“I’m lucky Labour is dominant”, says the only Lib Dem councillor in Brent

Helen Carr

Helen Carr - Credit: Archant

When Cllr Helen Carr was voted in as a councillor for Mapesbury she also became the only Liberal Democrat left in Brent.

The political newbie, who has a PhD in social anthropology, survived a cull which claimed 14 of her party colleagues including Paul Lorber, the leader of the Brent Lib Dems who lost his seat after 32 years.

This left Cllr Carr as not only a sole survivor but the new leader.

Quite something for a woman whose full curriculum vitae, although political, was not in party politics, her experiences lending itself to research roles for Hungarian Ministry of Defence and the United Nations in Gaza for example.

In the last years she said she has sunk her teeth into her solo role and is working closely with her constituents.

She said: “In Mapesbury we’ve got the most professional residents associations, they do the work for us which is great because we have to represent everybody, not just the people we think might have voted for us.

“But in Mapesbury we also have what’s known as the ‘migrant worker problem’. I lived in Romania, Hungary, with Roma people and they are outside my door now.

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“People are being horribly exploited. There’s a big issue with rough sleeping. Those not rough sleeping can live in the most awful housing conditions.

“There is a lot of racism and I can see people’s concerns, its how to best we can tackle that.”

Cllr Carr, who celebrated her 50th birthday last month and lives in Dollis Hill, made a connection to the party while doing some research for former Lib Dem Brent Central MP Sarah Teather and was subsequently asked, in 2013, if she’d like to stand as councillor.

She agreed as she felt so strongly about the expenses scandal – “the cynicism, self interest and petty corruption going on”.

“People have to do something about it, it’s not enough to criticise and complain,” she said.

“I was happy to be asked to be a councillor.”

Adding that it was ‘interesting’ being the only Lib Dem in the borough she had nothing but kind words to say about her opposition councillors.

“I’m lucky Labour is dominant,” she said.

“On the whole they are good people, I like them. It’s not my way to attack, I’ve got to get on and do things.”

Speaking about full council meetings where she is the speck of yellow among a sea of red and a splash of blue (Brent has six Conservative councillors), she said: “I’ve been round the block many times, when I first went to Hungary I was living in a soviet base then in Gaza Yasser Arafat was my neighbour. It’s not comparable but it put things in perspective.”

Of being her party’s leader in Brent she added: “I represent the party, not just inside the borough but outside it too. “There aren’t many of us, even less after the election. The tragic death of Charles Kennedy has overshadowed everything.

“Obviously there are the hustings going on for a new leader but at the moment there are no decisions being made, no grand statements, we’ll see how things are in September but for now we feel very grounded.”

Moving forward into her second year she said: “I encourage people to join any political party, to become engaged and get involved.

“I hope I can contribute in a very small way to people having more confidence in the democratic process.”