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WIDER IMAGE: Split Britain? A tale of two Kensingtons
June 6, 2017 / 5:46 PM / in 6 months

WIDER IMAGE: Split Britain? A tale of two Kensingtons

KENSINGTON, England (Reuters) - Just 48 hours ahead of a national election, two districts of the same name illustrate the yawning political and economic divisions between different parts of Britain.

A woman walks down the high street in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

In the Kensington area of the northern city of Liverpool, a two-bedroom terraced house costs around 50,000 pounds ($64,600). In glitzy Kensington, London, a similar property could cost 100 times more.

“What I know of Kensington in London is very different from the rough and tumble of here,” said Barbara Tickner, 87, who works in a church in Liverpool.

The British capital’s Kensington is famous for its parks, upmarket shops and museums that attract millions of tourists each year. Its multi-million-pound mansions house a cosmopolitan population, while royalty lives behind the gilded gates of Kensington Palace.

The district in Liverpool receives few international visitors, although cheap housing has made it popular with students. Ahead of Thursday’s election, locals there expressed worries over the economy and immigration.

As they have for decades, the two neighbourhoods are likely to vote in opposite ways.

London’s Kensington has voted Conservative since the 1970s, and a precursor seat, Kensington South, was one of the party’s safest seats in the years after World War II.

“I‘m voting Conservative, and being in Kensington, hopefully it’s a sure vote. It always has been ... and I‘m sure it will be,” said Sheena Williams, speaking in the bustling Churchill Arms pub.

She praised the area’s quality of life: “We’ve got a very good police force, very good ambulance service. We’re very lucky.”

Williams also backed Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to Britain’s forthcoming exit from the European Union, and said she hoped May would get on with leaving. Brexit negotiations with the bloc are due to begin at the end of June.

In the referendum held a year ago, the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the city of Liverpool both voted strongly to remain in the EU. But the districts are otherwise poles apart politically.

Liverpool Wavertree is a safe seat for the opposition Labour party and equally unlikely to change hands on Thursday, although some more marginal seats close to the city are being targeted by May’s Conservatives.

Drinkers in the Sheil Pub are less optimistic than their London counterparts, however, and local residents expressed disaffection with their circumstances.

“Over the last 10 years, there’s been a very big change around here,” said Steven Thomas, who owns a locksmiths on the high street.

Customers sit outside the Fernandez & Wells Cafe in Kensington in London, Britain, May 29, 2017.

“I‘m not against immigration, but it’s just a culture change, and then the pubs go down, because no-one is using the pubs, and there’s a knock-on effect.”

Thomas said that while the local Labour party listened and did good work in the area, he was unconvinced by party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist who has been accused of being out of touch with the party’s core voters. “He’s not really a leader,” he said.

Ricky Gray, a customer of the Sheil, said he used to support Labour but hadn’t voted for about 25 years.

“I have voted before, but I would never vote again in my life. They don’t do nothing for anyone.”

For Reuters photo essay, click reut.rs/2sztPLf

Slideshow (6 Images)

NOTTING HILL

London’s Kensington has become increasingly affluent in recent decades, but not everyone is happy about the changes.

“It’s changed enormously. The area over there, Notting Hill, was a slum when I first got here,” said Pierce Carlson, 87, a U.S. citizen who moved to Britain in 1971. “You didn’t want to live in Notting Hill back then. That’s been improved.”

But he said the main beneficiaries of government policies were the richest, who benefit from lower taxes, when more should be put into public services.

“It depends on who they’re doing it for. If they’re doing it for Russian millionaires -- they’re very happy. But the post office, the health service, they aren’t sufficient, and they should spend money on them.”

Even London’s Kensington, where Russian and Middle Eastern billionaires have poured money into the property market, has pockets of poverty. The borough of Kensington and Chelsea contains areas that are among the 10 percent of most deprived neighbourhoods in the country.

A woman who makes her living cleaning some of the upscale houses, and who declined to be named, said that politicians did not take people like her into account when making decisions.

“If you’re rich and you’ve got the money, they’ll do anything,” she said. “We’ve just had enough. Everything we work for is taken away.”

($1 = 0.7739 pounds)

Writing by Alistair Smout; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Catherine Evans

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