Susan Hall ‘doesn’t seem to me to be a friend of women’ says fellow female Harrow councillor

Susan Hall ‘doesn’t seem to me to be a friend of women’ says fellow female Harrow councillor

The lately redesigned campaign website of Susan Hall, Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, shows her sitting on a park bench smiling at a baby perched on its mother’s knee. Above the photograph, the headline reads: “A Mayor who listens – Vote Susan.”

This portrayal of Hall as caring, relatable and sympathetic to other women and their children (picture below) has not been well-received by one of her fellow female London politicians. Aneka Shah-Levy who, like the Tory mayoral hopeful, is a councillor in Harrow, says the picture of Hall “makes me feel sick and so angry”.

Why? Shah-Levy (top picture) first made her feelings about Hall publicly known for the first time in a speech during a full meeting of Harrow Council last September. Paul Osborn, leader of the Conservative-run borough, had congratulated Hall on being selected as the Tory mayoral candidate a few weeks earlier. From the Labour benches, Shah-Levy’s observations were less warm.

“I won’t be joining you in congratulating Councillor Hall,” she said, with a nod in Hall’s direction. After expressing disappointment that Osborn had not distanced himself from “recent disturbing revelations” concerning Hall – a reference to the uncovering of Hall’s much-publicised past social media activity – Shah-Levy continued: “I know first-hand how discriminatory this colleague of yours can be.”

She recalled a period beginning in 2015, the year after she first became a councillor, when she went through what she called her “extremely difficult pregnancy” with her first and only child. She referred to having a disability and described Hall, who was leader of Harrow’s Conservative group at that time, as having made “numerous unacceptable accusations and comments both during my pregnancy and once my daughter was born”.

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Shah-Levy told her fellow councillors that this behaviour had made her feel “extremely uncomfortable and victimised for suffering with genuine health issues and for simply being a new mother”. She added: “To this day I am still affected by what I experienced at that time. That’s why I have decided to put such a difficult and personal matter into the public domain.”

There was a round of applause from Shah-Levy’s fellow Labour councillors. Osborn responded by describing Hall as having had a “long and distinguished career” in London politics and giving her his continuing “full and complete support” as someone who had been among the first to endorse her. Hall did not get up to defend herself and neither did anyone else at the meeting take her side.

Shah-Levy has now given On London more detail about why she remains so unhappy with Hall. The timeline begins in February 2015 when she became pregnant with her daughter, who is now eight years old. The previous May, she had been elected to Harrow Council for the first time, winning a seat in the Kenton East ward her father, Navin Shah, like Hall a former Harrow Council leader, had represented for Labour from 1994 until 2014.

The pregnancy was difficult from the start. Shah-Levy describes enduring months of hyperemesis gravidarum – severe morning sickness – meaning she was “in and out of hospital once a week”, unable to eat for days at a time and given medication which made her drowsy. “I was in quite a bad way,” she recalls. “And once the sickness settled down I had a number of other issues: “I was on the verge of needing an iron transfusion due to very low iron levels and had infection after infection.”

Shah-Levy’s disability is a condition called ankylosing spondylitis, whose symptoms include chronic pain, inflammation and extreme tiredness. She also suffers with rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, she sustained whiplash injuries as a result of a car accident which took place when she was 11 weeks pregnant. All this added to her difficulties with doing her day job as a charity fundraiser and fulfilling her duties as a councillor, including attending council meetings.

Her baby was due on 2 November 2015. In mid-September, feeling particularly unwell, she was admitted to hospital again: “They told me the baby was coming and they gave me medication to try and stop it because it was two months early.” Shah-Levy had eventually been allowed home from hospital, but on condition that she stayed there and in bed as much as possible. She needed to be in a position to return to hospital at short notice and without delay.

This latest health difficulty created another one. It was more than five months since Shah-Levy had attended any council meeting. Local government rules say that if such non-attendance exceeds six months, the councillor in question ceases to be one. However, exceptions can be made if the person has a particular reason for their prolonged absence. Typically, this will be poor health.

A full council meeting was due near the end of September, but Shah-Levy was in no condition to go to it. She therefore needed a dispensation. Securing it required the Labour group leader of the time David Perry, who was also the council’s leader, to get the leader of the opposition Conservative group to agree to it. The opposition group leader was Susan Hall.

Although these events took place nearly nine years ago, Perry recalls raising Shah-Levy’s situation with Hall and her reaction. Hall agreed to waiving the six-month rule. However, according to Perry, she did so rather grudgingly. “My feeling at the time was that it was granted with mutterings under breath,” he says. He adds that he detected no sympathy or compassion for Shah-Levy’s plight. And, according to Shah-Levy herself, that attitude was consistent with Hall’s towards her from then on.

Her daughter was born in November, not without difficulty. The child was delivered by means of a caesarian section and her mother’s inevitable long recovery was made the more arduous by her ankylosing spondylitis flaring up.

But by the following spring, Shah-Levy was well enough to resume her councillor duties. When attending civic events, she would, when she thought it appropriate, bring her baby with her.

One day, she went to a gathering at Harrow Arts Centre at which Hall, some other fellow councillors and council officers were also present. Shah-Levy says another councillor who had been speaking to Hall came over and conveyed to her, with some concern, certain remarks Hall had made to her in front of the officers: “Susan Hall had told this person that she was sick of the sight of seeing ‘that baby’ as she called my daughter and that it was ridiculous that I was towing her everywhere with me like some kind of accessory.”

According to Shah-Levy, many more such reports reached her over the ensuing months from fellow councillors and others. “Basically, Susan Hall was telling people that it was an absolute disgrace that I’d asked for special dispensation and that just because I was pregnant it wasn’t any excuse to sit at home with my feet up. She was saying this to anyone who would listen in order to damage my name.”

David Perry considers Shah-Levy putting her allegations about Hall on the record to be in the public interest. He describes Shah-Levy as a hard-working, honest councillor. And Shah-Levy recounts doing her best during her first term to combine fulfilling her duties as an elected representative with being a new mother, including by advocating, with success, for local breastfeeding advice services. Even so, she says her confidence was knocked. “I was made to feel I didn’t have a place in local politics,” she says.

She considered standing down as a councillor, mid-term. And as the next full council elections, held in May 2018, approached she decided she didn’t want to stand again. However, she went through with it, not wishing to let her party down. Labour retained control of the council, but Kenton East swung towards the Conservatives, who took two of the ward’s three seats. The third stayed Labour, but Shah-Levy was not the candidate elected.

Shah-Levy says the continuing repercussions of Hall’s behind-her-back criticisms have not been confined to her. When she was re-elected as a councillor in 2022, for Greenhill Ward, Shah-Levy was approached by a Harrow Tory who offered kind words, said the way she had been treated during her first term as a councillor had been unfair and apologised for what she went through. Shah-Levy describes that Harrow Tory as “a decent person”. She is less complimentary about Susan Hall: “She doesn’t seem to me to be a friend of women.”

On London invited the Hall campaign to respond to the view that their candidate had agreed to Shah-Levy’s dispensation for council meeting attendance reluctantly and gone on to disparage her to others in Harrow Council circles. A spokesperson replied: “We don’t recognise Councillor Shah-Levy’s account of events. Susan fully recognised the health difficulties she was experiencing and approved her request for a special dispensation.”

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