I was born into a passionately Labour-supporting family. My great-grandparents set up the local Labour Party in Gravesend, Kent, in the early 1920s and went on to be borough and county councillors. All their children were in the Labour League of Youth. Every generation since have been active party members. My first political activism was delivering leaflets for Labour with my mum and siblings when I was about nine years old.
My motivation for becoming politically active myself was anger about the inequality, unemployment and cuts to public services I could see as a teenager in the Thatcher years. My parents were on benefits and lived in social housing and I couldn’t understand how someone who worked as hard as my dad could be on such low pay.
I joined Labour on my 16th birthday in 1988, so this is my 32nd year as a member. I was inspired by Neil Kinnock’s efforts to make Labour electable again by ditching unilateralism.
I’ve been an activist and campaigner ever since, in Canterbury, Bristol, Bermondsey, Tottenham, Tooting, Hackney and most recently Oxford.
I studied Politics at Bristol University, where I was Secretary of the Labour Club and stood as a candidate for Bristol City Council and Avon County Council. I was National Secretary of Labour Students in the period when we were gearing up to mobilise the student vote for the 1997 General Election.
I worked for the Labour Party in the 1997 election as Agent for Frank Dobson in Holborn & St Pancras. After that I was asked to go to Hackney as Political Assistant to the Labour councillors to help sort out the aftermath of a big split in the Labour Group there. Because it was so politically unstable, it was a failing council that was delivering appalling services to what was then the most deprived community in Britain. As a social democrat I decided that trying to help sort out Hackney so the council could address the huge inequality and poverty there was a huge priority.
I lived in Hackney for 16 years, from 1998 to 2014, serving for 12 of them as councillor for Chatham Ward, the area around Homerton Hospital. This is the 13th most deprived ward in London, so I had a lot of casework around social housing need and benefits. I was Labour Chief Whip for a record seven years, then Chair of Health Scrutiny, a role in which I uncovered and won back for the area over £1 million that had been removed from the local NHS budget. I was Campaign Manager in the Hackney Borough elections in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014, increasing the number of Labour seats from 29 to 50, and in the London elections in 2008 and 2012. Through bringing unity to the Labour Group as whip, and a solid Labour majority to the Council through the campaigns I ran, I was a key player in bringing political stability, which has led to massive improvements in a previously failing hung council which now wins awards for its services.
During this time I also ran for Parliament twice, in Aldershot in 2001 – increasing the Labour vote against the tide – and Castle Point in 2005 – exposing a racist local Tory campaign in the national media.
In 2009 I was hit by a life-threatening illness, POEMS Syndrome, which attacks your neurological system and is driven by a tumour. I was successfully treated using radiotherapy but spent five months bed-ridden in hospital and a year in a wheelchair. Whilst I recovered I have been left with a residual disability – nerve damage in my legs means I will always need a walking stick and orthotic splints. The experience of disability, surviving cancer and requiring extensive help from the NHS and, initially, the benefit system has reinforced my passion to defend the NHS and fight for fellow patients and people with disabilities.
In 2010 I was elected by grassroots Labour Party members to serve on the National Executive Committee, which I did until 2012. I was very proud to bring to the NEC a clear, positive focus on rebuilding Labour’s grassroots, defending members’ democratic rights and ensuring the Party was the most efficient, united campaigning organisation possible, particularly at a local level.
I have a young family. My wife Linda Smith is also a Labour activist and is a Cabinet Member on Oxford City Council.. Our two sons attend local state schools and are fourteen and eight years old.
Alongside my Labour activism I have a day job as Director of campaign group We Believe in Israel, which supports a Two State Solution for Israel and Palestine and opposes boycotts and antisemitic anti-Israel rhetoric. I was previously Director at a large public affairs company.
In 2014 we moved to Oxford to be nearer Linda’s family. I’ve thrown myself into local party activity here as well, and currently serve as Secretary of my local branch party, as well as being a regular canvasser in one of the best campaigning CLPs in the country.