Elected Councillor For Paradise

I Get Myself Into It

Back in 1984 I ran the Labour Committee Rooms in a council election for Toller ward in Bradford. It was my job to co-ordinate the identification of Labour voters in the runup to the election, and to co-ordinate getting them to the polling station on Election Day. The election was successful and a good socialist was elected.

I began to think about a neighbouring ward, Heaton, which should have been Labour or at least a see-saw or marginal ward. It was a safe Conservative ward, the third safest Conservative ward in the Bradford District. Thinking about it, I thought we had several distinct constituencies in the ward. There was a large Muslim population of generally Kashmiri origin. If they voted they normally voted Labour. There was an even larger white middle class community who wanted to vote for someone they could respect, and who would cross traditional party lines to do it. There was a Council estate, traditionally Labour voters, but where there was a racism problem. Not all the estate were racist by any means, but there had been some racist incidents.

The ideal candidate had to be male, middle class - preferably a professional, white, and whom the Asians would wish to vote for. I looked around for about six weeks, but I could not find anyone who fitted the picture better than me. It had not been my intention to stand for the Council. If I had wished to be a Councillor I could have had a nomination for my ward, Toller, without much difficulty.

I thought about this a bit longer. My solicitor practice was still young, and really I should not become a councillor as well. On the other hand, if I stood in an election and lost the time input did not damage the firm. If I won, I would have to cope. It was extremely unlikely I would win first time round, so I would commit to standing a maximum of three times. That would be 1986,1987 and 1988. Councillors served four year terms and there were three councillors for each ward. 1985 and 1999 had no Council elections in them.

I wrote to the Heaton ward party. I wanted to talk to them about how Heaton could be won for Labour. They read out the letter at a meeting, laughed, and did not reply. I had wanted to campaign over an 18 month period, to really work the ward and build an organisation and establish myself as a presence in the community. I was disappointed.

I get selected

The first step for me now was to put myself forward for the party's local government panel. This involved waiting until applications were requested, lodging an application, and having an interview with the District Labour Party sub committee. This Committee was assessing whether I would be an acceptable Labour candidate. Their main considerations were first of all had I been a party member for two years because this was a requirement, would I promise to obey the party whip if elected, and was I not obviously insane or politically embarrassing.

The District Party were not selecting me, they would put me on the panel from which any ward in Bradford Metropolitan District could select me. I had a history of activism and party office holding and I had not been known to advocate crazy political positions. They were surprised when I said I only wanted to stand in Heaton. I explained that I was very busy in my Law practice, and that becoming a councillor would involve some sacrifice. I was prepared to make a sacrifice to win a new seat for Labour but I was not wishing to be selected for a safe seat. I had no obvious flaws. So they put me on the panel.

When Heaton started its selection process there were only three people who put themselves forward. Only two of us turned up for the selection meeting. Almost every party member present was a graduate. One candidate was a relatively young fitter (a kind of engineering technician) who did not have a degree, and whom nobody knew. There was me, who was acquainted with half the people in the room. I also announced in my speech that I had exchanged contracts to purchase a house in the ward. We both made speeches and I was selected.


The Campaign

The campaign was not the long well organised campaign that I had wished to run. There were only about two months left to the election, so I had to work hard. As an immigration lawyer I had a lot of friends and clients in the Asian community and they came to help in the Asian part of the ward. I was invited to lots of house meetings where I would meet with between a dozen and twenty Asian men, who each influenced an exrtended family of between ten and fifty voters. The Asian part of the ward was a sea of red Labour posters. I spoke in a couple of mosques at Friday prayers (the big event of the week).

My election leaflet was a politically moderate document pointing out that I ran a business and so I could contribute to running Bradford Council better. By now I lived in the ward. The leaflet was mailed to every house in the ward.

And we canvassed. This was going house to house to ask if we could rely upon their support on election day. The Thatcher government was highly unpopular at the time, so we got a good response in the poorer areas.

On Election Day itself I had rigged up a car mounted loud speaker system. The English message had an ice cream van type jingle and then "Send Maggy a Message. Vote Labour Today." This would repeat three times and then I would move to the next street. The Asian message had cheerful Asian music and a message in Punjabi "Vote Labour. Vote For Charles James. Vote Number Three."

My father and three friends had no election in their area that year so they came down on Election Day to help. The process was called "knocking out". One went to the doors of those who had promised to vote Labour but who had not yet voted, knocked at the door, and offered them a lift to the polling station.

