Monday, February 13, 2012

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part CLV: Johanna Baxter

Johanna was the first independent, non-slate, candidate to succeed in being elected to Labour’s NEC in years.  She is the granddaughter of a Killoch Pit miner who has dedicated her life to the Labour movement.  Her first experience of activism involved representing fellow workers in a Glasgow call centre as a CWU rep whilst funding her own way through her degree in politics and law at Strathclyde University.  Whether during her time on the TUC Organising Academy working as a negotiator for PCS or in her current role as a National Officer for the trade union, Prospect, she has fought a daily battle for better terms and conditions at work for thousands of employees in the private and public sectors.

Johanna’s political experience is rooted in local community activism and she has been an active party campaigner since the age of 16 in Ayrshire, Birmingham and London. She has held position at every level of the Party and is currently CLP Secretary for Camberwell & Peckham and Lane Branch Labour Party Organiser.  She has also enjoyed spells on the Young Fabians Executive, as a school governor in Birmingham and as guest editor for LabourList.

What made you decide to start blogging?
Originally, it was a volunteering trip to Africa but I hadn’t quite caught the blogging bug at that point. My commitment to regular blogging started when I got elected to the NEC – I wanted to make sure that members knew what their elected representatives were up to, provide greater transparency to NEC decisions and a way for our members to get in touch with me and let me know their views.

What is your best blogging experience?
It was probably the day I described the moment I stood a few feet in front of an adult male, leader of a pride, lion and didn’t get eaten!  In terms of my NEC blog, Putting Members First, it was the day I wrote my report of the Refounding Labour reforms that the NEC were proposing to annual conference last year – I was really proud of the amount we had been able to achieve for members in that process.

And your worst?
The day I paid tribute to my CLP stalwart, Joan Amodio, who had passed away (  She had a wonderful spirit and had given her entire life to our party and her local community – a true hero who has left a huge gap.  It might have been one of my most widely read, and most positively received, blogs but I would swap it in an instant to have her back among us.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?
This one; - where I outline the massive, ideological attack on worker’s rights being levied at us by the current government.  It’s an issue I care passionately about.  My day job is as a National Officer for a non-affiliated union and every day I see examples of unfairness in the workplace that are wholly ‘legal’, the balance of power weighted in favour of the employer and employees increasingly struggling to have their voice heard. 

Favourite blogs?
Ed Balls’ blog, Labour List, Scarlet Standard, Liberal Conspiracy, Left Foot Forward, the TUC’s ToUChstone and BBC Nature Wonder Monkey (probably in that order)

What made you decide to go into politics?
I grew up in Saltcoats, a small seaside town on the west coast of Scotland.   It’s the place everyone ‘used to’ go to on their holidays.  My dad owned a small shop in the town but life there was tough - investment was sucked out of the area under the last Conservative Government, tourism collapsed, and the closure of the nearby manufacturing plants decimated local industry.  Unemployment in the area was high then and it’s even higher now – the highest in Scotland and one of the highest in the UK.  My granddad was a miner in another part of Ayrshire. I grew up seeing deprivation all around me, in people that had worked hard all of their lives, and I disagreed with those that told me the only way out of that was just to look after yourself.  I wanted to do something about it.  I didn’t come from a family who were actively involved in politics so finding out how to get involved wasn’t always easy.

What are your aims in standing for re-election to the NEC ?
I want to keep ‘putting members first’.  That’s what I promised I would do when I stood this time  two years ago and since then I’ve travelled to 56 CLPs across the country (52 in my first 52 weeks and more than any other CLP representative) listening to members and reporting back on the work of the NEC.  Over the course of the next year CLPs will be trying to implement the reforms agreed through Refounding Labour, whilst also campaigning to return a Labour London Mayor, win locally in Scotland, England and Wales and respond to changing constituency boundaries.  I can help CLPs through that process of change and will ensure that those areas of Refounding Labour that are still to be delivered continue to prioritise member interests. Our policy making process and technology reforms must be enacted, not filed and forgotten.
If members re-elect me, I will: continue putting members first; ensure the commitment to a clearer, more transparent policy making process, which puts members at the heart of our decision making structure, is met; ensure that members and users are at the forefront of decisions taken about the Party’s new technology platform and lead the charge for greater accountability within our democratic structures.

What has been the best and the worst thing about being on the NEC over the past year?
The best thing has been meeting so many of our party’s dedicated activists as I’ve toured the country – hundreds of grassroots campaigners giving their time, money and effort every day to do the best they can to help our Party get elected.

The worst is the isolation that comes with being the only non-slate candidate elected last time.  Being the only independent voice of members on the NEC means people have to make more of an effort to understand where you’re coming from, how you might vote and whether they can rely on you.  It means you’re left out of some of the back-room conversations that go on outside of meetings.

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?
I’d love to go to the Serengeti to see the great migration and South America.

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?
I’ll always return to South Africa and Spain.  I volunteer at a local conservation project in South Africa  and I adore Spain.

Bar the present one, who is your favourite Prime Minister, and if different, your favourite Labour leader?
Jings, that’s a difficult one. Neither was Prime Minister but for leadership I’d say John Smith and in his role as Health Secretary, Aneurin Bevan for giving us the NHS.

Which figure has been your greatest inspiration?
If I could only have one it would have to be Nelson Mandela.  But you can’t really expect me only to have one!  I’ve always admired Jimmy Reid for his pragmatic approach to trade unionism – his leadership and vision, challenging though it was for his members, was what ultimately protected their position.  I’m a massive fan of David Attenborough - probably the most travelled man in the world – for giving us such an astonishing understanding of the world around us.  On a day to day basis it’s our members that constantly inspire me – their absolute dedication to our cause is phenomenal.

Favourite Bond movie?
Casino Royale – Daniel Craig is a real Bond and gives the series a strong refresh.

Favorite Doctor Who?
Tom Baker – even though the last two Drs have been great he defined the role.  But I confess I’d turn over for David Attenborough though.

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?
Mint – in a nice mojito!

Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?
The original Buena Vista Social Club playing at the Casa Del a Trova in Havana.  Failing that I’ll settle for Rodrigo y Gabriela.

In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?
If you mean which city in the UK it would have to be Glasgow.  I lived there for 4 years and it has a spirit you don’t find in many other places.

Favourite national newspaper?
I probably read the Guardian more than most but I tend to scan the political sections of most of the broadsheets online and I’ll always have a soft spot for the Daily Record.

What would you say your hobbies were?
Apart from visiting Constituency Labour Parties?!  I love food and music festivals and I’m an out-of-practice violinist.

And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books (Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?

Happiness by Allen Toussaint
Jive Soweto by Sipho Mabuse
Matador by Los Fabulosos Cardillacs

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
Larousee’s Encyclopedia of Music
The Biography of Aneurin Bevan Written by Michael Foot
The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Life on Air by David Attenborough
(It’s impossible to shortlist 3 out of these 5!)

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