RUNNING an election ‘committee room’ is no easy task. People are constantly coming in and out. The first task is to slave-drive activists to ‘knock up’ the vote – that is, to knock on the doors of your supporters and make sure they go to polling station. But if you’ve got a load of supporters who haven’t done something like this before, you need to make sure they keep coming back.
And a messy kitchen full of shouting, discarded leaflets and standing room only isn’t the best advert for political activity.
But on 5th May 2010, when we were fighting to re-elect the Labour government and Frank Dobson, as well as take Highgate ward back from the Greens, this was far from what I found at St Alban’s Road, the ward headquarters for the day.
For this was the home of Rosemary Rice, who died at the end of last week from motor neurone disease. There are so many in the Labour party who knew her better, but in the year that I knew her, I could not have seen more of her warmth, generosity, commitment and capacity for inspiration.
We were hardly in the best of spirits on that election day. Labour hadn’t led in an opinion poll for the best part of two years, Cleggmania (who’d have thunk it!) was at an all-time high, and when we canvassed, the attitude seemed to be that there was no reason why people shouldn’t vote for the Green candidates in the local elections.
But Rosemary kept our spirits up that day. As she raced around the house, making sure everyone was looked after, you could see it was in her blood. For she had run committee rooms for decades, and had ran the successful campaigns of Jock Stallard, Glenda Jackson and Frank Dobson in her time.
One of the highlights of the day was the incredible array of food she had prepared – all wise activists knows that being well fed lifts the spirits, but not all are prepared to facilitate this! When I arrived just after midday, the smell of Chile con Carne and delicious salads were already filling the air.
Rosemary was upfront about her illness, which she was diagnosed with shortly after retiring from her teaching job at Kentish Town primary school, where she taught for four decades. But as I saw her at various points in the coming months, she continued to be active, attending branch meetings and socials, and peddling up Highgate Road on her bike from Kentish Town.
I soon discovered that several of my friends had been taught by Rosemary at Kentish Town, and had found her to be as inspirational as I imagined. No wonder she was awarded the MBE for services to education.
I can’t do justice to such a wholesome life having only known Rosemary for 18 months, so I’d recommend Dan Carrier’s obituary in this week’s Camden New Journal. Incidentally, on the day we first met, she told me a great story about Dan…
It was a pleasure to have known Rosemary, who lit up the committee room on that May Thursday, which had the potential to be so morbid. Like in the many elections before, she played a great part in securing victory – not nationally, alas, but that election saw Frank Dobson’s majority doubled and Labour take back the council from a right-wing coalition. For us at St Alban’s Road, the jewel in the crown was seeing two of the Highgate council seats return to red.
Rest in peace.
Photograph: Camden New Journal