After three years in France, Ken and Mary returned to England and bought a house in Surrey. In 1982, while doing work for the Labour Party, Ken met Barbara Broer, who was then the local branch secretary. Ken and Barbara became friends and started to work together. Soon, they fell in love, and left Farnham together for London. They married in 1984.
They moved into a house in Chelsea. Here, they became involved with the group of left-leaning writers, actors and politicians with which they are often associated. “I like conversation and I like to hear clever people argue.”
Barbara stood as a Labour candidate several times over the following years and won the Stevenage seat in Labour’s massive general election victory of 1997, and served as the Member of Parliament for Stevenage for thirteen years. Barbara was also Minister for Culture in the government of Gordon Brown.
“Politics is an important factor in our marriage. It’s something about which we very rarely disagree. We have almost exactly the same opinions. Campaigning together over the years has been very enjoyable and it brings us together to fight for a common cause.” Ken was regularly enlisted by the Party to phone up his well-known friends and ask them to show their support for the Labour party. In 1990, he travelled to Washington DC with several senior Labour officials, including Jack Cunningham, then campaign manager and Peter Mandelson, then Director of Communications.
They met their opposite numbers in the Democratic Party to see what they could learn about campaigning and fundraising. “We all came back fizzing with ideas about raising money for the upcoming 1992 election. And there is no point in having ideas in politics and saying, ‘somebody ought to do this’. If you have got a good idea, my feeling has always been you have got to make it happen yourself and so I went ahead.”
One idea borrowed from the Democrats was to create clubs of people who were willing to pledge either £1 000 a year or £10 000 a year. Another was to hold fundraising dinners. This sort of fundraising had never been done before in the Labour Party, and many people were scandalised.
“Some people said, ‘How can you possibly be a socialist party and ask people to pay £500 to come to a dinner with the leader of the Party? My answer was, ‘look, we raise money by selling bingo tickets to people on council estates, and we make 10p out of the ticket. Why the heck shouldn’t we squeeze our rich supporters for five hundred quid if they can afford it?’. We did and made quite a lot of money.”
His fundraising activities also helped to change the public perception of the Labour Party. In the 1980s, Labour was seen by many as old-fashioned. Stealing a march on the Conservatives by using new fund-raising ideas showed people that the Party was changing. Despite these successes, Ken no longer gets involved in fundraising or celebrity-gathering.
“After a while your friends get fed up with you phoning them and asking for money, or asking them to show up for a photo call. You have a certain amount of credit with your friends and after a few years you use that up, and it’s time to let somebody else do the fundraising and the phoning.”
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