Throughout our time as Labour Party members, telephone canvassers, door knockers and envelope stuffers we inevitably meet people of various ages, backgrounds and beliefs.
The often-transient nature of party activism means we’ll meet some comrades only once or twice. Others we will saddle up alongside and embark on a journey that we hope will soon arrive at Socialism Central.
Luke Agnew is one of the reasons why our energised and engaged membership is a great thing for the Labour Party. He has a quiet, almost shy demeanour at times. When he first became more active in the Labour Party, both at Branch and Constituency meetings, he’d speak only to sign in.
One thing absolutely unequivocal about Luke though is his politics.
Fresh from our Party Conference in Brighton earlier this year, I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes of Luke’s time to ask about Luke Agnew the individual, the council employee, and the Labour Party member.
So Luke, first of all well done for getting up and speaking in the Conference Hall. How did that feel? It was just a blur really. Everything happened so quickly. I arrived in the Hall as a Delegate and had been told that our motion (that the Party reinstates Clause IV Part IV to its original working) would be discussed. Before I knew it, a fellow party member from Wirral West, David Brennan, gave me a nudge and said I should be prepared to get up and speak within the next few minutes.
You still managed to do a great job of speaking passionately and articulately about Clause IV. Obviously the subject has attracted huge discussion in recent years. What does it mean to you? I walked into a job in 2002. It was a solid, fully unionised job. We had plumbers, roofers, blacksmiths and many others onsite. Since then, my own place of work has become privatised to within an inch of its life. Good working people have seen their jobs replaced by a casualised workforce. The nature of Clause IV is the backbone of the working class and what the Labour Party should represent.
You currently work for Wirral Borough Council. What is it you do?
I am a Grounds Maintenance Supervisor at Flaybrick Cemetery. I’m also lucky enough to be the Unite Union Rep for the Parks Department in Birkenhead.
Is this a kind of job you just ‘get into?’ How did it come about?
Well when I left school I wanted to be a green keeper. I’d actually had my heart set on working at Anfield for Liverpool Football Club, but sadly that wasn’t to be. I was actually the last of a cohort of people that took a 4 year apprenticeship with a guaranteed job at the end of it.
No it was actually in Hoylake. I was there for 13 years in total, 4 years as an apprentice and then as a qualified Tradesperson at Hoylake Golf Club. I was made a Temporary Supervisor for 3 years before applying for the job permanently. I’d have loved to have stayed at Hoylake but was given Flaybrick instead. It hasn’t been without its challenges – I haven’t met anyone that wants to dig graves for a living – but it enabled me to lead on the Edward McHugh Memorial Campaign earlier this year so it certainly hasn’t all been bad!
I remember the unveiling of the memorial back in June. There was loads of work that went into it prior though wasn’t there. How did that start?
Purely by chance really. I was at my first ever Union Rep course. Mark Metcalf came and spoke about working class memorials and how we could highlight them better. I’d seen firsthand, the ‘poor’ section of the cemetery was becoming overgrown and derelict, but we had been given a list of socialists, trade unionists and working class members of the Labour movement that were buried within the grounds. This is where I started to learn more about Edward McHugh.
So who was Edward McHugh then?
In short, a Trade Unionist who lived between 1853-1915. He was born in Ireland but moved over to the UK and for most of his life was best described as a land reformer and trade unionist. He was one of the Co-Founders of the National Union of Dock Labourers and he worked in Liverpool with dockers during the bitter dispute in 1890. He then settled in Birkenhead and, apart from a few years in New York, spent the rest of his life on the Wirral.
Ok so you became aware of him spending his life on the Wirral, how did you know where his plot was if he didn’t have a headstone?
Just some research really. We retain records of plots relating to each individual within the grounds. Edward McHugh didn’t have a memorial, just a patch of grass. We set about putting a crowdfunding campaign together, and I spoke to members in Wallasey and Birkenhead Constituency Labour Parties. We raised enough money to create a headstone befitting of Edward McHugh’s life and, with the tireless help of Mick Whitley (Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Birkenhead) we were able to hold an unveiling ceremony for the headstone back in June.
Fantastic stuff, and it’s great to see different parts of the Labour Party coming together on this to make the unveiling happen. You yourself have become a fixture in the Labour Party now. Action Saturdays, door knocking, street stalls, you seem to be everywhere. What was it that drew you in?
In the main, my job. I have a great sense of pride in the job I do and the Borough I work for. As I mentioned earlier though, when I see parts of the job falling victim to privatisation, and becoming less adequately resourced, it has made me want to hold to account any decisions taken that have made the job and the lives of people over the years become demonstrably more difficult. The Labour Party, through its democratic structures, ‘can-do’ approaches of certain Councillors and ability to listen has given me that opportunity. Hopefully through my own experiences and current role within Unite I can help to influence some of the policy going forward. I’ve already been inspired by some of the Trade Unionists within Unite. People like Sheila Coleman and Mick Whitley, so long may it continue!
Aside from Luke the activist is Luke the family man. Do we have a future Labour Prime Minister in the making?
<laughs> I’m not too sure. To be honest I was taking my daughter, Maddie, to a few of the campaigning sessions out of necessity. It’s been a tricky couple of years in the Agnew household to be honest. My partner was working sometimes 60 hours a week. Then around 18 months ago she became really poorly and spent most of the time at Arrowe Park Hospital. She’s now on the mend thanks to the amazing staff at the hospital. They have worked in the face of cuts and staff shortages but do a fantastic job each and every day. What resulted from it was some amazing bonding time between Maddie and I, and she’s really starting to thrive at St Georges School in Wallasey now.
That’s good to hear, and I’m glad your partner is on the mend. Just finally, what would you say to any new or prospective members that would like to become more involved in the Labour Party?
Firstly, I’d say that the party is a welcoming and warm place. My first campaigning activity was in the Wallasey MP’s office in 2017 in the build-up to the last General Election. I turned up, stuffed some envelopes, then went home. I then started coming to Branch and Constituency Party meetings, mainly observing. Then plucked up the courage to speak a little. In little over a year, I am now on the panel of prospective local election candidates and was able to go to our Annual Conference as a Delegate. It’s been a fantastic journey in a short space of time. I’ve meet some great friends along the way and will continue to take part as and where I can. New members at meeting are always made to feel absolutely welcome. We may have the occasional difference of opinion, but this is always handled in a civil and comradely way. We’re all on the same team after all.
Be sure to keep up with Luke’s journey in Wallasey Labour Party via Twitter – @lukeagnew11