Council leader rises to meet tower block crisis

The Grenfell fire is a first, dramatic test for the leadership of Camden councillor Georgia Gould


Barely five weeks after becoming leader of Camden council, Georgia Gould last weekend found herself thrust into the national media spotlight.

Her decision to order the evacuation of 800 households from tower blocks on the Chalcots estate in north London after the blocks failed post-Grenfell Tower emergency fire-safety checks may have angered some residents and panicked others, but Ms Gould has displayed the very attributes — empathy, decisiveness and unflappability — which led the borough’s Labour councillors to pick the 31-year-old as their leader. The contrast between her accessibility — on Sunday, she was going door to door on the estate, attempting to persuade residents who refused to leave that they needed to do so –— and that of the leaders of nearby Kensington and Chelsea council has attracted praise.

Despite her youth, Ms Gould is no political ingénue. Her father, the late Philip Gould, was Tony Blair’s former strategist and one of the architects of New Labour. Her Jewish mother, the former chief executive and chair of the Random House publishing group, Gail Rebuck, is a member of the House of Lords.

Ms Gould is a self-confessed political junkie. “There’s nowhere more exciting to be than local government,” she told the Evening Standard recently.

But Ms Gould’s rise has at times been more hindered by her family connections. After leaving Oxford in 2009, she stood for selection as Labour’s candidate in the safe seat of Erith and Thamesmead. She later admitted to being surprised and depressed by the vicious attacks her initial front-runner status brought from left-wingers and the tabloid press, who accused her of being too rich, inexperienced and Blairite.

Defeated, she was nonetheless unbowed, taking to heart the words of her grandmother Mavis, who had grown up poor in the East End and become a hairdresser at the age of 13: “The women of this family — we never give up!”

A year later, Ms Gould was elected a councillor in Camden. Insiders suggest that her record running youth services and adult social care convinced many she had what it took to lead the council. In attempting to protect vital services from swingeing government cuts, says one Labour councillor, she demonstrated both “skill and humanity”.

Diplomatic on the subject of Jeremy Corbyn, she nonetheless is firmly on the party’s progressive wing, having backed Liz Kendall in the 2015 leadership election.

One of Labour’s rising Jewish stars, Ms Gould has spoken out against the party’s problems with antisemitism. Writing last year of her grandparents, she suggested: “I find it heart breaking that in their nineties, having lived through the 1930s, they are today being made to feel alienated by members of the party I love.

“My membership of the Labour Party has always been the expression of my hatred of prejudice and injustice, I never thought I would have to defend it on these terms.”

With an increasingly confident hard left set to dominate the party at Westminster, it is to local government that Labour’s moderates may need to look for salvation. Expect Ms Gould to be part of that new leadership.

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