IT’S a shame that tonight’s full council meeting is not back in the chamber because we would probably have witnessed quite a speech from Flick Rea.
She will pass on the leadership of the Camden Lib Dems to Luisa Porritt, giving her successor a two-year run-in on the next council elections. It’s the second time that Cllr Rea has passed on the baton, having played in Keith Moffitt many years ago. Mr Moffitt went onto lead the council when the Lib Dems became the largest party at the Town Hall in 2006.
She is not predicting the same fortunes for Cllr Porritt, who must start from a group of just three councillors but says she wants to “celebrate talent”.
But… I’ll get shot if you take from this that she is standing down. She is not standing down. We’ll be told when she is standing down.
And she’s proven before what edging in the direction of that suggestion leads to. Many thought she may have stepped down from the council in 2018 but she kept going and defied a gusty Labour campaign to unseat her.
This is a sore point in the Labour vs Lib Dem relations in Camden, as Labour was clearly cruising to a large majority at the council elections but brought Sadiq Khan to Fortune Green on the eve of the poll and tried to park tanks on her lawn.
People appeared to respond by splitting their ballot papers and sharing their votes around, making sure they kept one for her. She is one of the few councillors from any party who have a strong personal vote in their ward – beyond the amenity groups and residents associations – transcending the partisan party politics.
It is, however, for partisan and you might say petty reasons that she has never been invited to be the mayor of Camden despite 34 years as a councillor. Whatever party you support, it should feel like a fair call to have offered her a year with the chain. Doubly so as when the Lib Dems were in power they offered to share the mayoralty, and Labour readily accepted the offer.
But when Labour returned, they pulled up the drawbridge on the idea, even picking the same councillor to be mayor twice in three years. There’s no real political advantage; the gulf in numbers at the Town Hall means there is no chance of a tied vote being decided by the mayor and the role is ceremonial.
Camden Labour has chosen Sabrina Francis to be the mayor next year – and it will be time, at last, to celebrate the first black woman to accept the role. She has lots of interesting plans which will hopefully not be disrupted by Covid as the months go on.
Over the years, however, especially with their huge majorities, it would have been magnanimous for Labour to Cllr Rea recognise her years of service in this way. I know several Labour councillors agree. The recent ‘Clap4Flick’ organised by neighbours on her doorstep in West Hampstead perhaps explains why.