Councillor Ruth Bush has made history by becoming the first Labour Lord Mayor of Westminster. Words by Corrie Bond-French.

 

 

The worshipful Ruth Bush, Lord Mayor of Westminster, is having a year off party politics and is enjoying the break.

Her spell in the largely ceremonial role follows a remarkable decision by the leader of Westminster City Council.

Leader Nickie Aiken decided to make the role available to opposition councillors by not putting forward a candidate from her leading Conservative group.

The Tories have controlled the council for more than half a century – since 1964.

But she wanted to ensure that the civic role of Lord Mayor represents all Westminster’s residents.

 

Enjoying the role

And it would appear that Councillor Ruth Bush has taken on the role with vim and vigour.

She is thrilled to be able to serve the community.

“The whole thing was a surprise and I do take my hat off to Councillor Aiken, because I think it was a courageous and thoughtful thing,” she says.

 

Not a political role

The role of Lord Mayor was supposed to be non party political. Aiken wanted to make sure that it was in practice too. 

“Clearly she had to think about it. She said to the minority party when she became leader that she would do something about it because it was not right, she felt,” said Councillor Bush.

“She not only took that view herself but she managed to persuade the majority of the council, which is 40 people.

“And they managed to say – we have this honour, we are accustomed to giving it to one of our own and we will now make it available to the other side.

“That’s a lot to take on and I really do admire them. I think everybody acknowledges that it was the right thing to do on all sides of the council,” she added.

 

Warm reception

“I’ve been very surprised and heartened by the warmth of the reception on all sides,” Councillor Bush added.

“People haven’t, on the whole, been hostile at all. I’ve had one person telling me they’d be watching me,” she added.

But she said: “I’m trying to do it in a way that meets, as far as I can, everyone’s expectation.”

She is hoping to set a good precedent so that the Conservatives decide to share the role with the opposition again. 

She described visiting a local primary school, to open a new reading den, on the same day she was due to meet US President Donald Trump. 

“I said … it is just as important for the Lord Mayor to come to your school as it is for her to be at the abbey meeting the American president.

“I don’t know how much of that registered. They all said: ‘Oohh Trump!’

“But I do think it is true. Being with those children is very, very important so that they have a sense that there is this person in this rather curious role of Lord Mayor who brings the greetings of the city as a whole to them and thanks them for what they’re doing.”

 

Humble beginnings

She added: “I suppose the most difficult thing, as an entirely personal and social thing, is doing very grand events because I come from very humble origins in Surrey.

“I’m not accustomed to grand dinners and grand events. So I’ve had to overcome a degree of anxiety about things of that sort.

“But otherwise in general it has pretty much been extraordinary,” she said.

 

 

This article was first published in Victoria magazine.

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