Shock as Camden Council leader Sarah Hayward steps down – but who will take over?

The New Journal broke the news that the Town Hall's most senior politician is stepping down

Thursday, 6th April 2017 — By Richard Osley


Sarah Hayward has been the leader of Camden Council since 2012

SARAH Hayward last night (Wednesday) announced she is quitting as the leader of Camden Council – and is ready to take a break from politics.

Some of her Labour colleagues had known what was coming but her bombshell resignation email, sent at around 5pm, caught other councillors by surprise. She was later presented with flowers at a cabinet meeting, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan and former Labour leadership candidate Liz Kendall were among the high-profile politicians singing her praises as they paid tribute to her five-year spell in charge.

A bouquet for Cllr Hayward last night… but she heads straight for the pub after her final cabinet meeting as leader

Cllr Hayward will officially step down as leader at the Labour group’s annual general meeting on May 2. She then plans to serve as a backbencher for a year before leaving council politics entirely by not seeking re-election in her King’s Cross ward.

“Before the 2014 local elections, I promised myself – and my husband – that I’d do just one more term as a councillor,” she said. “When I started as leader, I set myself two principal goals: to leave Camden in a better place than when I started, and to leave [the Labour] group with options for a strong successor as leader. I believe I have achieved both.”

Sarah Hayward was backed by John Prescot when she stood for parliamentary selection

Although Cllr Hayward has sometimes been critical of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and supported alternative candidates in the two national leadership contests, she did not follow the example of Labour MPs and other senior council figures across the country who have recently taken a step back from politics by using the moment to attack the party’s direction.

Instead she concentrated on what she sees as local successes, although one supporter said the national picture had made her decision to go easier.

“I am proud to say that we have made a difference. Together, we have stood in the best traditions of Camden Labour and there’s a lot to celebrate,” she said, before listing the building of new council homes and winning concessions on the HS2 development among some of the policies which had made her proudest.

The CNJ breaks the news

As part of the campaigning against the multi-billion pound rail scheme, a link through Camden Town – which would have led to even more upheaval – was dropped. Officially, local Labour figures said it was too soon and an inappropriate time to talk about who may now take the Town Hall crown, but naturally speculation was already mounting about how far a succession plan had been worked out by Cllr Hayward’s supporters in a sometimes divided Labour group.

Social care chief Councillor Georgia Gould – the former Camden School for Girls student who once wanted to be an MP in Thamesmead – was the name regularly cropping up in the Town Hall corridors. When the New Journal asked her last month if she saw herself as a future leader, she said the question was not relevant as there was not a vacancy.

She was not taking phone calls from the newspaper last night (Wednesday).

Sarah Hayward and Georgia Gould at last year’s mayor-making ceremony

Phil Jones and, occasionally, Angela Mason have also been talked about in some quarters as potential future leaders, while the long-serving Theo Blackwell and Sally Gimson have put their names forward before.

Cllr Hayward won the leadership after challenging her predecessor, Nash Ali, in 2012. She beat Tulip Siddiq by a single vote. Ms Siddiq later won selection to stand for parliament in Hampstead and Kilburn where she is now the MP. Cllr Hayward was at the helm when Labour brought home a record number of councillors – 40 – at the 2014 council elections.

Later, she was one of the runners-up to Keir Starmer in the selection of a parliamentary candidate to follow in the footsteps of Frank Dobson in Holborn and St Pancras, a process which she later revealed had been laced with sexist questions from some members who asked whether she would be taken as seriously as a woman.

Cllr Hayward held onto her position when challenged for the leadership by Cllr Gimson last May – a contest which turned bitter when her opponents questioned her office management style. The claims were not given credence by 24 of her colleagues who voted to keep her in the job and finance chief Cllr Blackwell, a key ally, said last night: “Sarah’s leadership got things done, true to Camden Labour’s traditions. She asserted democratic control at the Town Hall and oversaw major changes to make Camden better financially, more forward-looking and less the frustratingly ‘silo-ed’ council of the past.”

Sarah Hayward winning the 2014 elections with fellow ward councillors Jonathan Simpson and Abdul Hai

Her email to members said that she had always intended to make this her last term as councillor before handing on the baton and doing something else. The marble etchings outside the Town Hall chamber will list her as one of the longer-serving council leaders of recent times – the two previous Labour council leaders lasted six months and two years in office respectively – and both council staff and councillors were describing her decision as an “end of an era” with shockwaves pulsating through 5 Pancras Square after the news was broken on the New Journal’s website.

Conservative leader Councillor Claire-Louise Leyland paused hostilities to comment: “It’s been a pleasure to work with Sarah over the past seven years. “We’ve not often agreed on policy but I’ve admired her hard work and her dogged determination for what she believes is right.”

Meanwhile, Mr Khan tweeted “she’s done a fantastic job and will be missed”, while Ms Kendall said “she’s shown real leadership in tough times on living wage, housing and childcare”.

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