Split Britain? A tale of two Kensingtons

KENSINGTON, England, June 6 (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.

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.

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Britain general election: The tale of two Kensingtons
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Britain general election: The tale of two Kensingtons

A combination picture shows a young girl as she walks along a street in Kensington, Liverpool (top) and a woman as she walks along a street in Kensington in London, Britain in photos taken May 18, and May 29, 2017.

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows a worker as she walks along the high street in Kensington, Liverpool (top) and people as they walk along a high street in Kensington, London, Britain in photos taken May 19, and May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows tins of food on a shelf in a shop in Kensington, Liverpool (top) and tins of food on a shelf in a shop in Kensington, London, Britain in photos taken May 19, and May 29, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows a derelict building behind gates in Kensington, Liverpool (top) and Kensington Palace behind gates in Kensington, London, Britain, in photos taken May 18, and June 3, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows people drinking at the Sheil Park pub in Kensingto, Liverpool (top) and people drinking in the bar at The Churchill Arms pub in Kensington, London, Britain, in photos taken May 18, and May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows a man as he walks his dog along a road in Kensington, Liverpool (top) and a woman as she walks her dog along a road in Kensington, London, Britain in photos taken May 20, and May 29, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows Baptist Minister Barbara Tickner as she poses for a photograph at the Pentecost Baptist Church in Kensington, Liverpool (top), and Father Freddie Jackson as he poses for a photograph at the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Victories in Kensington, London, Britain, in photos taken May 19, and May 29, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows customers as they stand outside The Lister Hotel pub in Kensington, Liverpool (top) and customers as they stand outside The Churchill Arms pub in Kensington, London, Britain, in photos taken May 19, and June 3, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows a woman as she walks along the high street in Kensington, Liverpool (top) and people as they walk along a high street in Kensington, London, Britain in photos taken May 19, and May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows a woman as she stands on a doorstep in Kensington, Liverpool, (top) and a woman as she cleans in Kensington, London, Britain, in photos taken May 18, and May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows a woman as she sits in The Lister Hotel pub in Kensington, Liverpool (top) and people as they sit in The Churchill Arms pub in Kensington, London, Britain in photos taken May 19, and May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows a woman as she walks past a building displaying Labour Party election posters in Kensington, Liverpool (top), and a man as he walks past a house displaying a Conservative Party election poster in Kensington, London, Britain, in photos taken May 18, and May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows a woman as she walks down the high street in Kensington, Liverpool (top) and a woman as she walks down a residential road in Kensington, London, Britain in photos taken May 20, and May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A combination picture shows customers at Capaldi's Cafe in Kensington, Liverpool (top) and customers outside the Fernandez & Wells Cafe in Kensington in London, Britain, in photos taken May 20, and May 29, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A young girl walks along a residential street in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 18, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A woman walks along a residential street in Kensington in London, Britain, May 29, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A worker walks along the high street in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 19, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

People walk along a high street in Kensington in London, Britain, May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Tins of food are seen on a shelf in a local shop in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 19, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Food is seen on a shelf in a local shop in Kensington in London, Britain, May 29, 2017.

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A derelict building is seen behind gates in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 18, 2017.

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Kensington Palace stands behind gates in Kensington in London, Britain, June 3, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

People drink in the bar at the Sheil Park pub in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 18, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

People drink in the bar at The Churchill Arms pub in Kensington in London, Britain, May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A man walks his dog along a residential road in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 20, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A woman walks her dog along a residential road in Kensington in London, Britain, May 29, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Baptist Minister Barbara Tickner poses for a photograph in the Pentecost Baptist Church in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 19, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Father Freddie Jackson poses for a photograph in The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Victories in Kensington in London, Britain, May 29, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Customers stand outside The Lister Hotel pub in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 19, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Customers stand outside The Churchill Arms pub in Kensington in London, Britain, June 3, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

People walk along a high street in Kensington in London, Britain, May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A woman walks along the high street in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 19, 2017.

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A woman stands on the doorstep of a house in a residential street in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 18, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A woman washes the front of a house in a residential street in Kensington in London, Britain, May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A woman sits in the bar at The Lister Hotel pub in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 19, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

People sit in the bar of The Churchill Arms pub in Kensington in London, Britain, May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A woman walks past a building displaying Labour Party election posters in Kensington in Liverpool, Britain, May 18, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A man walks past a house displaying a Conservative Party election poster in Kensington in London, Britain, May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

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

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A woman walks down a residential road in Kensington in London, Britain, May 30, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

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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 neighborhoods 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.

"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."

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 neighborhoods 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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