I’ve been very remiss in failing to keep up to date. Here’s my excuse: life has taken a slightly surprising turn.
In the local elections of 22 May many of the headlines were about the UK Independence Party. But, here in those unfashionable parts of south London, UKIP were barely to be seen. Here the story was of the growing strength of London’s Labour Party.
Two elections ago, in 2006, Lewisham Council was finely balanced, with 26 Labour councillors, facing a rainbow opposition of 17 Liberal Democrats, 6 Greens, 3 Conservatives and 2 Socialists. A couple of weeks ago, Lewisham elected 53 Labour councillors, with an opposition of one lonely Green councillor.
Among the 53 was me, a cork bobbing on a Labour tide!
Last year (see 23 June – Dodging the Moose), I wrote about the fact that sometimes you need to change direction in your life, even if you’re not sure what the new direction will be.
When I quit working for the government, I had no idea that within less than a year I would be standing for election in my local area.
I have to be honest – some of my friends and family tried to persuade me that I shouldn’t do it, that I didn’t need the grief that would inevitably come my way.
I spent more than twenty years working in Whitehall as a policy civil servant. In that time, I was not permitted to take part in public political activity, nor to hold political office.
I’m not complaining. I really enjoyed working with ministers like Charles Clarke, Alan Johnson, Margaret Hodge, Andrew Smith, Tessa Jowell (and even some of the Tories). I was proud of a lot of what we were able to do: helping create the New Deal for unemployed people, expanding higher education, developing better policies for under-5s.
But, as a lifelong Labour supporter, who joined the Party when I was 16, it was frustrating having to avoid party political activity. When I left last summer, I didn’t know I would get involved in local politics. Most candidates had already been picked for the May elections, and inevitably I didn’t have a track record, having necessarily been a ‘sleeping’ Labour member for so long.
But a late vacancy came up, in the ward of Crofton Park near to my home. I was confident I had skills and experience that would be useful. But that is no use without the right values and roots.
I have lived in the area for 25 years. My children were born in Lewisham Hospital and were educated at local state schools. What happens locally matters to me personally.
Further back, it was Labour’s Britain that gave me opportunities and shaped my values. Labour’s postwar housebuilding and new towns programme gave me a home. My local comprehensive school gave me an education. Labour’s NHS has kept loved ones alive.
Apologies if it sounds corny, but I want to ensure that other people can continue to have the kind of opportunities that I had. Whatever the current government might claim about the state of the nation, we’re going through tough times, and many people face a struggle.
But even in tough times, we shouldn’t underestimate what is possible, and what can be achieved. Local schools are much improved over the past decade or so. That’s a legacy of the last Labour government and Lewisham council. We have a national network of children’s centres, and free nursery education. Thanks to the last Labour government.
In these hard times, and with an unsympathetic national government, it is more important than ever to use the our local influence and resources, with creativity and determination, to protect those gains and build on them.
Having found myself at a time in my life where I was able to give something back to my community, it seemed important to try to do so.
Local Labour members, for reasons best known to themselves, took a chance on me. So – many hundred doorstep conversations later – did local voters.
So, moose thoroughly dodged. Now the hard work begins. I don’t know how it will turn out. But I will give it my best shot.