At close to 7pm I was driving down one of the main streets in the Asian area. I was surprised to see one of my activists stood at a street corner doing nothing. I stopped the car expressing concern that there were only two hours left before the polls closed. The street he was on, Leamington Street, was about 90% Labour voters. He pointed further down the street to where an elderly man was being helped into a car. "Leamington Street has voted" he said. "That's the last Labour voter, going to vote now."

About half an hour later it was clear that there was very little knocking up left to do. I and a few car loads of activists went to another marginal ward and helped to knock up there. By coincidence the Labour candidate was the young fitter who had not been selected for Heaton. He won.

At half past eight I drove back to Heaton where one of the elderly Asian Labour Party members established a new tradition. He was really not fit to do a lot of work "knocking out", and certainly not fit to go to the count later that night. So he and his wife cooked a curry for the Count Team. This was me, my agent, and a few people who were going to watch the election counting to make sure my votes were not accidently put on the wrong pile.

This gave us all a chance to sit down and rest, tell each other and laugh about the little incidents that make up every election, and generally calm down for the night session ahead. This tradition was so popular it continued until the comrade died about eight years later.

The Count

When we got to the count in the Council Recreation Centre hall there were three wards being counted there. I met the Conservative candidate, a councillor standing for re-election. He was aware I was running an active campaign and he expected his majority to be reduced. He was actually the Chief Whip for the Conservatives on the Council, and he had spent the campaign in Toller ward helping the sitting Conservative councillor in her difficult fight for re-election. Labour had won in 1984, and the Conservatives were even more unpopular now in 1986. He had had a huge majority in Heaton in the previous election so it was unlikely he would actually lose the seat.

The Liberal candidate was a really nice woman who had at one point been Secretary of the Heaton Branch Labour Party. She had got fed up with the Labour Party and had joined the Liberal Party. Her husband was an active Labour member. I visited them during the election and she and I got on well. The Liberal vote had been very small at the previous election so she had no expectation of winning. She thought that as she was personally popular in her part of the ward she would do better than the previous candidate.

As the first results came out, it was obviously Labour's night. All over the country the marginals, including Toller, fell to Labour. The swing alone, about 12%, was not enough to win Heaton. In a Council election it was quite common for election turnouts to be in the order of 33% to 40% because they are not as important as a General Election. In the two polling boxes where the Asians lived the turnouts were 80% and 67%. The turnout in the rest of the ward was nearly 50%. As my pile of votes was significantly good in the ward as a whole and overwhelming in the Asian areas I knew I had turned the seat into a marginal.

The Liberal candidate had increased the Liberal vote 92% which was really impressive. I had increased the Labour vote 80%, which was stunning. The Conservatives had put all their efforts into the marginal seats and from what we could see had done little "knocking up" in Heaton. The Conservative vote was significantly down from 1984, but it still would have beaten the 1984 Labour vote. I won by 2401 to 2317, which after a recount was 2400 to 2318. I was elected!

I had not expected to win. I had not prepared a victory speech. I was stunned. In the photos taken over the next 48 hours I have an incredibly wide smile and a totally stunned expression.

When I went to the Labour Party party near the town centre I was cheered into the room, and I could not buy a drink for myself all night. I bought drinks for my agent and a few supporters who had helped during the election.

Paradise Road

One of the areas in Heaton had a nonconformist chapel, and around the corner were a few streets. One of them was Paradise Road. The little patch was known locally as "Paradise". So I was now Councillor for Paradise.

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Comments 4 comments

John Holden profile image

John Holden 3 years ago

James, my rise to councillor was nothing like as grand as yours!

Twas a town council and bodies were scarce. I protested long and hard but eventually submitted and sat, totally unelected!


Charles James profile image

Charles James 3 years ago from Yorkshire, UK Author

You stood for election. You won. No issue.

Well done!

Town Councils can be important for focussing on the needs of your locality. I am sure you did.


John Holden profile image

John Holden 3 years ago

That's just the point Charles, it was uncontested and no election was involved!

But I will agree that a lot of the work was important, some just rubber stamping the big councils decisions, but some of it making a difference.


Charles James profile image

Charles James 3 years ago from Yorkshire, UK Author

You participated in the democratic process. No-one else stood. There are no issues about your legitimacy in office.

My late father was a County Councillor. The second last time he stood he won 7:1. The next time he was not opposed!

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