Friday, September 17, 2010

It's all happening in the People's Republic of Sheffield

Tonight, with the defection of Councillor Ben Curran from Liberal Democrat to the Labour Party, the state of the parties are as follows

LibDem 41
Labour 39
Green 2
Independent 1 (former LibDem)
Vacancy 1 (traditionally secure Labour seat)

So, who knows but that Councillor Julie Dore, the new leader of the Labour Group, elected only two weeks ago following the very sad death of Cllr Jan Wilson, might even become the Leader of the Council in a very short while. I have not asked around yet to discover the current state of play in Sheffield with the Greens and the Independent, but it would not take much to tip the balance in this city now. I bet Nick Clegg feels like crying! His party in Sheffield (where he has his constituency) is in disarray and his party in Liverpool (where he has his conference) has already lost control and is in the trough of despond.

I would just like to say a couple of things about Jan and about Julie, both of whom I know very well, having been the Labour Party Campaign Manager for a few years from 1999-2001 and then working for two Sheffield Labour MPs until 2004.

Councillor Jan Wilson, Leader Sheffield City Council

Jan Wilson as a leading woman in Local Government, has long since been my role model. I used to sit in Labour Group meetings in Sheffield, both while they were in opposition and then after they won power, watching, listening and taking notes. When I decided to put myself forward as a potential Councillor, she was the Councillor I wanted to be most like. Straight speaking, honest, genuine and passionate, the first female Labour leader I properly met, she will be a very great loss to the Labour Party and to the good people of Sheffield. Rest in Peace Jan.

And then there is "Our Julie". I trust I am allowed to call her that, after all, I coined the phrase! Julie stood for the Labour Party in a byelection in 2000 (from memory). It was a byelection we were absolutely not expected to win. We had lost two seats in Park ward already and the third one became vacant when our elderly remaining Councillor fell and hurt herself and her non-attendance clumsily slipped past the 6 months mark without anyone noticing. It was thought to be a foregone conclusion that the LibDems would take the third seat, so much so in fact that the LibDem candidate went on a few weeks holiday during the middle of the short campaign.

As LP Campaign Manager I was Julie's Agent and we ran a very busy campaign, loads of door-knocking, thoughtful leaflets, direct mail and help from a huge number of members. Julie was the best candidate I have ever worked with in any election. Even despite injuring her foot and having to campaign sitting down for the last 10 days of the campaign, she was both tireless and imaginative. As a truly local candidate, she went through the electoral register identifying everyone she knew personally and dedicated herself to contacting them all and explaining she was standing for election as the Labour candidate and would hope for their support. Many of them we found had never voted, but with her support and encouragement (and much explaining of the voting process) they came out for "Our Julie".

We ran a very positive campaign, focussing on Julie and her links and work locally and her active take-up of casework. Despite all the odds, and with a huge team behind us, Julie won the seat by around 150 votes. Almost precisely the same number as that of Julie's friends and neighbours that she spoke to personally. I have used the Park Ward Byelection as an exemplar in hundreds of campaign training sessions ever since.

And now, "Our Julie" is the leader of the Labour Group in Sheffield and with a fair wind could be the new Leader of the Council in a very short time. I wish she could have been in this position for a more positive reason, but I am delighted all the same. I still treasure the framed photograph from the Sheffield Star of Julie, with her crutches and her foot in a bandage, celebrating at the count with me and other local Labour stalwarts.

Great news for Labour, for Sheffield and for the sisterhood.

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