ALTHOUGH it may already seem a long time ago now – we’ve had a mayoral election, an EU referendum, a Labour leadership contest to work out – it’s only five months since Sarah Hayward’s grip on the Town Hall was challenged from within. As Jeremy Corbyn did after her on a national level, Sarah was eventually retained as leader of the Labour group and Camden Council in May with around 60 percent support.
Fifteen Labour councillors voted for a change in the private ballot, but the rebellion, a sort of mix of Corbynistas and politicians with local grievances favouring Sally Gimson’s ‘big tent’ offer, fell short of swaying the five more minds needed to secure the coup. And so the episode is consigned to the history books, dwarfed by all that has happened since, and Sarah has continued in the top office with, in Corbyn lingo, an increased mandate; she won by a single vote against Tulip Siddiq in 2012 during her first local leadership victory.
Not only that, the year may end on a new high for Sarah after she was shortlisted as ‘leader of the year’ in the annual Cllr Awards, run by the Local Government Information Unit last week. The brochure citation for her nomination to be named the best Town Hall leader in the entire country reads like this: She has led the way on doing more to support refugees, worked with communities to secure mitigations to the negative impact of HS2 and driven equality through the Camden Equality Task Force. She is currently supporting London Mayor Sadiq Khan in developing a roadmap to deliver better mental health provision across London. This is on top of responding to the significant financial, policy and demographic challenges all councils face.
Sarah is up against local authority leaders from Stevenage, Tameside, Southwark, South Staffordshire, Selby and Babergh (where? somewhere near Ipswich) for the prize, although, to preempt the likely black tie jive on the night, they’re all winners to get this far etc etc Theo Blackwell was a recent victor at the same awards for his techy, digital work, so Camden has brought home the silverware before, while the MP Catherine West was named ‘council leader of the year’ during her time at Islington Town Hall.
The LGIU’s website says that ‘self-nominations’ were not permitted and when asked about the shortlisting process added last week: “Nomination forms and the details of who nominated each councillor for Cllr Awards are confidential.” It then added, however, what the judges were looking for in their soon-to-be-crowned ‘leader of the year’, a bullet point list of ideals which included the need for commitment, vision and strong relations with the community. “Leader Of The Year will demonstrate how they have overcome splits and factions within the group, successfully uniting them to deliver outcomes for the community,” reads the final condition.
With the split in Camden put on the backburner for now, or overcome to use the awards talk above, the losers of the May revolt may find the prize process a little nauseating. But, to the winners, the spoils: somebody or perhaps lots of people at Judd Street – the forms stay secret, so we can only guess – have been so impressed by how Sarah runs things and Camden’s achievements over the last four years that they felt moved enough to nominate her for this recognition. The reality is that the core Haywardites are still right behind their leader, they’re in charge of the group – and they could well be celebrating with the boss on the LGIU’s Oscar night at the Livery Halll in Guildhall, coming up on November 1.