New Camden Conservative leader Gio Spinella on being chased out of Sicily by the Mafia
- Credit: Harry Taylor
A politician being chased out of Sicily by the mafia isn’t unheard of. However there’s not many politicians in Camden who have shared new Conservative leader Gio Spinella’s experience in Palermo.
Born in Bournemouth, to a Welsh mother, Sylvia, and an Italian father, Armando, Mr Spinella has lived a life which has seen him live in Rome, Milan, New York, Luxembourg, before moving to Palermo where his family were asked in no uncertain terms to leave.
The 46-year-old was in his late-teens at the time, and it lead him to move back to London, where he had previously studied.
“He kept a lot of it from us at the time. My father had been mugged, and came in all battered and bloodied from it. Then he did the one thing you don’t do in Sicily, and spoke to the police.
“Some magistrates and local officers he knew said they couldn’t give him 24/7 protection, and he knew then he had to leave.”
The move was one of many which has helped form his “cosmopolitan” outlook. When he first moved to Frognal and Fitzjohns it reminded him of his former neighbourhood in Forest Hills, New York.
However he said it isn’t difficult to reconcile his experience with the more provincial Brexit views of some Conservative members. “I am used to a diverse perspective on the world, and it’s the same within my family. However I find the people who have always lived in the same place and haven’t had my experiences as interesting as my life story may seem to them.”
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It’s clear that family plays a big role in Mr Spinella’s life. He describes his father as coming from a “humble background”, and rose to become a director of merchant banks. “You don’t do that by being a retiring flower, he’s a strong man,” said Mr Spinella.
He also speaks fondly of the effect his mother had on him. He said: “She was very British. But she could put that to one side when she embraced cosmopolitan life when she went to work for UN in Rome.”
Mr Spinella, who lists Abraham Lincoln and Italian journalist Indro Montanelli as his heroes, originally joined the Tories when William Hague stepped down as leader in 2001. It wasn’t until years later, during the 2005 leadership election between David Davis, and future Prime Minister David Cameron, that he decided to get more involved.
“It was a social thing. Before 2005, the local party didn’t know I existed. Colleagues of mine at work were getting married, and I thought I’d get involved in the party. I met the candidate for the next election, Chris Philp and I thought ‘why don’t I just give him a hand’.
At the time, Mr Spinella was taking a career break to indulge in one of his passions, and was writing comic books, so had more free time. “I was being asked if I wanted to go doorknocking, or leafleting, or helping out with the candidate, and my response was always ‘Sure, why not.’ Eventually that ended up with me agreeing to stand for council.”
The Italian has been in the role as leader of Camden’s Tories for a week and already faces an uphill battle. Candidates who were confirmed for seats have dropped out, and a buoyant Labour Party is talking privately about achieving a wipe-out in the council chamber. He believes the Labour Party are wrong to want to get rid of the opposition.
“It’s in the interests of nobody in Camden for it to become a one party state. It’s not even in the interests of the Labour Party itself. Labour councillors have said having a strong opposition has made them a better council. It has made them examine their own assumptions and respond accordingly. I’m looking forward to presenting a paper the Camden policies over the years the Tories have proposed and Labour has adopted.”