“Smirking Marxist”, “communist satanist”, “hard left Corbynista”, are just some of the comments that have been thrown at me in recent weeks, in the streets and on social media. But the worst of all came from the self-professed “100 day-old Lib Dem”, former Tory Sam Gyimah. A day after his selection to stand in Kensington, he claimed I had been “part of all the discussions that went on in terms of cladding”.
I may smirk on occasion, but I’m not a Marxist, a communist or a Satanist. I’m an architectural historian for heaven’s sake! I’m cuddly (not hard) left, and the provable lie by Gyimah has been reported to police, after he twice refused to say he’d been misinformed. It is, quite rightly, a crime to lie about an opponent in an election in order to sway the electorate. I hope this may result in a prosecution.
Sadly, this seems unlikely.
Sadly, lies pay.
We’ve seen this from the team around the prime minister, and from Boris Johnson himself. The Lib Dem campaign in Kensington was extraordinary for its depth and breadth of misinformation.
And the Kensington Tory contender was no stranger to dishonesty. Felicity Buchan made no mention of Brexit, despite being a committed Brexiteer, and no mention of Grenfell, despite claiming she wants to “unite the constituency”.
Yet, just look at the national picture. 52% of the electorate voted for a Remain party. Only 48% voted for a Tory Brexit, with more austerity on the side.
Labour policies and the manifesto were widely welcomed, even by the Financial Times and the Bank of England. Yet somehow the press have turned this result into a Labour melt-down.
In Kensington, the campaign was from the outset nasty, brutal and dishonest. As an academic, I am always tempted to add references to press releases – I am all but incapable of lying. We even pulped and reprinted an entire run of one leaflet because it contained an honest mistake in respect of the Labour manifesto.
Yet, in the end, those who wanted to Remain, and voted Lib Dem in Kensington, got a Tory Brexiteer.
And this is a disaster for my neighbours, who have suffered immeasurably before, during and since the Grenfell Tower atrocity.
How will the new MP perform when challenging the government on removal and banning of flammable cladding, on Dickensian housing standards, on the rise of foodbanks or the drop in life expectancy? Will she fight for the funds Kensington needs to save our high streets, support our schools, care for vulnerable people who can barely survive on what our cruel society awards them? Will she stand in the rain getting signatures for a petition to save their hospice? Will she walk with them, cry with them, go to their weddings and wakes?
They say, Kensington is “complex”.
It is now a Tory marginal.
Platitudes, slogans, attack lines and blatant lies may win an electoral war, but they will not win you the peace.
Emma Dent Coad was the Labour MP for Kensington from 2017-2019.