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Jewish social activism guides my political work, says council leader

The youngest Jewish council leader in Britain explains her upbringing and goals in her first major interview with the JC

    Georgia Gould (right) with MPs Keir Starmer and Tulip Siddiq
    Georgia Gould (right) with MPs Keir Starmer and Tulip Siddiq (Photo: Martin Plaut)

    One of the country's youngest council leaders has described how a growing connection to the Jewish social activism movement is at the heart of her attempts to bring the community together in one of the UK's most culturally diverse boroughs.

    Georgia Gould - whose political pollster father Philip was one of the architects of Tony Blair's rise to power in the 1990s - was elected leader of Camden Council last year at the age of just 30.

    A year later, with council elections less than a week away and issues such as rising hate crime, antisemitism and cuts to budgets repeatedly cropping up on doorsteps, Ms Gould says her determination to make a difference to wider society has not been dented.

    "I said at the launch of our manifesto that I'm proud to be a Jewish leader of Camden and also proud of leading a really diverse group of candidates of different faith backgrounds to represent the borough," she says.

    "I am incredibly inspired by the huge contribution Judaism has made to social justice movements.

    "At the moment, like elsewhere in the country, we are seeing incidents of hate crime, antisemitism, Islamophobia and far-right activism in our borough.

    "Sometimes a lot of communities can live side-by-side, but it doesn't necessarily mean they spend time together.

    "This is something we are actively working on. Not just as a council, but through our different faith communities."

    Ms Gould grew up in a highly politicised family, and was once famously held aloft by Neil Kinnock as a baby. She regularly saw prominent figures such as Alistair Campbell and his partner Fiona Miller coming to her family home in North London.

    In 2011 tragedy struck when her father - who was polling advisor to the Labour Party from 1987 to 2005 - died from oesophageal cancer.

    Ms Gould's mother, Gail Rebuck, a Labour peer herself and chair of Penguin Random House UK, was responsible for what she now describes as a "deep" connection to her Jewish roots.

    "My parents - mum is Jewish, dad was not - did not force us to choose but I remember very early on, when I was probably about eight years old, thinking 'yes, I'm Jewish'," she reveals.

    "I remember mum would take us to places like the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I didn't have a Jewish education as such, but I just knew. I wouldn't say it was an obligation.

    "When I looked at my family, what the different generations had gone through - I just knew that was a tradition that really meant something to me.

    "It was something that was important for both me and my sister to continue."

    Ms Gould is an active member of the West London Reform Synagogue. In her spare time she attends a group at the shul which has come together to look at Jewish social activism.

    "It's a group of people who are all involved in social activism in different ways," she explains. "It's about looking at this great Jewish tradition and seeing what is written about it.

    "It's a really positive statement for me, using my spare time discussing my faith and its relationship to these movements.

    "It's really informal and we've only just started it."

    Ms Gould joined protesters at last month's "Enough is Enough" demonstration against antisemitism in Parliament Square.

    Two weeks ago, along with local Labour MPs Tulip Siddiq and Keir Starmer, she also met Jewish communal representatives to discuss concerns about rising antisemitism and, of course, Jeremy Corbyn.

    "We had actually written to local Jewish faith leaders to say that in the face of everything that is going on we stand in solidarity with them," says Ms Gould.

    "We wanted to hear their concerns and hear what we could do collectively. It was a positive meeting - but also a very difficult one.

    "There are a lot of people who feel scared by what they have seen and heard. They want to see action taken by the Labour Party.

    "To me this is all very painful, which is why I went to the protest.

    "I've seen the antisemitism, I've heard it and I've had it reported back to me. On the doorstep I will try to talk to people about what we are doing locally. We passed the IHRA definition on antisemitism last year. We have heard the upset in the Jewish community.

    "What I would definitely say is the first people to show solidarity with the local Jewish community were other faith leaders - the Muslim community and others."

    Despite the growing climate of fear and uncertainty, Ms Gould is still able to speak optimistically about her job at the helm of Camden Council.

    "I think this is one of the best and most challenging jobs in the world," she insists. "Camden is a borough that has huge resources like the British Museum and the British Library.

    "But alongside all the wealth and the opportunity we have deep pockets of poverty and a ten-year life expectancy difference from one side of the borough to another.

    "But the challenge is trying to build something in Camden where people do feels as though they are part of something. I see my job as trying to bring hope, trying to retain cohesion and unity in the borough.

    "Over the last couple of years, with the combination of austerity and Brexit there's been a real fear coming through the community.

    "People are saying that they are scared of keeping our cohesion and our unity in very difficult and challenging times.

    "We need to really show leadership in how we bring our community together."

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