Roy Shaw was a towering figure in local government – serving as a councillor for one half of the Labour Party’s entire life. He was born, bred, lived, died and represented the London Borough of Camden. He served in the army in France where the experience of war and its cruelties never left him: the “pity of war” heavily influenced his values. He was in the Intelligence Corps and then a civilian Intelligence Officer. He resigned from the Foreign Office in 1952 having already joined the Party. Within two months, he was Secretary of Hampstead Labour Party.
He was elected to the Metropolitan Borough of Hampstead in 1956, to St Pancras Council in 1962, and to Camden in 1964/65. He served continuously until 2007 when ill-health intervened. Roy became Leader in 1975. Under his leadership, the Council was as “the flagship of progressive local government in the UK”, the Financial Times describing him as “one of the few members of his party who commands the respect of all parties and officials for the understanding that he has brought to bear upon the convoluted topic of local government finance”.
The 1970s were heady days for Camden – a highly progressive borough which set the pace in local government. Roy made a significant national contribution to local government, becoming a leading figure in the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, and Vice Chairman of the London Boroughs Association.
During Labour’s darkest days in the 1980s, Roy bravely supported the Labour Solidarity Campaign – the “moderates” who were determined to see off Militant, illegal local government expenditure, and the pursuit of “impossible” resolutions, so that Labour might again become electable. He spoke at the very first Solidarity fringe meeting, at the 1981 London conference in Camden Town Hall, nailing his colours to OMOV and a fightback against the hard Left – a campaign which was to see an electorally successful party emerge by the 1990s.
Roy stood down as Leader in 1982. He argued strenuously against the council’s policy of refusing to set a rate, and unsurprisingly was “toppled” from the AMA in 1983. Despite his demise having been led by Ken Livingstone, the London Mayor happily hosted a reception at City Hall to mark Roy’s 50 years as a councillor in 2006. In recognition of his remarkable contribution to Camden, Roy was made its only Honorary Alderman in 2007.
Roy was appointed to the Advisory Committee on Local Government Audit in 1979 and played a key role in the formation of the Audit Commission on which he served from 1983 to 1991. He retained key roles in local government, including Deputy Leader of Camden, on the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority, and on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. He was Mayor in the millennial year, 2000 (when he – disconcertingly for some council colleagues – often entertained the SAS in the Mayor’s Parlour).
Roy Edwin Shaw, OBE, born 21 July 1925; died 4 January 2008.