Linda Bellos meets me at Norwich train station with one of her dogs. She is wearing what she explains is her dog-walking jacket. Pushing a wet nose into my face, the dog, Sam, rides back to Ms Bellos’ country cottage standing between the front seats of her Volvo.
We drive up a small, tree-lined private road to approach the pretty house where Ms Bellos lives with her civil partner, Caroline James. Another dog frolics in her front garden, where the 63-year-old radical socialist might be seen by her very few neighbours tending the daffodils. She is growing peas and sweetcorn in the living room window. One of her two grandchildren is staying in the spare bedroom when Inside Housing visits.
Over the years Ms Bellos has been caricatured as a ‘firebrand’ (see box: bad press). She rose to prominence in 1986 when she was elected leader of Lambeth Council and pursued controversial policies, such as requiring the police to seek permission before entering council-owned properties. Given that she was once quoted as saying that being called middle class was a ‘slur’, the setting of our interview could seem surprising.
A glance at the couple’s bookshelves confirms that a life in the country, and a job advising organisations like housing associations and the police on diversity issues, hasn’t de-radicalised Ms Bellos: David Hockney’s charming study of his two dachshunds, Dog Days, nestles alongside the Socialist Register, 1971 edition.