Mike Howard – “a true mensch”

Mike in typical campaigning mode – outside the local hospital standing up for NHS staff.
It is with deep regret that we announce that JVL member and long-term fighter for socialism, Mike  Howard died after a short illness, with his close family at his side, in the early hours of Thursday 11th November 2021.

 

Many readers of our website will recognise and remember Mike as one of the Labour Activists for Justice (LA4J) who had been treated so abysmally by the Party to which he dedicated more than 45 years of his life. He died a committed socialist and still angry with the Labour Party that had suspended him, a Jewish anti-racist, for antisemitism.

You can get a taste of his anger, his willingness to challenge and a little of his background on this video from a Labour Grassroots show dedicated to those involved in LA4J .

 

Mike was born in Hackney in 1952 to socialist parents whose families had fled from the threat of pogroms in Lithuania and Poland.  He always said he learned about internationalism as a child and this informed his philosophy and his activism throughout his life.

He left school fairly early, in part because of antisemitic bullying and was later educated at Newcastle University (where he was active in the National Organisation of Labour Students) and became a librarian.  He was active in the Labour Party Young Socialists in the 1970s – at a time when political education was a major focus – and it was there that he met his wife Dee. In time Mike became (step)father to Dee’s daughter Jenny and they had a son, Robin together.

After graduating he spent some years in the North East then moved to London continuing his work as a librarian.  In Lambeth he was a shop steward and also a Convenor for NALGO (and the Unison) and supported many workers, not least representing the Union in many tribunals.

He was also a committed supporter of Wimbledon Football Club and was involved in turning it into a supporter-owned club remaining in Wimbledon, rather than moving to help the owners to profit.

In Hastings he was well known as an activist, committed to justice for Palestinians and, from 2012-2018 he was an elected councillor in what had mainly been a Tory ward.  He is remembered as an effective councillor, supporting local residents in a number of campaigns as well as doing individual case work and, of course, serving on committees.  He stood down at the 2018 elections to care for his wife.

You can see him talking about his role in Labour Activists for Justice, trying to hold the Labour Party to account and to democratic principles in the video below:

Very many tributes have been received in the first 36 hours after he died which show what sort of a person he was and why he will be so badly missed. Many refer to his appalling treatment by the Labour Party.

Many have commented on how friendly he was and for many younger people and others who joined when Jeremy Corbyn was elected, it was Mike who welcomed them, made sure they were invited to the pub after meetings.  Several have said that they learned so much from him, about the history of the Party and of the wider movement.

Here are some extracts:

Peter Chowney, who was Deputy Leader in Hastings most of the time that Mike was a councillor:

He was a good comrade, and a very good local councillor – the only Labour councillor to successfully defend West St Leonards ward. And a fellow former Hackney Labour Party member! Such a pity he had to spend his last days defending himself against this awful witchhunt. I shall miss him.

Peter Doyle, Jen Pickard and John Pickard – some friends in the North East:

“We are saddened to hear of the sudden and untimely death of Mike Howard, a member of Hastings and Rye Labour Party, in the early hours of November 11. Mike was one of those left-wing members facing suspension by the Party on the spurious grounds of ‘anti-Semitism’, a deeply ironic charge considering his Jewish background. We knew Mike from his time in the Labour Party Young Socialists in Gateshead where we were members and where he was also an active member of the local government union, NALGO.

Mike, who came from a family tradition of socialist ideas, was a Marxist and a supporter of Militant in his days in the North East. He was always a friendly, comradely and cheerful person to know. Mike wrote an excellent article for Left Horizons late last year, on how unfit for purpose Labour’s disciplinary process is, in his own and in other cases… Mike will be a great loss, not only to his family, but to the whole labour movement and those who knew him…”

Simon Hester (local Unite Community Branch member):

I only got to know Mike over the past year but, it’s strange, it feels like I knew him a lot longer. He was such a friendly and welcoming comrade. For socialists of a certain age we have been through so many struggles together it seems to have created an unspoken bond, a shared tradition. I have absolutely no doubt which side Mike was on in the great campaigns against racism, during the miners’ strike, the poll tax campaign, the antiwar movement. Over the past few months I kept bumping into him and Dee at protests over Palestine, NHS pay, refugee rights and the Police Bill. And I won’t forget his outrage and eloquence in challenging the witchhunt of socialists and anti-Zionists in the Labour Party. The movement has lost a principled socialist, an internationalist and anti-racist, and above all, an anti-Zionist Jew. His hope for a socialist future will live on in the growing movements of young people …
solidarity, Simon

Carel Buxton, Chair West Ham CLP (suspended 21 March):

I met him only once and that was at LP conference in 2019 as I recall. Mike made a lasting impression on me because of his warmth, his humour and his clear dedication to socialist ideas. Both of us have roots in the east end and we talked about our great fighting tradition. I still live in West Ham but was born in Hastings, Mike’s life journey was from Hackney to Hastings or rather Mugsborough as we called it. He was a hero of our class and I send you my deepest condolences.

