In the more turbulent days of London’s municipal politics, with pressure on local government spending, plus the eternal internal wrangles of the Labour party, scarcely a day went by that the Evening Standard was not quoting Gerald Southgate, who has died in October 2011 aged 81. Gerald was leader of the majority party at Islington council from 1972 to 1981 and, in spite of his somewhat uncompromising attitude to rival opinions, made a significant impact on council decisions.
His fellow ward councillor at that time, David Hyams, recalls him as a valuable colleague, extremely diligent in the time he gave to council affairs and his handling of controversial issues, not least the vexed future of the Agricultural Hall, and the Angel underground station and street plan. There was considerable pressure for change, and conflicting ideas about the future of large areas of council-owned properties. Gerald stood for the retention and improvement of many of Islington’s period terraces and squares, which would otherwise have been bulldozed in favour of concrete blocks.
Born in Croydon, south London, Gerald attended the local John Ruskin grammar school, and within six years of leaving was elected as a Labour councillor to the then Croydon county borough council. He was elected to the education committee and swiftly took advantage of the opportunity to have himself appointed a governor of his old school, to the obvious discomfiture of some of the teaching staff.
He served until 1960 before moving into central London. He fought two general elections for the party and settled into Islington politics, representing the Clerkenwell ward between 1968 and 1982, and 1986 to 1990. He was a member of the Camden and Islington health authority from 1982 to 1990, and mental health manager from 1983 until shortly before his final illness and his death in October 2011. Inevitably he fell foul of the Labour party’s internecine squabbles, eventually leaving the party.
Close friends appreciated Gerald’s remarkable erudition and passions for poetry, music and history. Most contentious conversations over some esoteric date would automatically be settled as one or the other would say: “Gerald will know.” He is survived by his sister, Eileen.