the same. Mike Gilson, who has had a stellar career in regional and devolved national journalism from the Portsmouth News to the Brighton Argus and from The Scotsman to the Belfast Telegraph, recently quit the Argus after trying to revive good investigative local journalism.
In article in the Press Gazette quoting from an essay he wrote for a book Last Words? How Can Journalism Survive the Decline of Print? he says :
“In Brighton searing images and accounts of the Shoreham Air Show tragedy last year, as an out-of-control vintage aircraft sped from a clear blue sky into unsuspecting motorists on the A27, were online before journalists, photographers and writers, had even made it to the scene.
But we still need journalists with the time, training and passion to avoid this ever-increasing deficit. No amount of digitally empowered bloggers, many of them diligent thorns in the side on a range of issues, will make up for the loss of professional reporting.
In some towns courts, council meetings and trust boards are all going unreported now.”
Now some of the slack has indeed been taken up by the growth of bloggers and citizen journalists. But however good these people are they are not a substitute for a well staffed paper with ten fully paid reporters covering a local community.
Bloggers just like the Grenfell Action Group are also vulnerable to being picked off by powerful people and threatened with defamation if they criticise wealthy powerful individuals or even public bodies. The case of the Camarthenshire blogger,. Jacqui Thompson, who was threatened with losing her home after a bitter legal dispute between her and the chief executive of her local council, Mark James. is an example. He used public money to sue her and fight a counter claim despite criticism from the National Audit Office in Wales. She is still left with paying out £25,000 over a dispute that began with her filming the council.
Frankly this means that people in powerful positions are beginning to realise they can get away with things that ought to be investigated by an independent press. Whether it is local corrupt deals, appalling child sexual abuse claims or people being bullied and harassed by the wealthy, those in authority and criminals knowing they have a 90 per cent chance of getting away with it.
The conclusion is obvious. If we don’t do anything to stem the collapse of local reporting we will have a democracy in name only, with no substance because nothing will be reported.