I WONDER what Ellen Luby, perhaps London politics’s last great heckler, would have made of the front page of the Camden New Journal today, with its black and white picture of her in combat mode. She looks like she will shoot a left hook to anybody who dares ignore her. I think she would have been taken aback, but her sad passing on Wednesday closed a little but important chapter in Camden Council’s history. Her tale is interwoven with what happens and happened at Judd Street.
She was the last woman standing as attendance declined in the public galleries of Town Halls across the capital. Here was somebody who must have sat through more council meetings than nearly all of the councillors up in Camden right now, someone who could scare the life out of you yet still engender affection. She clobbered politicians as she pleased, but journalists weren’t safe either. Sometimes she sat all afternoon in the New Journal’s office demanding that we would take up a story she wanted sorted out. Staff were called ‘dopes’, ‘dozy’ and ‘uncaring to the elderly’ in fits of temper. Minutes later, she’d be calm again and fresh with a story of injustice that needed retelling.
I will miss her, that familiar voice crackling from upstairs with a sarcky scream of mock surprise: ‘Oh Really’. Her gruff complaints were a flashback to the lively scenes we’re told council meetings of old used to be like, times when people wanted to see how decisions that affected them acutely were taken.
Of course, Ellen went too far sometimes, she simply would not stand down sometimes, but she was always forgiven. I couldn’t write a better tribute, however, than the warm one in John Gulliver’s diary page yesterday:
I have never seen a fireball like her – anywhere in my travels over the years. Officials and people of power may have seen her as a malcontent, combative for the sake of it – but usually they were in her firing line. Town Hall grandees were terrified of her…
Whenever she attended a council meeting she would drown out debate with her shouting – and embarrassed councillors, with bowed heads, would wish they weren’t there.
But beneath the hard, spiky exterior, beat a warm heart.