Sarah Gomes-Harris:

Such sad news for the local Labour Party. Such a lovely man, so rooted in the human dignity and decency of socialism and so unfairly targeted and isolated by the party he cherished his whole life…. I wish more people were like Mike Howard… So heartbreaking. Rest with peace, love and power x

Marie Lynam: 

Those who disciplined Mike did a terrible wrong not just to him, but to the justice and bravery contained in his political positions. It is a cruel thing that Mike had to go with this insult done to him, and to everything good he stood for.

Through you, and with my thanks, I send my solidarity to his family and comrades. 

Rica Bird (JVL member; Wirral South CLP):

This is indeed a sad blow, and even more cruel considering his mistreatment at the hands of the Labour Party. Although I didn’t know him, I gather his life has been a gift to all combating oppression and leaves a great legacy for the rest of us to follow.

I keep thinking for those who have been summarily expelled, those suspended, or ‘under investigation’ and those who have simply left, that it is not we who have left the Party, it truly IS the Party has left us!!

In solidarity

Mike and his wife Dee with Jeremy Corbyn in September 2021 at a Labour Grassroots event in Hastings.

Comments (6)

  • Abe Hayeem says:

    What sad news to hear of Mike’s passing. What a blow to Dee and his family, and we send our heartfelt condolences.
    I knew Mike very well from my time at Lambeth Council, and we were both active members in NALGO, and shop stewards as well. Mike was always cheerful and comradely, and was in the forefront of all the actions against the Thatcher government from within a real left wing Council at that time.
    It was a delight to meet him again at JVL, this time to support the Palestinian struggle, and since Corbyn, resist the tawdry outfit that Labour has become, with the faceless apparachiks who send out these casual disgusting suspensions, decidedly antisemitic where activist Jewish members are concerned, of the best of the socialist left without whom, and especially in the case of Mike Howard, the party remains a vacuous husk.
    Mike Howard, rest in peace, you will not be forgotten.

  • Caroline Carney says:

    Very sad news made all the more truly awful by the fact he had been treated so badly by the party he gave so much to. My deepest condolences to this family and friends a truly great socialist and a huge loss for the movement.

  • It is sad to see the death of a socialist like Mike. What should make anyone angry is how someone who knew and fought anti-Semitism was suspended for ‘anti-Semitism’ by those who have never spent a day fighting genuine anti-Semitism.

    I have reblogged this with additional comments here.

  • Liz Shephard says:

    So sorry to see this. Mike’s warmth and humanity came across so well, though I never met him, but seeing him on JVL made me contribute to the LA4J fighting fund. Bless him.

  • Jennifer Joy-Matthews says:

    I am sad that I didn’t meet him.

  • Nigel Haines says:

    As someone sharing a similar political background to that of Mike may I say that as a fighter for socialism and justice for the Palestinians his place in the struggle will be sorely missed.
    Though not Jewish myself I had a similar early political life, father spending over 22 years in the British Army but determined after World War II that the working class should not be sold out as his elder brother was who’d fought in World War I, thus deciding to become a Labour councillor as did my mother from 1948-1960.
    Active myself in the Labour Party Young Socialists from 1960, despite initially supporting the Hugh Gaitskell wing of the Party, my eyes were opened to the depth of grubby self-serving and naked careerism most of the advocates of right-wing, social democracy would fall to in their lust for positions of power and the lengths they would go to to witch hunt those in the Party who tried to expose them.
    Today in Westminster these same elements criticise the Tories in their latest corruption scandal but have a hard time justifying how it was their political “guru” Tony Blair aquired his multi-million pound fortune for “services rendered” in the Iraq War.
    Rest in peace Mike for a life well lead, which is more than can be said for many of those currently at the top of the Party responsible for the despicable political treatment of those like Mike whose political boots they aren’t fit to shine.

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