• Jo Bird

One year as an elected local Labour Councillor

I re-joined the Labour party in 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn was first elected leader. With his track record of campaigning against war and injustice, I knew this is the best chance in my lifetime for socialism - for fairness for everyone. In 2017, I moved from Northern Ireland to England, partly to seek election for Labour and our collective movements for justice.

In early 2018, I was part of a successful Labour-led campaign to re-open the NHS Walk In Centre for Wirral South. I stood for local election and Labour's share of the vote swung from 24% to 36%.

Then one year ago, I was utterly delighted to win a local by-election to represent Bromborough & New Ferry, on the west bank of the river Mersey.

One week after I was elected, Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead (bordering my ward), chose to use antisemitism as his excuse to resign from Labour. He isn’t Jewish but I am. I wrote a letter which went viral, “I am frankly fed up of anti-Jewish racism being used as a political weapon to attack Labour...Unlike Frank Field, my constituents' highest priority is ending cruel Conservative government cuts to services we all rely on.”

I was amazed when I joined Wirral Labour group of 38 councillors. The chair spoke over my first sentence. I mentioned Labour party rules state the group chair may not also be chair of a scrutiny committee (which she was). Within a month, she had resigned from Labour. Was it something I said?

Watching councillors up close, I realised people are involved in party politics for a range of reasons such as money, status, family and friendship. We are all human at the end of the day.

One morning in March, the Jewish Chronicle attacked me, quoting a speech I made on anti-racism, including a play on words, 'due/Jew process'. I said I am sorry for any offence caused - that was not my intention. The Labour party suspended me pending investigation. Hate mail starting coming, calling me a ‘Nazi’ and so on.

That evening, I stood up to speak at a livestreamed, full Council meeting. My heart was pounding because I knew it would be a key initiation test of my party political life.

What we didn’t know was Wirral Conservatives would be so prejudiced as to vote that I ‘not be heard’ and the whole Labour group would brilliantly back me. As I talked about my apology, the entire Conservative group demonstrated their hostility by walking out. When I spoke about how my Jewish family were affected by the Holocaust in Europe, former Labour councillors flounced out too. Some people have no shame nor respect for democracy.

No-one knew how long my suspension would last and my anxiety levels hit the roof. Over a thousand people said publicly, ‘Its ridiculous to suspend a Jewish councillor for making a Jewish joke’. Thanks to them, Labour re-instated me 9 days later.

Under Tory austerity, the last local leader and Wirral’s Labour cabinet made some unpopular decisions. In May’s local elections, Labour lost 4 seats and overall control of Wirral Council. The Labour group was down to 32 councillors.

Left-wing councillors like myself secured the election of a new Council leader. We have organised to move the policies of the Labour cabinet to the left, including declaring a climate emergency, saving some vital local services, and stopping a £26m Council loan to rich-list housing developers. Even the local Conservative leader now promotes building Council housing. I enjoy being part of making changes for the better.

As an elected councillor, I am honoured to part of a collective campaign for Justice for New Ferry after a devastating gas explosion in my ward in 2017. The second anniversary was marked by a thousand people carrying a lantern lit procession. Many healing tears were shed and the event was regional headline news. We’ve also secured direct payments to victims, promises of regeneration and improvements to the explosion site.

In the last year, I’ve learned first hand of the power and limitations of local councillors. For significant uplifts to everyone’s quality of life, this country urgently needs a socialist Labour government.

Bring on the next general election! With our splendid diversity, we can and must work together to reverse austerity cuts, democratise the economy, stop a disastrous no-deal Brexit and the Conservatives selling our NHS to President Trump's mates. Boris Johnson misleads us by example and was not elected by the people to be our prime minister.

Good, meaningful change will come when Labour are in government, delivering its gorgeous manifesto, FOR THE MANY not the few.

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