Mike Jackson died aged 73 on December 16, 2021 at his home in Watford following a long illness.

Born in Derbyshire, Mike moved to the Watford area aged nine, along with his parents and two younger brothers, Guy and John. Watford remained his home almost continuously until his death, with only two short periods spent living elsewhere. He was a lifelong supporter of Watford FC, and the ability to walk to the ground in under 20 minutes was an essential criterion in his choice of home.

Mike joined the Labour Party in 1972, immediately becoming an active campaigner in local and general elections. His ability as an organiser was soon recognised and he took on positions of responsibility such as ward organiser and branch secretary, eventually becoming election agent, a role he undertook in every borough and county council election from 1983 to 2019. He also acted as agent for the General and Mayoral elections from 1997 to 2019.

He was selected as Watford’s candidate to fight the General Elections of 1987 and 1992, although not successful in entering Parliament, he did increase Labour’s share of the vote. He served on the Labour Party’s NEC Youth Committee in the late 1970s and on its Local Government Advisory Committee from 1990 to 1994.

Mike went to Warwick University from 1974 and immediately became involved in student politics, being elected on to the Students’ Union Executive Committee soon after his arrival and becoming chair of the University Labour Club the following year. He was elected to the National Committee of the National Organisation of Labour Students (NOLS) in 1976 and became its national chair in 1977.

He immersed himself in local politics with commitment and exceptional ability, being elected to Watford Borough Council in 1980, and chair of Watford Constituency Labour Party the same year. He was leader of the council from 1990 to 1994, a period of great turmoil and challenge for Labour-run councils.

He was a vociferous opponent of the Conservative government’s flagship policy Right to Buy, under which council house tenants were able to buy houses with discounts of up to 50 per cent of their market value, with strict limits imposed on councils’ ability to spend the resulting receipts on building new stock. Watford Council opposed the policy and avoided implementing it for as long as possible, alive to the damaging effects of the drastic reduction in publicly-owned housing stock.

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He initiated numerous progressive policies during his time as leader including introducing equality and diversity principles for council staff, declaring Watford a Nuclear Free Zone, the establishment of the town’s first women’s refuge, supporting diverse communities within the borough and many environmental initiatives.

Some highlights from Mike’s time include:

  • Watford’s ground-breaking initiative to provide free bus travel for local pensioners, ensuring that poverty did not isolate them.
  • Financing the Meals on Wheels service, sheltered housing for the vulnerable and the Lifeline telecom network that kept people safe and secure in their homes. All these initiatives arose from his firm belief that the community, through the council, could support those who would otherwise struggle to improve their lives.
  • The concept of the council as a means to improve lives also led to new initiatives on public health, including pioneering work on HIV to disseminate reliable public information and to support suffers and their families.
  • When councils could no longer build, Mike pushed through schemes using council land and housing association finance to deliver more than 100 new homes to rent.
  • Recycling schemes for metal, plastic and CFC gas were all introduced, as well as free year-round garden waste collections, and extensive tree planting schemes. Pollution monitoring was introduced at key road junction locations, to inform and challenge the norms. These were bold policies then but now are considered mainstream.
  • Investment in the town’s business parks and town centre to provide jobs following the closure of major employers in the print industry, Rolls Royce and Scammell lorries, as the economy evolved towards services and away from Watford’s traditional manufacturing. Mike always believed that high quality work was the way to deliver better lives.
  • As the town became more and more attractive as a commuter base, and the economy evolved away from manufacturing to office-based work and services, residents parking schemes were introduced around Watford Junction to minimise inconvenience to local residents.
  • A hard-working town needed facilities such as community centres, good play areas, parks and sporting facilities. One particularly popular scheme was the Leisure Card, discounting sports access for residents, there was investment in the cultural landscape of the town such as sponsored classical concerts at the Assembly Rooms, and ensuring the lights stayed on at the Palace Theatre.
  • The play bus and venue-based playschemes supported the WASP (Watford Active, Sports and Play) scheme for children during the Easter and summer holidays. They provided a town-wide programme of staffed, safe and secure activities during the week.

The breadth of initiatives, just a few of which have been listed, demonstrates Mike’s fundamental belief that the council should be a force to improve the lives of residents, enhance their environment, expand their opportunities, and challenge the prejudices they faced.

His lifelong dedication to the Labour Party was formally recognised in February 2020 when he was presented with the Merit Award for Outstanding Contribution by Jeremy Corbyn, then party leader.

Mike had a strong commitment to the trade union movement, which started with him becoming a local representative for TSSA at London Euston in the late 1960s. He went on to establish a distinguished career as a full time official of the public sector union NUPE, and later UNISON, which dovetailed well with his political activity. He was a regional organiser in Greater London from 1978 to 2004. From 2004 he became UNISON’s deputy head of health in which capacity he acted as the lead negotiator for NHS pay talks. He was integrally involved in annual rounds of negotiations on pay and conditions, including those which led to Agenda for Change, the pay and grading structure for NHS staff which remains in place today.

Mike retired from UNISON in 2011 but continued to put his extensive experience and talents to good use as a project manager for NHS East of England in which capacity he was centrally involved in the establishment of the Talent for Care national strategic framework, which supports existing NHS staff to develop a long-term career and acquire relevant qualifications. The advantages of the scheme include encouraging staff currently undertaking a support role to remain in NHS employment while qualifying for a higher graded job or profession, reducing staff turnover and optimising the loyalty and dedication of locally based lower graded staff.

Mike retired from paid employment in 2015, thereafter dividing his time between his key non-political interests which included spending time with his grandchildren, travelling, walking, gardening and supporting his beloved Hornets. He was a season ticket holder for most of his life, attending home and away matches whenever possible.

In addition to his trade union and Labour Party work, he held numerous other positions of responsibility over his lifetime including as secretary of Watford Anti-Racist Committee, governor of Alban Wood School, board member of the Watford Palace Theatre Trust, member of South West Herts Health Authority and member of Watford Community Council.

He was also a founder trustee of Watford Peace Hospice, having initiated a public campaign to save the former Peace Memorial Hospital building during his time on the council. Having had his appendix removed there at the age of 16, he was admitted to the hospice for two weeks in December 2021. Thanks to the skill, care and dedication of the hospice staff, he was able to be discharged home where he died peacefully two weeks later with his wife and daughter at his bedside.

He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014 and despite undergoing every form of treatment available, the disease spread. In 2020 he stood down as chair of the CLP, although he continued to work and campaign for the party locally for as long as he could. In the May 2021 local elections he was pleased still to be able to canvass and deliver election material. He continued to maintain an interest in local issues, in particular he was a vociferous supporter of the campaign for a new hospital on the Vicarage Road site, a position he maintained until his death.

Throughout his life he was a tireless campaigner for equality, justice and a range of progressive policies, driven by the desire to improve the circumstances of ordinary working people and the most vulnerable members of society. He had a remarkable talent for spotting latent ability in others and encouraged them to use it in the furtherance of his deeply held socialist principles. A Labour Party colleague described him as a “Political Titan”, a tribute he would very much have appreciated.

He leaves a wife, Sue, brothers Guy and John, sister Carolyn, daughter Alice, son in law Jeff and grandchildren Ava, Otto and Kit.

The summary of Mike's policy work was provided by his former council colleague Andy Head

  • Mike's funeral has been rescheduled for Friday, February 18, 2022. It was due to take place on Friday, January 21 but has been postponed due to a family member testing positive for Covid.