Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

'My dad had an amazing approach to dying ... calling it some of the best moments of his life'

At just 31, Georgia Gould is the new leader of Camden council. She talks about fire safety in tower blocks, Brexit, youth votes and being one of 'Blair's babies' with Susannah Butter

By Susannah Butter

When Georgia Gould applied to be leader of Camden council she was asked what equipped her for the job. "I said tenacious optimism," she says in appropriately cheery tones. It worked. Gould, who is 31, is delighted that Camden's Labour MPs were re-elected. "When they called out Tulip Siddiq's result, I nearly fell over," she says. The MP for Hampstead won with an increased majority of 15,560, while Keir Starmer also upped his vote share.

"The country gave Theresa May a firm rebuttal," says Gould. "In Camden there was a resounding dismissal of Tory isolationism; a vote to protect public services, especially from young people."

From the roof terrace of Camden's HQ in Pancras Square, Gould's territory stretches out in front of her. She gestures at the Google building - Gould is teaming up with the company for a project to create opportunities for young people. In a time of cuts, Gould says, "it's all about partnerships". Then there's the Eurostar terminal. "Camden's the gateway to Europe and voted Remain. We want to keep the most open and strong relationship with Europe."

During this last week Gould has been propelled into the national limelight when it was revealed that four tower blocks in Camden had fire safety defects and all residents were ordered to leave until remedial work could be carried out. The defects were found when Camden's housing team initiated additional tower-block inspections and an independent safety review after the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire. Gould said: "It's vital for all of London's residents who live in high-rise buildings that we learn from investigations. We are determined to continue to ensure that our housing is not only safe, but of high quality."

Gould grew up in Camden, in what she calls "a tribal Labour household". Her mother is Gail Rebuck, Penguin Random House's head of British operations and a Labour peer. Her father Philip Gould, who died in 2011 aged 61 from oesophageal cancer, was strategy and polling adviser to the Labour Party in the general elections from 1987 to 2005, and an architect of New Labour. The Blairs and Alastair Campbell's family are close friends, although Gould laughs off the "Blair's babies" label.

Gould's mother has "mellowed to the whole idea of me going into politics. I think she wanted me to be a doctor. She'd like me to take more time off". Gould and her father discussed politics "a lot". "We fought a lot, agreed a lot. He gave me a strong set of values."

That positive outlook comes from him. "My dad's favourite quote was by Leonard Cohen: 'There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in'. I love it because it's about accepting the world in all its broken mess but also seeing the beauty of it. He used to say 'have faith and try to change the world', always thinking there was another way to solve things and to never give up."

The first election she can recall is 1992. She was five. "I remember it because my dad locked himself in a room and didn't come out. His dad passed away around the same time, it was a horrible time." Then came 1997, with "huge optimism". She and her sister [Grace, 27] were at Downing Street when Tony Blair moved in, "waving flags and wearing Things Can Only Get Better T-shirts. I've always been keen," she laughs.

"I don't know what my dad would have made of today's politics," she continues. "But I know that I am talking to old people, young people, tenants, businesses about the challenges we face so I have to think about how we bring the future together here."

Gould supported Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper in the Labour leadership contest over Jeremy Corbyn. She admits he "ran a great general election campaign which connected with people who had never engaged with politics" and won't be drawn on the fractures in Labour. "It is about more than any one individual, it's about whether we want a progressive country."

There were times when she was "disappointed" by Labour, notably when an anti-Semitic strand came to the fore last year. Gould is Jewish and her grandparents were upset. "People of their generation shouldn't have to hear that. Labour has to stand up against all racism. Tulip and Keir have taken a firm stance, as has Sadiq Khan."

The hardest moment of the election was not discussing policy, though: "When I was canvassing, a man answered the door with a snake. I'm phobic. I did a runner and potentially lost that vote. I've had older men who have forgotten to come out fully clothed."

Gould's work is influenced by a book she wrote in 2015, Wasted: How Misunderstanding Young Britain Threatens Our Future. The idea came from her school days. "Camden is the most mixed community in the country. I went to Camden School for Girls, one of the best comprehensives in the country, but too often it was only the girls with parents who went to university that went on to higher education. I wanted to do something about it."

She is younger than most councillors. "Their average age is 60 and the majority are men. We need to bring a wider group of people into politics."

She has seen the legacy of cuts to services. "In Camden the people who end up offending were ones who experienced trauma. A police officer told me he stopped a boy carrying a knife and a few days later met the same boy on a domestic violence call-out. Glass was everywhere, things were being thrown and the boy was hiding under the table seeing the police as there to save him."

Most evenings Gould goes to events in the borough. "I work too much. I've developed the concept of a meeting crawl where you go to three in a row." Her friends join her campaigning: "It's the only way they will see me. I'm silent on our WhatsApp group - recently they forgot I was there and started discussing when they'd last seen me."

She lives in the borough, in a flat that she apologetically owns, "I'm incredibly lucky", and shares with a friend. Being a councillor is "terrible for your dating life" and she is currently single.

But she does makes time to go to watch QPR - her father used to take her, "that was the start of my mother's despair at my life's choices" - and to see her grandparents every week, who always have a bagel and ginger beer for her.

Her favourite places in London are ones associated with her father. "When I want time to think I go to the secret rose garden in Regent's Park. I used to go with my dad, he has a bench there. He is buried at Highgate cemetery so I often visit. When my dad knew he was terminally ill we picked it together. I remember him walking around the cemetery, saying, 'I want my grave to be massive so you see it when you walk in'."

"He had this amazing, open approach to dying. He talked about being in the death zone and it being some of the best moments of his life. He felt things more poignantly than any other moment, the tenor of relationships was stronger."

Belfast Telegraph


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