New Highgate Labour councillor proves perseverance is the key

Sally Gimson is proof that perseverance in politics pays off.

The new Labour councillor for Highgate has stood in elections twice before – in 2010 in the general elections for Leicester South, a safe Conservative seat where she was squeezed into third place.

And in 2006 she and then Labour leader Cllr Raj Chadha both lost in Gospel Oak – seats assumed to be among of the Party’s safest.

Cllr Gimson said: “We knew the Tories had absolutely flooded Gospel Oak. The whole campaign was unpleasant and we knew that we had lost the seats. It was one of those seats which had been assumed safe, but we lost it.”

If there is one thing these campaigns taught Cllr Gimson it is not to rest on her assumed political laurels.

In Highgate, her campaign focused heavily on the big contentious issues – Holly Lodge community centre, leaseholders on the Whittington Estate.

And she stressed that she was a local candidate who understood concerns driving Highgate opinion.

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There is no doubt her roots in the community run deep.

She lives in Highgate with her husband Andrew, the Parliamentary sketch writer for the Daily Telegraph, and two of her three children go to Parliament Hill and William Ellis schools.

Yet her campaign ruffled a few feathers.

In leaflets she claimed to help save a Highgate Safer Neighbourhood Team police sergeant – prompting some residents to complain that she was playing party politics with a community issue.

But Cllr Gimson is not a natural target for accusations of party political aggression.

As a journalist for the Observer and later the Sunday Telegraph, Cllr Gimson observed politics from the outside – commenting, criticising, but never participating.

While she admits she has always been left leaning, she refused to sign up to the Labour Party, worried that it could compromise her professionally.

It was in her role as campaigns officer for the Family Parenting Institute, where she led a high profile campaign to protect the number of health workers, the she won her first political battle.

By mobilising public opinion behind popular causes, Cllr Gimson believes she can help maintain services the council no longer has the money to directly fund itself.

In particular she points to Holly Lodge community centre, which needs an annual income of �30,000 to survive.

“I really do think it is a solvable problem,” she said. “There are quite a lot of well off people on that estate, we should be able to raise money from them. This is something which the community centre has to make the case for itself, but as a councillor I can help them.”

It is this commitment to engaging with her community, and improving it, which guides Cllr Gimson’s politics.

“One of the things I didn’t like about living abroad is that I wasn’t involved in my community as much as I would have liked,” she said. “I like being involved – being a part of changing things.”