Look at the photo above. You probably recognise the woman on the left. She’s the woman always on the left. That’s Diane Abbott being elected for the first time in 1987.
But this blog isn’t about Diane Abbott. It’s about the bloke standing next to her. Her agent that time around. The one whose face you can’t really see because he’s concentrating on the task at hand. Given they’re actually at the count, there’s reason to doubt he’s trying to convince Diane to do one last knock up. But no one who’s met John Burnell would put it past him.
When Labour people gather together, often the topic will come around to political heroes. Bevan and Blair, King and Kinnock, Benn and Obama. These are great politicaians, great orators, great leaders. But the reason we know of any of them is becuase of people like John Burnell. The people who don’t reap the fame and the glory, but get the sore feet and the cross word when they send you out to do another bloody leaflet round.
John didn’t start his life as a Labour man. in fact he’s the son of a Tory Councillor and Street Captain (I don’t know what a street captain is, other than something they had in the Tories in the 60s and 70s, but by all accounts my Nana was a formidable one). Comfortably suburban and newly middle class, the Burnells sent their son to a private school he hated and then packed him off to university expecting great things. From the rows that followed, I’m not sure that becoming a Labour Party organiser was what they had in mind!
John worked for the Party for a while then went into Personnel, eventually setting up his own one man band consultancy. Every summer, John’s incoming profits – healthy the rest of the year round – would dip alarmingly. He simply couldn’t work out what was causing it. Until I realised he lived in an area with elections practically every spring. John had – of course – been spending too much time leafleting and canvassing for Labour and not enough chasing business for himself.
The highest office John has ever held was as a Hackney Councillor. He also edited a book once. The Institute for Workers Control sounds quite Trot-like. I think John probably was of the Left back in the day. But one thing he has never and would never be is a Trot. His highest value is loyalty to the Party. He knows and understands that all other values spring from there. Without the party we’re a bunch of lost individuals shouting into the void at the unfairness of it all. Together, we are a collective that can, has and will change the world. John Burnell is why I wear the name triballist with pride.
John retired last month. In real terms of course, this simply means that he’ll have more time than ever to dedicate to the Labour Party. He must be thrilled that Stevenage is an Island seat, selecting early. It will keep him busy for the next few years. Watch out East Herts!
John can be a tough nut to crack sometimes. He doesn’t suffer fools – or people not willing to go on one last GOTV mission at 9.45 – gladly. He gives his all and he expects others to do the same. But if he’s ever campaigned with you or for you, my God are you glad when he’s on your side.
John’s given 45 years to the Labour Party. God willing he’ll be giving at least 20 more. The Labour Party owes John and the Johns of this world a massive debt of gratitude, and I will be looking into ways they can do that. A simple thank you would mean the world to this man who has dedicated his life to his Party.
John Burnell is my Dad and he’s my all time political hero.