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A tribute to Ellen Luby – grand heckler of Camden

When I attended Ken Livingstone’s Progressive London conference earlier this year, I knew there was one episode I would never forget. When Ken had finished taking questions for Harriet Harman from the audience (for she too was on the platform), an elderly woman about ten rows back stood up. “I’ve got a question for you, Ken,” she shouted to Livingstone. A wry smile appeared on Ken’s face as he responded with a mixture of annoyance and affection: “You’ve been shouting at me for 30 years.” The woman then started a lecture about the power of private business. Not entirely relevant to the discussion, but nonetheless interesting.

This woman was Ellen Luby, and she passed away earlier today. I was intrigued by her exchange with Ken, and looked into her a little. My brother Axel told me he’d met her before at a Camden council meeting where officers had prevented her from entering the public gallery due to her persistent heckling. It’s likely Ken first met her when he was elected a Camden councillor in 1978. Her heckling was so persistent, indeed, that at the start of the Lib Dems’ 4-year ‘temporary stewardship’ of the Town Hall she was manhandled out of the council chamber’s public gallery by police officers, who had been called to deal with some younger hecklers. She was hurt in the fracas, but nevertheless continued to attend and heckle council meetings up until very near her death.

The second time I met her was the last full council meeting before the local elections – the first such meeting I had attended – I was part of the Camden New Journal’s press box delegation. She made a number of interesting, but in Deputy Mayor Lulu Mitchell’s eyes, time-consuming interjections – and was threatened with removal at least once, with security issuing several warnings. However, the best of all was when, after getting fed up with lengthy proceedings, she decided to leave – but Ellen Luby couldn’t go quietly. “I’m going now,” she announced to councillors, before issuing some words of warning, the subject of which I can’t recall.

I was unable to attend the meeting at which Jonathan Simpson was made mayor of Camden in May, but nevertheless heard that Luby issued her usual dose of interjections – and heard some harsh words in response from ex-Mayor Jill Fraser. I’d hoped to go to another meeting of the council, one of the attractions being to hear Luby’s oratory, definitely more entertaining and passionate than that of some councillors. But although I never met Ellen in person, I can pay tribute to what I heard, and it was always of a passionate spirit.

I’ll leave biographical details to Richard Osley and Dan Carrier’s reporting in the Camden New Journal tomorrow, where I’m sure they’ll be much more of interest which I never discovered. The sad fact is that not many nowadays have enough interest in local government meetings to attend, let alone give the heckling which brings politicians back down to earth even if it is tiresome – interestingly, both Andy Burnham and his Labour colleague Tom Watson have raised the value of this in recent weeks. I really hope someone arrives at the Town Hall soon to take over the reigns…

I suggested to a friend earlier that “Cllr Luby” be granted the honours given to councillors on their death – tributes paid at the start of council meetings, and of course, a minute’s silence. He, who also knew Ellen in a similar way, albeit for a longer period, suggested a minute’s shouting would be more in the Luby spirit…

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2 Comments

  1. […] I know I’ll always be making myself controversial whenever I bring up the subject of Ellen Luby. Ellen was a very controversial figure, after […]

  2. […] Greer and Hobsbawm, Ellen Luby wasn’t advertised on the listings. Nor did she have academic appointments or TV appearances, […]

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