Goodbye Harry

Harry Woodford will be remembered for many things.

Being Lord Mayor of Hull.

A legendary Hull City Council Deputy Leader who helped to rebuild a city bombed by the Nazis.

And an East Hull local legend.

But to me, he was a family friend. A Grandad in all but blood.

Harry stood against my father in the selection to choose Labour’s parliamentary candidate when Harry Pursey stood down.

Harry had been Pursey’s political agent since 1945 and must have assumed he’d be in with a chance to succeed him.

When JP won, Harry Woodford didn’t skulk away. My father asked him to stay on and be his agent for the 1970 General Election. And he happily agreed.

It was a political partnership and friendship that spanned 10 elections and more than half a century.

My first memory of campaigning was the second 1974 election in Harry’s ward on Spring Cottage.

Every year Harry and his wife Dora would spend Boxing Day with us. 

Harry would regale us with jokes and stories from his time as a Desert Rat (because he was so short we dubbed him the Desert Mouse) and his long life in politics.

Harry was one of the key allies of Leo Schultz – the man who helped to rebuild Hull after World War 2. 

For those who don’t know, Hull was the most bombed city outside London. The Government refused to name it so Hull was famously referred to in BBC News reports from Jimmy Goodrick as the ‘North East Coastal Town.’

After the war, Leo as Hull City Council leader with Harry as his deputy, helped to transform the city for the good. 

The smooth talking middle class leader and his blunt speaking working class deputy. 

Sound familiar. Leo and Harry were the Blair/Prescott double act of their time.

They both shared the belief that Hull was special. It’s people, it’s history and its culture.

Leo once said “Some may think that Hull is at the end of the line.

“But I know and will tell you that the line starts in Hull.”

As well as being a formidable councillor, Harry was the best political agent an MP could have.

And he didn’t take any crap.

As JP was Deputy Leader and later DPM, he would spend less time than most candidates campaigning in his constituency during the election. 

So Harry would effectively run the campaign in East Hull in his absence. He was a proxy candidate. 

One day JP came to campaign in East Hull and ended up having an argument with Harry.

They then went out in the Jag with the loudspeaker and microphone.

But when JP went to meet the punters in East Park, Harry stayed in the car talking to a comrade.

Harry said: “Get that bugger Prescott out of Hull so I can get on with this campaign. He’s only up here for the day!”

Unknown to Harry, JP had left the microphone on and the whole of East Park could hear exactly what he thought of his candidate.

But Harry was also a great politician in his own right.

As well as being Leo Schultz’s right hand man, he also was one of the few Labour politicians who got money out of the Thatcher Government for regeneration.

Harry secured funding to turn the derlict Princes Quay into a shopping centre.

He was also the only person I’ve known who had a public building named after him whilst he was still alive! 

The Woodford Sports Centre was named after him after he helped to raise funds for a sporting facility in East Hull.

When JP stood down, I decided to throw my hat in the ring to become the Labour candidate for Hull East. It was 40 years on from when Harry stood for selection.

Harry was fully supportive and even turned up at his local ward nomination meeting to speak for me – at the age of 89.

And when I lost, he was there to lift my spirits. Harry, of course, had been there himself.

I always popped in to see him in the Wilton Lodge care home on Holderness Road.

Even in his later years, his mind was still pin sharp.

Harry Woodford was a great inspiration to me. 

He gave me the confidence and support to get involved in politics on my own terms.

And I reckon Harry saw JP as the son he never had.

Hull has lost a great public servant.

Labour has lost a tireless comrade.

And our family has lost a good friend.

Rest in peace Harry.

The line from Hull started with you.


The gatekeepers to freedom

Yesterday, metres from my office, death drove across the Thames.

Outside our window, bodies and the wounded lay across a bridge I run across every other day.

And a man I have no doubt met but never spoke to laid down his life to ensure we were safe.

The officers on the Carriage Gate entrance to Parliament are not there just to check passes or screen vehicles.

They are defenders of democracy.

They are gatekeepers to freedom.

Yesterday, 30 of us, including Jeremy, huddled in a small room for five hours. 

We offered refuge not just to our own team but to researchers from other parties.

He helped keep the frightened calm and the anxious at ease.

Whilst we may not agree on many issues and approaches, tonight we stand with those whose political opinions are different.

We share the same British values of fairness and tolerance. Only our approaches differ.

But people like PC Palmer allow us each day to make our case and stir the soul of democracy.

Under their watchful eye, we make our case.

And thanks to them, we are not afraid.

