- It’s 4.30pm on Friday 3 March 2017.
I no longer work for the Labour Party. Almost unbelievably, I have retired.
I cannot thank my friends and colleagues – and even some who would not fall in to either of those camps – enough for their kind words and warmth. Not just last night and today. But on each and every day of the 27 years or so I worked for the Party there would be someone with a kind word which reminded me, reminded all of us, why we devote our lives to trying to make the world a better place.
The individual random acts of kindness of one Labour Party friend to another are probably no more or no less than you would find in any other walk of life. But juxtaposed with the vile and unnecessary approbrium that members of staff and ordinary party members have suffered since the beginning of the 2015 leadership election, redoubled since 12 September 2015, those acts of kindness seem to have more value, more meaning than they would in other circumstances.
My count down clock to retirement, set ticking six months ago, was at first a source of amusement. Then concern. Then it was here. All too quickly the final month, week, day was here. I apologise deeply to my colleagues for the work I’ve left undone. But I don’t apologise for having retired. One of my proudest moments was to look at the team I leave behind to deal with the governance and legal issues of the Labour Party.
And contrary to popular belief that’s not just about expelling Trots from the Labour Party – although they will continue to do that. Militant, Socialist Appeal, Alliance for Workers Liberty have no more place in the Labour Party than the BNP or the EDL.
No, the team I leave behind will spend the overwhelming majority of the time, as they always have, making sure that ordinary party members, the hard-working activists who organise the Party, run elections, raise the money have the tools and expertise to do that job within the law and and to the best of their ability.
And so I came to last night. My leaving do. Would anyone turn up? Well yes they would.
I knew it would be tearful. My tears started, to the bemusement of fellow commuters, on the train on the way to London, and continued on and off during the day. I almost had to run out of the office, to flee the desk banging, whooping and cheering which opened the floodgates again.
For my speech I wanted to remind people why we do what we do. If I couldn’t leave people who weren’t even born when I started working for the Party with a sense of purpose, an appreciation that what they do matters, then the whole of that 27 years would have been diminished.
This is the text of my speech. Apart from an opening tale of an ice-cream and an orgasm. Sorry, but if you weren’t there you’ll never know.
I can’t name check all the great people I’ve worked with over the years. That would make this a very long few words. But I do want to mention the two women in my life and the very similar reaction they had last September when I finally decided that it was time to bring this career to an end.
I think I remember correctly what Emilie said –‘Fuck that – you’re not allowed to retire – what am I going to do without you.’
My partner, Jan, was pretty much identical – ‘Fuck that – what am I going to do with you.’
Obviously, I could drone on and on about my time with the Labour Party but I thought I would mention just a few experiences.
My first General Election as a member of staff was in 92 and my first Leader’s visit was with Neil Kinnock which included arriving by helicopter. Obviously, we had extensive staff training at that time, which was basically ‘find somewhere to land a helicopter – give me a call back in twenty minutes’.
That was relatively straightforward. Less straightforward was being told the day before the event that we had to have an arrival shot involving 1992 helium balloons to demonstrate our commitment to Europe if not to the environment. Clearly, that wouldn’t be needed today.
I managed to get free use of a warehouse overnight to house the balloons. I hired a professional balloon company to blow up the balloons. The bit that hadn’t occurred to me was the impact of a helicopter landing 50 metres away on 1992 helium balloons – but the arrival shots were spectacular.
We had recced a slightly more sedate visit – some giant lab up at Southampton University. Lots of dials and electronic flashes behind this thick glass window. Angie Hunter, who was running the show for Neil, asked if Neil could go inside to get better press pictures and we were told yes. Providing we didn’t mind sweeping Neil up with a dustpan and brush afterwards.
And of course, there was the election that never was. As conference ended in 2007 Peter Watt called all the organising staff together to tell us that there would be a snap general election. Print had been ordered. Gordon would call the election within days. All leave was cancelled.
I told Peter that whilst all leave might be cancelled, and his offer to buy out any holidays was welcome, I didn’t think he could afford to pay for all the consequential damages of me having to find a new home when I told Jan that our trip of a lifetime to the Galapagos was cancelled. Fortunately, Peter saw the sense of that.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t persuade him or anyone else that there would be no election. I didn’t see how a man who had waited ten years for the chance to be Prime Minister would gamble that away no matter how safe the bet. And that’s partly why I think today the next general election will be in 2020.
A little before the 2007 non-event, Peter had asked me to join the team at Head Office, managing the staffing changes in the four southern regions. I think the reality was that he wanted to remove me from bed-blocking younger, more talented people coming through the ranks.
And that’s how I came to be sitting next to Hilary, Alicia and Maz learning more about handbags and shoes then anyone needs to know. It’s just as well Emilie wasn’t in Head Office at that time or we could have opened an Imelda Marcos Tribute museum with no difficulty whatsoever.
And I think that’s probably what attracted me to Alastair Campbell’s interview with Ann Wintour. For the less fashion conscious in the room, she has been editor of American Vogue longer than I have worked for LP. In that interview Ann Wintour said “Leadership is coming up with an idea and executing it. Ideas themselves are a dime a dozen”. Worth remembering by any aspiring leader.
Working in Head Office I seemed to accumulate jobs by accident until I perfected my current Job title – Senior Odd Job Person. But there were some definite plus points to working at Head Office. Margaret in full flow asking a cold caller where they got her contact details was guaranteed to bring the office to a silent standstill in quiet admiration of her skilful technique. Brutal. But skilful.
And that brings me on to the rest of the Governance and Legal team. When people ask me what do I do for the Labour Party, I simply tell them all I do is appoint great people. And this team that now makes the Governance and Legal Unit in London and in Newcastle is the best. And I include in that those members of staff who have recently left the team to retire or take on new challenges.
I couldn’t wish to leave the Party in better hands. And hopefully spending less time in court.
Let me finish with one more election story. It’s a Tony Blair visit to Hove in the run-up to 2005 GE. It’s a visit to a Sure Start Centre. Any organiser who has worked for the Labour Party for more than about five minutes has organised a visit to a Sure Start Centre. Parents, kids, colourful toys.
What can go wrong?
Well, of course, when you are in the middle of a war there will be people who want to protest, and when I arrived with colleagues well in advance a small band of protesters were beginning to assemble.
Being Hove rather than Orgreave, they were neatly assembled behind the barriers the police had put out. On the other side of the road. And, if I remember rightly, they were singing. It was Hove, after all.
There didn’t appear to be any particular threat to the event or even to our arrival shots. But there were two young women sat on the wall leading to the entrance to the library building which housed the Sure Start. I thought I should see why they were waiting. If this was the first step toward the anti-war protestors crossing over the road, I wanted to stop it before it started.
They told me that they had heard Blair might be visiting and they wanted to see him. I asked if they were wanting to join the protest – but no. They wanted to see him because they were both mums, victims of abusive partners and now single parents. They had been trapped in a squalid accommodation trying to bring up children, literally on the bread line. Living on handouts from friends.
Until Sure Start changed their lives. Now in work, in decent homes, they were rebuilding their lives. They wanted to say thank you to Tony Blair and to the Labour Party. And that reinforced the lesson that I’d first learnt in 79 when I joined the Labour Party.
That I relearnt in 83 and in 87 as a volunteer.
And as a staff member in 92 and 97.
And each and every time the Labour Party contests an election.
We can be a Party of Protest. On the other side of the road. On the other side of the barriers. Or we can be a party of power, this side of the road, this side of the barriers.
Changing hearts; Changing minds; Changing lives.
I know which side I have tried to be on.