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Council leader’s farewell speech: Sexism in public life is getting worse

Sarah Hayward says she has had misogynistic death threats during her time in the top job

28 April, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Sarah Hayward is stepping down after five years as leader

CAMDEN Council leader Sarah Hayward has warned sexism is getting worse for women involved in politics and revealed that she has had three death threats during her time in charge at the Town Hall.

She delivered the warning about a “challenge that she had not managed to solve” during her farewell speech at Monday’s full council meeting. She is standing down as leader after five years in the role with social services chief Georgia Gould due to be confirmed as her replacement at next week’s annual general meeting of the Camden Labour group.

In an extended statement to the meeting, she gave examples of the sexism she had faced, including the way men in meetings addressed chief executive Mike Cooke as if he was the real leader of the council.

“I can unequivocally say it is getting worse not better,” she said. “Some of it you can laugh off. Like the local journalist – no longer around – who asked me whether I was comfortable ‘invading male space’ like politics and football. But some of it is more insidious – the most difficult to deal with are the incidents that on their own it’s difficult to say, ‘that’s definitely sexism’ but, taken together, add up to an unpleasant pattern.”

Cllr Hayward added: “The most recurrent manifestation is senior external stakeholders addressing Mike, our chief executive, rather than me in meetings. Thankfully Mike is a good feminist; he has over the years developed an approach not dissimilar to a certain cliché of a British tourist, using increasing volume and decreasing speed to point out that it’s actually me who’s in charge.”

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In the past, the council leader has boycotted all male panels and urged institutions across Camden not to hold events with no women involved. Recently, she said her own political career has been hampered by people asking inappropriate questions about why she has not had children, and during the parliamentary candidate selection process she was told she would not be taken as seriously as a woman in the House of Commons.

She said: “There have also been far more blatant examples. For instance the very senior public sector appointee – not of the council I hasten to add – who thought it appropriate to wink at me in meetings. And then we come to the really very extreme. I’ve received three death threats in my time as leader, all with a misogynistic element.”


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