So I’ve voted…

I have good friends working on both Labour leadership campaigns. 
And I know many of you on here have different views on who to back.
But as I set out previously said on this blog, I never wanted this election. 

Corbyn should have been given more time as leader. 

Nine months was nowhere near enough to prove himself.

And we’ve managed to achieve significant wins – especially on u-turns on cuts to tax credits and forced academisation of our schools.

Saying that, I respect Owen and his many supporters. 

It’s only right that they used their democratic right to put their case. 

And whoever wins, I’ll support the elected leader though they’ll really have to reach out to the other side. We can’t have recriminations and purges.

As I’ve said before, I want to see a much sharper operation in Corbyn’s office and an increased level of professionalism in being a Leader inside and outside the Commons. 

It will mean managing some people out and bringing more experienced people in. 

Suggestions from Corbyn’s team of a Shadow Cabinet part elected by MPs and a willingness to take on staff to work in the Leader’s office who rebel MPs respect are promising.

But I’ve decided. 

Please try and respect my decision, as I will respect yours. 

I really don’t want my comments used by people to make petty personal attacks against either candidate or their backers.

We’re not new Labour or old Labour.

We’re ALL Labour.

Why I spoke for Corbyn

So tonight we held our Newark Labour leadership nomination meeting.

It was a comradely, good natured affair and Corbyn won the CLP nomination 42 votes to Owen Smith’s 11.

We had many members speak for their preferred candidate. And I could see the merit in both Owen and Jeremy.

But I spoke and voted for Corbyn. 

Now I was proud to be part of Andy Burnham’s campaign team last year. And you could argue that my politics have more in common with Smith.

But I spoke for Jeremy because in my opinion nine months is far too short a period for him to be judged as a leader.

We didn’t expect it of Ed or Gordon. We shouldn’t for Corbyn.

And I have to respect someone who has single handedly doubled the party membership. 

From speaking to friends who’ve joined or rejoined in the last year, the big attractions are his values and beliefs.

As one mate said to me: “I’d run through walls for Corbyn. I’ve never felt that way about any political figure before.”

For many, the turning point was seeing the Shadow Cabinet initially consider supporting tax credit cuts before eventually abstaining.

Jeremy rightly opposed it. And from that moment, his campaign took off.

As Benn said, you’re either a weather vane or a signpost.

In these turbulent times, people want to see us set a political direction that’s truer to their own moral compass. 

However, as I said in my speech, I don’t want Jeremy to continue as he is.

I want to see a much sharper operation in Corbyn’s office and an increased level of professionalism in being a Leader inside and outside the Commons. 

It will mean managing some people out and bringing more experienced people in. Those who can build a consensus not a barrier.

It would also involve Jeremy and his team accepting some of the constructive criticisms made by certain MPs.

Likewise, the PLP must accept the result. 

I genuinely believe the majority of MPs who voted no confidence in Jeremy did so in haste after the brutal shock of Brexit.

The fear of an impending snap election in October with Boris as PM drove most of them to do it. 

But I sense the mood is slowly changing.

Sarah Champion returning to the front bench will hopefully be the first of many shadow ministers.

Because forcing another leadership election next year will only end up with the same result and an even more fractious relationship between the leader and the PLP.

I reckon most members would agree we can’t allow that to happen.

I’m neither a Corbynista or a ‘moderate.’

I’m Labour. 

And hopefully after this leadership election, we’ll all be Labour again.

No cliques or factions.

Just Labour.

Both sides will have to listen and work together. 

There will have to be some form of Truth and Reconcilliaton. 

Trust will need to be earned. Concerns must be acknowledged and acted upon.

If Labour can do that, it’ll become the effective opposition and Government-in-waiting this country desperately needs.

If not, Labour we’ll be out of power for at least decade.

Family sticks together

So fellow Labour Party members.

It looks like we’re in for a torrid time.
I hope there might be some last minute change of mind.

But sadly it really does look like we’re going to go through a bitter and divisive leadership contest.

So before it starts, I wanted to say this.

The Labour Party isn’t a ‘broad church.’

We’re family. 

Yes we’re a family that has more than its fair share of fall outs and disputes. 

But we still share the same values. 

And when times are tough, we always pull together.

So however this ends, please remember we are all family. 

And family sticks together.

I don’t want to see us split. 

So let’s get through this in a comradely way.

Your fellow members aren’t traitors or trots.

They’re just people that have a slightly different view and perception of how we want to see democratic socialism.

If we fall out and fall apart, we’ll be giving a free pass to what could be the most right wing government this country has ever seen.

The public need us. 

So please let’s hold it together and get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible.

