Interview with Camden Council leader Sarah Hayward: “I have never, ever seen politics or football as the preserve of men.”

Sarah Hayward Labour leader of Camden Council

Sarah Hayward Labour leader of Camden Council - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Camden Council leader Sarah Hayward is one of only twelve per cent of female leaders of local authorities in the UK. She has been in the top job for almost four years. Here the Labour leader reflects on the challenges and satisfactions of her work with RACHEL ROBERTS

Sarah Hayward Labour leader of Camden Council

Sarah Hayward Labour leader of Camden Council - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Cllr Sarah Hayward has been Camden’s leader for nearly four years now, a job she says she is “hugely privileged” to have, but there is talk of a challenge at the top table.

Cllr Sally Gimson, cabinet member for health and social care, confirmed last month she is “thinking about” standing for leadership at the Labour group’s annual general meeting in May.

It’s not really what the leader wants to talk about, but she stresses that the Camden Labour group is far more united than its Westminster counterparts.

She says: “We are absolutely united on the big issues - fighting the cuts, HS2 and the Housing and Planning Bill, getting Sadiq Khan into City Hall and dealing with London’s housing crisis.”

Cllr Hayward is clearly not someone who is afraid of a challenge. She successfully challenged Camden’s last leader, Nasim Ali, in 2012, then stood to be Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Holborn and St Pancras for last year’s General Election, but lost out to the now MP, Sir Keir Starmer.

You win some, you lose some.

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She says she is fully committed to Camden, and not eyeing up other seats she could stand for in the future.

“I’ve lived in Camden for nearly 20 years, and this is my home, and to be honest, I would have kicked myself if the vacancy had come up and I hadn’t put myself forward.

“I have no problem with people being ambitious for Parliament and going off around country as others in group have done, but it’s not for me to go and pretend to love Leicester this week, and Hull next week, and Liverpool the week after.

“I wouldn’t rule it out, but it’s not on my horizon. I couldn’t see myself standing in 2020. I am absolutely focused on Camden.”

Asked how long you need to live in Camden to be considered a Camdener, she reflects: “I think Camden is sort of in your blood, and if it’s in your blood, you’re a Camdener.

“I’m not sure it’s about time, I think it’s about a state of mind. Camden is one of those places that people come to from all over the world.

“Twenty thousand students live here and we have immigrant communities from all over the world, and from other parts of the UK. I certainly consider myself a Camdener.”

Asked what she likes best about her job, she says: “I get a real opportunity to make a difference to the lives of people in my community.

“It’s incredibly powerful to see houses that we have built or a school that’s got new windows or equipment because of things that we’ve done, or to talk to women who have got affordable child care now or young people who have got a job as a result of stuff that we’re doing. That’s why I got into politics.”

Cllr Hayward grew up in Oxfordshire, raised by her mum after her parents split, and has spoken previously about how her mother’s struggles and an apparent demonisation of single parents in the 1980s fuelled her passion for social justice.

She says: “I am Thatcher’s child in the opposite sense of the word. My mum brought up three kids on her own, and was therefore regularly disparaged by ministers.

“My mum tried to do the right thing and work, but couldn’t make ends meet bringing up three kids on her own, and I wanted to get into politics to try to change things for future generations.”

She says that apart from the obvious big issue of the housing crisis, the price of child care is a major headache for Camden residents, which she says forces some women out of the workplace.

“There is an impact for subsequent generations, particularly if a woman is out of work with her daughter, because actually, what a woman does in her employment has a very profound impact on the future chances of success of her daughter. The link is incredibly strong.”

As to the biggest challenges she faces in her job, unsurprisingly, talk turns to the cuts Camden has faced from central government. But she says that whilst the cuts are well talked about, other government policies and their long-term implications are not as well understood.

“The Housing and Planning Bill that’s going through Parliament at the moment could very fundamentally change Camden forever.

“The things that people love best about Camden, like its diversity, could be lost as the bill could make places like Camden the preserve of the very rich.”

When asked if the council is making cuts in the right places, she says it is doing its best to make them “in the least wrong places”.

“We face very difficult decisions. Historically, Camden has taken pride in providing a high level of public service to a very broad range of people.

“If we take the case of youth services, we had a very well funded, universal offer, but that is a discretionary service. Camden still provides more youth services than many other London boroughs, despite the cuts we’re having to make.”

On the recently announced rise in council tax of almost four per cent, including a two per cent precept for council tax, she says residents’ surveys have shown people in the borough broadly believe they get value for money from their council tax.

“I think it’s important to say that the precept for adult social care does not come close to backfilling the cuts that the Tories have put in place, or dealing with the future pressure.

“There is a national crisis in adult social care, and the Tories are simply ignoring it.”

To unwind from the long hours her job entails, she says she loves pubs, including her local, the Rose and Crown. Favourite places in Camden include La Patagonia in Camden High Street, and she admits she’s “quite partial to Chicken Shop”.

An avid tweeter and Arsenal fan, she shares a season ticket and says she finds it infuriating when people question her knowledge of football because she is a woman.

She says: “I’ve never, ever seen politics or football as the preserve of men.

“I tell people that I’m an Arsenal fan, and they say, ‘What’s the off-side rule?’

“They’re testing you, in a way that they would never test a man.”