Flick Rea to stand down as a councillor
'I can’t stop a war but I can get your dustbins emptied'
05 June, 2021 — By Richard Osley
Liberal Democrat Flick Rea
ONE of the best known councillors in Camden’s history, Flick Rea, is to stand from the Town Hall.
The Liberal Democrat, sometimes known as ‘the best mayor the borough never had’, has the longest continuous service among elected members. During the coronavirus pandemic, her popularity was illustrated when constituents staged a surprise ‘clap for Flick’ on her doorstep as a thank you for her efforts.
There will now be a by-election in the split ward of Fortune Green where Labour repeatedly tried but failed to unseat her in recent elections.
She has witnessed all of the ups and downs of her party locally, including time as Camden’s leisure chief during a coalition administration but also finding herself as the last Lib Dem standing after the group’s heavy losses at the 2014 boroughwide elections.
She said that the decision to force councillors to return to face-to-face meetings had partly influenced her decision.
“I’m ok but not great,” said Cllr Rea, who is in her 80s and has had problems with her eyesight.
“Being asked to go to Mornington Crescent feels too much for me. It’s a hard break for me and I will be sad to be leaving, as I’ve always tried to be a voice for my constituents. They want to know somebody will listen to them.”
While others suggested the ruling Labour group should have met her long service with generosity and offered her a year as mayor, Cllr Rea said it was not something she had coveted herself.
She joked: “I’m not a great foodie and you always handed all sorts of food and meals as mayor, which I wouldn’t really be into. I had the chance to be the mayor when we went into the administration but I wanted to do leisure and see that the swimming baths in Kentish Town were saved.”
Flick Rea is known for her expressive speeches in the council chamber
Cllr Rea was heading the department when the Kentish Town Sports Centre– known locally as the Prince of Wales Baths – was saved from being sold off and it was then later restored to its former glory in 2008.
“I asked for an update every week, because I knew that projects like that could easily go wrong,” she said.
“But we pulled it off and I’m so glad we did. It’s a beautiful building – and I used to say, with that roof, it was like swimming in St Pancras Station. Before it opened they let me have a swim it on my own. I only did two lengths or so but it felt like we had done something special and the swimmers thought so too.”
The Lib Dems had won the most seats in 2006 – a victory which some attributed to Labour’s unpopularity due to the war in Iraq but others said was reward for the party’s hyperlocal neighbourhood campaigns.
“I can’t stop a war but I can get your dustbins emptied,” was one of Cllr Rea’s famous lines at the time.
Labour councillor Roger Robinson, ‘the father of the chamber’, has the most years as a councillor in total but had some time away from the Town Hall. So, Cllr Rea has the longest continuous run with 35 years on the clock, having first been elected in 1986.
She was given an MBE in 2013.
Her re-election in 2018, when Labour took the other two seats in her Fortune Green ward, was seen as a sign of her ‘high personal vote’ – something that few local councillors enjoy.
Over the years, she campaigned hard on many issues, including retaining library services and helped re-establish an Armistice Day event each year at Hampstead Cemetery. Last year, she handed over the leadership of the local group to Luisa Porritt, the former MEP who is a councillor in Belsize.
“The council has changed over my time,” she said. “And really it was when they got rid of the old committee system that things changed for the worse because things got so top down. I imagine even some Labour backbenchers wonder what they can actually do under the cabinet system.”
One of her great loves has been the planning committee; often providing colourful assessments of the schemes that are put before councillors but always protective of the borough’s heritage buildings.
“I will miss the council very much and one of the reasons I have delayed putting in my letter saying I’m stepping down is that I have so many emails and issues to deal with while I’m still just about a councillor,” she said.
“The number of emails and messages I’ve had from constituents during the pandemic have been more than I’ve ever had. People have had more time and have walked past a pothole in the road and thought ‘I’ll tell Flick about that’. Or it’s this or it’s that. There is a lot to get through, but with my eyesight the way it is I can’t, sadly, be staring at a screen for hours on end or all night.”
Labour council leader Councillor Georgia Gould said: “Flick has been one of Camden’s great public servants. She has been a councillor in Camden for my whole life and has given everything she has to our community. While we are on different political sides it never stopped her giving me sage advice, challenge and encouragement.
“We will miss her sense of fun, her forthright speeches and her big heart. And she will remain a much loved part of our community.”
A by-election in Fortune Green is expected to take place on July 22.