As it says on the back of all our cards…

“by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we do alone.”

Let’s stay positive.

And together.

After Brexit, let’s Fixit

Well, we tried our best but it still wasn’t good enough.

I’ve spent the last six months campaigning for us to stay in the EU, from running market stalls in Newark to touring the East Midlands doing debates and talking to people.

Now our country is divided, our economy is about to go into a severe shock and we could even see the collapse of the EU and Scotland leave the UK.

Cameron granting a referendum was never about staying in Europe. 

It was about remaining in Downing Street by winning over UKIP votes at the last General Election.

But what’s vital now is that we stick together. 

We’re in the driving seat to negotiate a new deal with the EU that will hopefully work in our favour. 

Not as good as what we have, but we must try and get something similar to secure the three million jobs that are linked to our trade in Europe.

But Labour must take the lead on this. It will take two years to engineer our divorce with the EU.

And if a week is a long time in politics, two years is an eternity.

So let’s set the pace in developing a framework that deals with people’s concerns.

I’d like to see an independent Royal Commission drawing from remainers, brexiteers, other parties, unions, businesses, civic society and actively engage the general public.

Let’s try and negotiate a program that can still give us access to the Single European Market.

But let’s also consider a fairer, not completely free, movement of people to allay concerns about uncontrolled migration.

And let’s bring back Labour’s Migration Impact Fund – that was axed by the Tories – to ease pressure on areas where migrants have put pressure on our services.

The EU and its member states will do all they can to keep us on board in some shape or form. The fears of France and Germany following our lead could see us drafting a template for a new Europe that could be replicated elsewhere.

Labour should be setting the debate and calling for a new deal and concessions that aren’t written on the back of a fag packet by Cameron but drafted by and for the people.

Let’s move on from Brexit and go on to Fixit! 

So don’t be downhearted this morning.

We’ve faced dark times before.

But it’s up to us to rise to the challenge and make a new EU relationship work for us.

I’m proud I fought to keep us in the EU.

And although the public said leave, I still remain a proud European. 

Nothing will change that.

And hey, look on the bright side. 

At least Farage is out of a job!

Learning from defeat

They say you only really learn from your defeats. Last Friday I found out.

Seeing your candidate win on the first round of voting only to lose on transfers is bad enough. When it’s your father, it’s a lot worse.

We knew it would be tough. The Humberside Police force area was technically a Tory marginal. Add to that the fact it was being held in November, there were no local elections on the same day or freepost to send out leaflets, it became herculean.

And thanks to a voting system that the Tories had campaigned against in the AV referendum, a little known Conservative councilor called Matthew Grove won by 2,231 votes on second preferences.

I blogged at the time about the problems we faced and that gut-wrenching feeling of falling short. 

As we walked out of the declaration at Bridlington Spa, I turned to Keith Hunter, the man who ran JP close in the selection to become our Humberside PCC candidate.

I said: “Keith. In four years time, we’ll be back here. And we’ll get you elected.”

There was no doubt that Keith would make an impressive candidate. 30 years in Humberside Police, he went from beat bobby to commander with a proven track record of reducing crime.

And even after losing out to John, he still came out to campaign for the man who beat him. He never knew this, but JP had lined him up to be his Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner. They would have made a great team.

Instead, Grove won and promptly appointed his mate as his Deputy. Neither had any experience of policing and sadly it showed.

After a hopeless police force reorganisation, Humberside Police was ranked ‘inadequate’ by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate.

I kept in touch with Keith over the years, hoping one day to convince him to run for it. Since that election, he’d been an advisor on criminal justice for the Foreign Office and out in Bosnia.

So as the selection was about to open at the end of last year, I and others convinced him to go for it. He breezed through the selection as members knew he was the most experienced person for the job.

He also managed to secure a fantastic agent and campaign manager in former Brigg and Goole MP Ian Cawsey. There was also a team of people across the force area who’d campaigned in 2012 and knew where we went wrong and how we could do better.

People like Shona McIssac, George McManus, Shelagh Finlay, Paul McCartan and Victoria Mumby. Added to that, we had some very talented young people – Rich Newlove, Terence Smith to name but a few. Then there was the sterling support from our MPs; Melanie Onn, Nic Dakin, Karl Turner, Alan Johnson and Diana Johnson.

And then there was Keith himself. Thirty years in Humerside Police, from the beat to the boardroom, gave him an unrivalled level of knowledge of how the force works and how to set the strategic direction.

That’s why we developed the slogan ‘It’s time for a professional.’ His action plan was rich in the kind of detail that only a criminal justice expert could bring.

