When David Evans was North West party director, trade unions were at the heart of his transformation of the region

by John Mann

I was appointed by the unions in 1995 to co-ordinate the union links with the Labour Party and act as national union organiser for the 1997 General Election. Soon after starting David Evans was appointed regional director for the Labour Party in the North West.

Union organisation was coordinated regionally and union traditions and strength varied significantly across the countries.

By early agreement with Tony Blair and his General Secretary Tom Sawyer, the unions agreed to prioritise delivering Labour victories in Labours target 90 seats. In some strong union areas like the North West there were only four seats to target. In the North West there were more than a dozen, located in the smaller Lancashire town battlegrounds.

David Evans was at the heart of union involvement, but he had particular structural difficulties, more so than other regions.

The union heartlands were very strong, in Liverpool, Manchester, but also strong industrial towns around Ellesmere port, Widnes and St Helens, making the power bases of the unions the safe Labour  seats.

The North West tradition was locality, with key union figures providing people and money for those stronghold areas and with sitting MPs usually having very strong connections. Many were former union workplace convenors and part of the union powerbase themselves.

Evans had to negotiate through this, telling lifelong union activists and MPs that they would not get the level of support they had always relied on as it was being funnelled into the target seats. It was a battle for hearts and minds and skilled negotiations. Evans mastered both.

His complexity was exacerbated by the union regions themselves being very autonomous from national unions. In many parts of the country I could employ union Presidents and General Secretaries to smooth through a strategy that they had agreed. The North West was different.

The AEEU was run by Blair supporting Ken Jackson, but Manchester was an outpost for the old Communist linked left.  TGWU in Merseyside had opposed Bill Morris in his recent re-election. The GMB had two regions covering the North West and Ernie Hughes in the one covering Lancashire and most key seats was a law unto himself. Yet he and his political officer Gary Jones had by far the biggest regional autonomy and budget for expenditure. David Evans was the only person able to persuade them.

Evans cultivated the help of North West women leaders, Margaret Wall from MSF and Diana Jeuda from Usdaw, both of whom were significant players in Labour’s national executive, while Margaret Prosser of TGWU, Maggie Jones of Unison and Mary Turner of the GMB were hugely significant in the Labour power broking and key allies. Evans was deft in building these alliances.

This effort and Evans role in it were vital to Party chair Ian McCartney, who was fighting his own battles with Tony Blair’s office on the National Minimum wage, union rights and the desire by some to weaken the union role in the Party. In all these crucial battles, Evans supported the pro-union agenda- giving powerful platforms to McCartney and Prescott at crucial times and the national minimum wage road tour, which was pivotal in holding the alliance together, used the North West as its anchor.

Behind the scenes, Brian Dawson joint secretary of TULO and Bill Berry of Unison its North West chair worked hand-in-glove with David Evans to maximise union involvement and effectiveness.

From fundraising in Blackpool with Gordon Brown, the Black Dyke Mills band and Brian Glover, to teams door-knocking through CWU leadership In Rochdale, Unison in Bury or the GMB in Chester, Evans delivered all his target seats with consummate ease, indeed spreading the gains beyond the targets and into seats such as Lancaster and Morecambe.

David Evans political organising skills are widely recognised, but the lie needs nailing that he was in any way anti -union. The truth is exactly the opposite. Every Labour affiliated General Secretary of a union from 1997 knows the role that David Evans and TULO North West played, but I recall two who were particularly enthusiastic. Rodney Bickerstaffe highlighted the strength of the relationship in the North West to me immediately after the election and how important it was going forward, when he joined Ian McCartney on one of our platforms. And ironically, as it is Matt Wrack of the FBU, who I did not come across in my time, who lays the charge of hostility to the unions, Ken Cameron, the Morning Star supporting FBU leader of the time met with me regularly to assess FBU support. His union provided one lead coordinator, Jack Oade in Halifax, but he stressed to me the impact his union could have particularly on London and Scotland through their strong organisation there and Ken highlighted his perception that the union Labour links in the North West made involvement there particularly potent. That is the North West Labour Party, Director David Evans, North West TULO, joint secretary David Evans.

John Mann was Labour MP for Bassetlaw from 2001 to 2019 and is now a life peer in the House of Lords

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7 Responses to “When David Evans was North West party director, trade unions were at the heart of his transformation of the region”

  1. Alf says:

    David Evans is a Blairite. A real cultist. He has no independent will whatsover.

  2. John P Reid says:

    I put my hands up I voted Andy burnham 1st, Rd Miliband 2nd 2010

    I stand by that David Miliband didn’t understand how unpopular we were
    Not just Iraq but the Westminster bubble
    Ed Miliband at first thought he’d listen to people like Jon Cruddas but then thought
    I’ll get Ex a Libdem votes- with the coalition
    Ukip will split the Tory vote ( the 35% strategy)
    Not to assume all ex libdems who stopped voting for them in 2015 are middle class( in Cornwall sctotland Liverpool new Castle or inner London they weren’t) but they either didn’t come to labour or it was in Safe labour areas

    I member to persuade many ex blairites to vote the way I did for the 2010 leader
    6 years ago
    I recall Bryon Taylor came to A local labour meeting, he was going in about how great Ed Miliband was- there was a mood swing in the country the public were gonna want in 2015 a more left wing government
    Than the coalition or New labour
    So it was right for Ed Miliband to trash our record in office and he’d win as he had swung labour to the left
    My friends who’d voted for Andy and Ed over David looked on in amazement- there’s no mood swing in the country
    I tried
    To explain lain to Bryon Taylor that labour need working class votes back and just because Ed Miliband said new labour is over- bloke new labour in the past I’m moral( which implies nu Labour was immoral) I’d Ed Miliband thought he’d win by getting ex Libdem voters who thought it cool to stick their tongue out at new labour for being too right wing
    It wouldn’t be enough to win
    Anyway Bryon Taylor has never accepted this or ehy Ed Miliband lost

  3. John P Reid says:

    Ed Miliband lost the election ,when he had spent five years saying he wasn’t new Labour
    He wasn’t Tony Blair, we’ve got a party back,new labour is over and unlike in the past he was moral, meaning that New labour was immoral in
    Ken Livingstone said on Milibands time as leader of the opposition, it was the last chance in his lifetime the socialist government

    Then when Ed milliband lost the left called him a Blairite , and dismissed the fact that lost being to left wing

    This calling everyone a Blairite he was nothing of the sort is calling people Blairites is silly

  4. Dave Roberts says:

    The above posts are why Labour lost the last election and in particular the red wall. If you are going to spend your time on the arguments of twenty and thirty years ago forget ever getting back into power. Covid19 will be forgotten as quickly as Brexit and the country and world will move on leaving you all behind.

  5. John P Reid says:


    Conservative 46% (-2)
    Labour 33% (+3)
    Lib Dem 8% (-)
    Green 4% (-1)
    SNP 5% (-)
    Other 4% (-)

  6. Anne says:

    Events have moved on. Andy Burnham is doing a great job as Mayor of Greater Manchester.

  7. Anne says:

    Sorry – just read David Evans has been elected General Sec to replace Jennie Formby. Don’t know anything about him – will reserve judgement.

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