Who was Gladys Dimson

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    MARCH  1999..........Guardian article.

    Gladys Dimson, who has died aged 83, was passionate about public housing and as the Greater London Council's chairman of housing, management (1973-77) looked after the biggest municipal housing stock in Europe. She was, according to Conservatives, 'part of the North London Socialist set' before the term 'Bollinger bolsheviks' had been invented.
    It is hard now to reconcile the social policies of the 1950s to 1970s with our own time. In 1951, for example, Winston Churchill ordered Harold Macmillan, Minister of Housing, to build 300,000 houses a year. Twenty years of public housing blossomed and County Hall was deeply involved. For a decade, Gladys was active with new and expanding towns' programmes and must also be credited with pioneering seaside homes for retiring working-class Londoners.

    She was born into a talented Jewish family in Glasgow. Her family voted Labour and talked endlessly about politics. Her brother became the financial guru of the Metal Box Company. Despite the antisemitism of those days, she progressed on the fast track - the Laurel Bank School ('We were pushed like mad to work'), Glasgow University for a year and then the London School of Economics.

    In 1936, she married Sam Dimson, a young doctor. They both threw their professional skills and political beliefs into London's impoverished East End. She immersed herself in voluntary social work, learned about desperate housing conditions and was drawn into the labyrinth of London's County Hall and its municipal socialism, with its vast housing empire.

    She was co-opted on to the London County Council's children's committee, joining the elite of women councillors in County Hall during the last decade of the life of the LCC. Among her contemporaries were Peggy Jay, who led the field in child care, Lady Helen Bentwich, a founder of Israel, Margaret Cole, wife of the formidable Fabian, and Evelyn Dennington, a renowned housing expert. This body of unstoppable Labour women were movers and shakers. Gladys accepted their tutelage with grace if not deference.

    In 1964 she was elected to the new Greater London Council (GLC), and when Labour gained control in 1973, she announced her ambition to run house building - that meant a minimum of 20,000 new homes a year - as well as management of housing estates. However, I had to tell her that we were going to divide this vast portfolio into two - into management and development. So Gladys had to share that particular kingdom with Richard Balfe, then secretary of the London Co-op Political Committee, now a grandee in the European Parliament. Her consolation prize was to have as her deputy and support system Ken Livingstone. They remained close until the GLC was abolished in 1986.

    In the general election of 1970 she stood in the north-west London Tory constituency of Hendon South. There was a large Jewish community there whose grandparents had started their journey to suburbia from the leftwing East End, but were now Conservative voters.

    After the political change in London - from Labour to Conservative - in 1977, she courted Lady Alma Birk about a possible peerage. Alma, with her Daily Mirror connections, had the ear of No.10, but the word never came. Gladys was resilient, and Lord Pitt nudged her towards work with Shelter, where she was on the board of management (1976-89), and then to complete the circle she went back to Stepney, to the famous settlement of Toynbee Hall. This was when John Profumo, the warden, was applying his superb organisational abilities to a complicated housing project. Gladys gave him enthusiastic support, which he warmly appreciated.

    She is survived by her daughter, Wendy.


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