So what did we learn from that loss in 2012 to try and secure a win in 2016? I wrote some initial thoughts on what we could do back in 2012

But this election was going to be tougher because it was clear the Government had decided to hold on to as many Tory PCCs as possible by not promoting.

With Welsh, Scottish, Mayoral and local elections all on the same day, the PCC contests were the Cinderella races.

£3m was spent promoting the inaugural PCC elections in 2012. This time, that cost was £2,700.

In light of it being an even harder election, I think these are the key reasons why Keith won.

Firstly, it’s all about the candidate. John is marmite – you love him or hate him. That works for first-past-the-post elections but not when you’re looking for second preferences.

Nearly every PCC candidate – from UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom to the Lib and the Tory, all attacked JP. On their leaflets, on the airwaves and in the newspapers.

Keith, on the other hand, didn’t come across as political with a big P. Experience, knowledge and being less partisan, proved to be very appealing to the electorate.

Secondly, we did more on digital. Last time we used Twitter a lot but didn’t engage enough on Facebook. Technology and targeting has advanced since 2012.

As I discovered at a Facebook training session for fellow General Election candidates last year, we could target the news feeds of potential voters on a constituency basis.  

So I crafted a bit of content to reach them. This short film, made with Jack Slater, got more than 10,000 Facebook views in the constituency.

I used Jack again to make this film about Keith. 

We felt it was important that he was seen on the street, introducing himself, highlighting the problems and making his case.

Targeting the Humberside Police force area, it received more than 32,000 Facebook views.

Thirdly, Keith’s campaign did the basics a lot better. A better postal vote strategy, better liaison with the local Labour parties and better rebuttal.

This third point proved to be crucial when the Conservatives did one almighty ‘Hail Mary pass’ to try and knock Keith out of the contest.

A week before the election, Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy stood up in the House of Commons and asked Leader of the Commons Chris Grayling if PCC candidates who were former police officers should publicly release their service record.

Grayling, not surprisingly agreed, but went further to say – under parliamentary privilege – that he had heard ‘allegations about the Labour PCC candidate for Humberside.

He added: “If the stories alleged about the candidate are true, he is unfit for public office, and it is a matter of public interest that the truth should be known before election day.”

It was a cowardly act. Keith’s response was perfect – he calmly published his service record which proved he’d been nothing but a brilliant officer.

Faced with such a swift and categorical denial, Percy backtracked to say he wasn’t referring to Keith and Grayling failed to say what the unfounded allegations were.

On the doorstep, this smear actually had the reverse of the intended effect. True blue voters told Keith they were angry and it just strengthened their resolve to vote for him.

And as the polling booths opened, this story was splashed on front pages across Hull and the East Riding. It seems what goes around, comes around.

As we were getting out the vote in Hull on election day, I had people stopping their cars to talk to Keith and shake his hand. In the city of Hull alone, over 20,000 people voted for Keith – 15,000 more than Grove.

He also led in North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire. Our big worry was East Riding, a solid Tory area that proved our undoing in 2012. But even here, Keith’s vote was competitive – Grove got 19,933 votes to Hunter’s 18,458.

So when the first preference figures were declared for the whole region, we knew we’d done it. Keith had a first round majority of over 21,000.

Only half of the 48,000 or so UKIP and Lib Dem second preferences came into play – and Keith got almost 60% of them.

His final majority over Grove was 24,353. In 2012, the Tory sneaked in with a 2,231 majority. We’d managed to get a swing to Labour of 11% on 2012 and a 9.3% swing on the General Election result.

Needless to say we were quite happy.

There are still concerns that need to be addressed. Our turnout, 22.84%, was higher than 2012’s 19.15%. But it’s still way too low.

That’s because many people refused to vote because they hadn’t heard from the candidates.

Like 2012, the Home Office refused to pay the Freepost for the candidates’ leaflets, in spite of a warning from the Electoral Commission that turnout  would continue to be low if they didn’t fund them.

A simple booklet featuring a page from each candidate would have helped and kept the costs down.

In conclusion, success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. Keith has many people who can righty claim to have helped secure that victory. If I’ve left names out, please forgive me.

And Keith deserves huge credit for being a great candidate, who kept his dignity and composure when his opponents started throwing mud.

But as an electoral orphan, I’ve carried that lonely guilt since 2012 that we could have done better.

So to see Keith declared the victor in the very same hall where we lost, made the win so much sweeter.

It allowed me to lay a ghost to rest.

And Matthew Grove finally got beat by a Prescott.