a convenient way of describing the North Kensington electorate is to think of people living in towns as falling under three broad heads: A’s living in beautiful homes, nice houses and posh flats; B’s living in council flats, housing estates and generally in “semi-detached”; and C’s living in dilapidated mansions, grim tenements and slums. Half the people in North Kensington are C’s, a third are A’s, the rest B’s. Geographically the A’s live to the South, and with their Tory neighbours of South Kensington—the safest Tory seat outside Ulster—share permanent control of the Council of the Royal Borough. Hence the housing crisis and the paucity of B’s. What slum clearance there has been dates mostly from the ‘thirties, and what ‘B’ housing has been provided since the war has been mostly at high rents. Worse than this is the fact that the A’s of North Kensington hardly think of themselves as living in what the journalists call ‘Notting Hill’—the crisis area—at all. ‘Notting Hill’, where the C’s live, lies further North—down towards the Gas Works, the main line out of Paddington and the sinister Grand Union Canal. Of the C’s a thousand or so are Irish, a couple of thousand coloured immigrants and a handful of them prostitutes. Some hundred or so coloured immigrants are friendly with the prostitutes. As the majority of C’s strive to become B’s and there is little hope of this within the area under a Tory Council and a Tory Government, Notting Hill is an area of high mobility. A doctor friend of mine reports a 10 per cent turnover in his list due to change of address. Structurally the slums of ‘Notting Hill’ are not as bad as some, but conditions have got worse as a result of landlordism, overcrowding and vice. The three go together and form a vicious circle since coloured immigrants and prostitutes are by far the most profitable slum tenants. Politically North Kensington is in principle a safe Labour seat in a permanently Tory Royal Borough. But it became a focal point of political interest as a result of Mosley’s candidature.
Of the four candidates, Mosley was the most experienced politician. With the entire resources of the fascist Union Movement, and its front—the White Defence League—some sixty agitators at his disposal, he had spent over a year at Notting Hill engineering a fascist renaissance. It was he who held the largest number and the best attended meetings. It was he who used the most dynamic campaign techniques. It was he alone who managed to arouse the enthusiasm of teen-agers. Day in, day out throughout the campaign one saw as though in a flashback nightmare, the birth of fascism in miniature. One meeting I shall not forget, held down a dingy alley—a row of slums to left and right, people leaning from the windows, the loudspeaker van booming in the dark clearing a great area at the centre by the pressure of its sound, behind the van a boarded building site from which, in the gathering tension of the crowd, one half hoped a band of communists might surge to bring the wheel of history full circle to the past. First spoke Mosley’s lieutenant, Geoffrey Hamm, a fine orator,
Probably the most sympathetic of the four candidates was Michael Hydleman—the Liberal. Assisted by a youthful, open minded and enthusiastic band of middleclass political amateurs (undergraduates, housewives, a schoolmaster, a psychiatrist) and an equally youthful professional agent, he gave all those he met a sense that what his posters said—‘You matter to Michael Hydleman’ was true. He held a large number of open air meetings. He invited CND speakers, he preached antihate and stressed housing and housing only to be the cause of trouble. In this he was patently sincere and he had gone to considerable pains in working out just how much could be done by building on bombed and vacant sites which the Tories had left unused and which were in
The Tories had tried middle-class candidates and failed. In 1952 they took to Bob Bulbrook as ‘Your Conservative Candidate’. In 1955 he cut Labour’s majority by 2,000. This time he nearly won. The description given of him in the Tory blurb is true. Bob is “a man of the people”, “a forceful and able speaker”, “a very human man”. Indeed I should go further and say that Bob’s earthy wisdom has for the English electorate something of the appeal Lonesome Rhodes—the hero of ‘A Face in the Crowd’—might have for the American. A Trench Inspector with the South Eastern Gas Board by ‘profession’, Bob Bulbrook is a born demagogue. The local Conservative Association is well organised, friendly ladies were there to offer canvassers tea at several Committee Rooms, and when the day came there was a surplus of cars from South Kensington. Yet there was something forced about the wild cheer the blue rosetted and bowler hatted, the elderly public schoolboys and the genteel landladies, the hanging jurymen, and the shopkeepers, the smooth young carreerists with their handsome wives, gave Bob Bulbrook as he came on to the platform at the eve of poll rally. They had just been hearing Sir Harry Hylton Foster—the present Speaker—admonishing them headmasterlike with forefinger uplifted, about the incompetence and irresponsibility of the Socialists, when in burst this comedy figure, this contradiction in terms, this working class Tory. What a speaker! At question time to a question on coloured immigrants—“as far as Bob Bulbrook is concerned they are as welcome as the flowers in May”, and, “they were British too. . . wave it and say you are proud to breathe British”. And then to a question about what the candidate proposed to do about the increasing number of crimes of violence, “Being a man who likes a fight . . . boxing and wrestling all my life”—and here Bob crouched forward, reaching for his knees letting us all see a hefty leather belt which I am sure he would have no hesitation in using should the occasion arise, “I should have no hesitation in supporting any measure for the reintroduction of corporal punishment”. All this with delicious emphasis, followed by the wildest cheers of the evening. To my repeated cries of “Shame” an elderly lady turned round and hissed “You should have been birched when you were a boy”. Fact not Fiction! A similar roar of applause greeted Uncle Bob’s Suez campaign as taught to Tory children. Still Sir Harry Hylton Foster saw nothing wrong with it. Had not anyone read Randolph Churchill? On my way out I felt like kicking a dachshund that had ‘Vote for MacMillan’ on its back. It would have cost me my job.
George Rogers, Labour M.P. for North Kensington and since 1954 Opposition Whip for London was educated at Willesden Elementary School. A former railway clerk and sometime associated with the I.L.P., 1945 swept him in as Corporal George Rogers. Since then he has moved out to Harrow, acquired the middle class accent of a salesman and a car. He is, as Herbert Morrison said at a meeting “a good constituency man”, which, coming from so august an authority, I take to mean “a man who can be trusted not to put principle above party”. George Rogers is liked, indeed well liked, by the majority of his local party, though not by the intellectual and CND faction; and during the campaign all three floors of the Midland Red and Heavy Cream painted party headquarters were teeming with bureaucratic activity. But though “Gorgeous George” as they call him is well liked by all but the idealists in his local party, Mr. Rogers has acquired over the years the reputation of being something of a mystery man. George Rogers is well aware of this and at an election meeting complained bitterly that he had over the years he has sat seen 20,000 of his constitutents, and written 140,000 letters, and that consequently he did not deserve such a piece of Tory Slander. Technically, George Rogers has not neglected his electorate, and were he sitting for a more restful area his performance might pass. Morally, he has. At the time of the Race Riots he had seemingly nothing more constructive to say than that we ought to have coloured policemen to look into coloured vice, and that, besides, the trouble was really caused by people who were not Notting Hill residents at all. At a pre-election meeting he told us how he had done his level best “to ameliorate and palliate” matters—these were the words! He had even been allowed to break his silence as a Party Whip. This however was not good enough. If he has ever attacked the Tory Borough Council about housing none of the people I talked to in Notting Hill had ever heard about it. And recipients of the 140,000 letters he has signed tell me that whether it be slums, German re-armament, or the H-bomb, the answer is always the same—quotations from the Party line. Worse than this: alone amongst the non-fascist candidates, George Rogers saw fit to kow-tow to the incipient racism of his electorate by including a line about getting rid of “undesirable elements”—needless to say no criteria of undesirabilky were specified. I got into an argument at Party headquarters about all this, only to be told how unfair it was to be “too liberal” and how one had to see both sides of the question! With an 877 majority, North Kensington is now a marginal constituency.