HOW WE MET; BARBARA FOLLETT AND ANN WARD

Barbara Follett, 53, is Labour's prospective candidate for Stevenage. A research fellow at the Institute of Public Policy Research, she lived for many years in South Africa, returning to Britain after her first husband was assassinated in 1978. She lives with her husband Ken Follett and their five children. Ann Ward, 72, is political assistant to Barbara Follett and coordinator of Labour Women's Network and Emily's List UK. A former deputy leader of Southwark Council (1971-86), she has also worked as a press photographer. Now a widow, she has one son

BARBARA FOLLETT: I think I met Ann in 1990, when I put myself forward for selection as the prospective Parlia- mentary candidate for Dulwich. I was very keen to get it but I came in rather late. A friend of mine called Glenys Thornton, currently acting secretary of the Fabians, said to me, "Go and see Ann Ward." I said, "Why?" and she said, "She's the Queen Bee of Dulwich and what she says goes." So, with some trepidation, I went to see her.

She lives in a rather large house overlooking Peckham Rye. My first impression was of someone very formidable. She looked me up and down. I'm sure I was fairly carefully dressed, probably wearing a skirt and jumper. I remember her face very well, and her hair, and the black bow that she always wears, and her glasses. Her husband was still alive then and she used him almost like a Greek chorus - she would bounce ideas off him.

Within about 10 minutes I was thoroughly relaxed and liked her a great deal. She's done so much, and she's got a very quick mind - and I like that. She gave it to me straight, that I probably wouldn't get the selection and ultimately she was right. Tessa Jowell got it, by about two and a half votes. Tessa's an extremely good MP and if I was going to lose I was very glad to lose to a woman.

Ann was enormously helpful to me at that time and, since we've been working together, is so more and more. She doesn't mind what time of the day I phone her. Politicians spend a lot of their lives on telephones. There's a wonderful American phrase, "Work the phones": if you're going to make a move, normally there are people you've got to warn, to soften up. Ann is very good at that, better than I am. She's very good at talking to people, explaining things to them - and canvassing for me.

If we disagree, one of us will usually back down. I think it's fairly 50/50. I am very impatient and I want to do something quickly, without all the preliminaries and the path-laying. Part of me goes, "Oh, I can't be doing with all that, let's just do it." And she'll say, "You can't, you've got to wait." She generally convinces me, and she's a very good antidote to my impatience.

I'm obsessional about tidiness. I say, "Annie, I can't possibly sit here with all this." She's not naturally tidy, but she's changed out of all recognition. She shares an office with me, and I think she just knows - it's almost like there's so much chaos in my life that if I can keep this area tidy, then it will be controlled.

She's a complete survivor, an optimist; she never gives up. She picks herself up, dusts herself off and starts all over again - and I admire people like that more than I can say. There are two or three I've known: Nelson Mandela, Neil Kinnock and Ann. Even though her husband's death was a terrific blow to her, she's picked herself up and made a new life for herself.

He was a great, lovely man, and she was so good during his illness. In major crises she's wonderful. In minor crises she's awful: the teapot falls over and Ann will go, "Oh, oh!" But if the entire building fell down, she'd be completely cool about it. She can make a fuss about writing a letter, but no fuss at all about doing a huge speech that's really difficult.

In Africa I would call any woman who I thought was older than me "Mother". It's a term of respect. I really respect Ann. She does mother me in the best possible way because she teaches me things, and I still have a great deal to learn. I think the word for Ann is "redoubtable". She was deputy leader of Southwark Council in its most difficult patch. She has stood for Parliament and is one of those many women who really ought to have been an MP, but who got overlooked because they didn't get money you need to finance a campaign. But she doesn't go, "Oh, how terrible." She just does the next best thing: helping other women - and she's helping me.

I consult her on personal things. She's one of the few people I'll moan to. She'll listen when I have a little whinge, and then she'll have a bit of a whinge back to me about something. She's my best friend. I phone her up if I'm cross, or if I'm happy. We socialise often, going to the theatre, the opera, concerts. She worries about the age gap much more than I do. I tend not to think about it, but every so often I worry that she's working too hard. That's a constant "thing" between us. I've persuaded her to go to a health farm.

Working together, we have both learnt a lot from each other. She has a particular working style and I had to teach her how to fit into a modern office. I had to change her a little bit - but not much: she learnt terribly quickly. Ann taught me about political in-fighting: how to recognise your friends and your enemies. I would say that she's an idealist who's grounded in the real world, and I'm an idealist who perhaps didn't pay enough attention to reality - Ann taught me to do that.

ANN WARD: We met in the spring of 1990, in my kitchen. We were starting the selection process for a candidate for Dulwich Labour Party, and somebody had suggested she should come and introduce herself to me. She was wearing a trim, short jacket and skirt. She looked good and she was full of ideas - a very attractive personality: extrovert, lively, an easy communicator. Tessa Jowell, the candidate who ultimately won the seat, also came to see me, and it was a difficult choice. It was an extremely marginal seat and I decided to back Barbara.

Shortly afterwards, my husband Frank was diagnosed with a very serious form of cancer, and Barbara was so genuinely kind and thoughtful. I nursed him at home throughout. I've got a wonderful family, but she would sort out cleaning for me, or making sure I'd got the meal ready - practical things like that.

After Frank died (in August 1991) she asked me if I'd help run Labour Women's Network, which aims at getting more women into Parliament. Frank and I had been married for 47 years and it had been a very good marriage; his death left the most enormous gap. Barbara and three other women had set up LWN after the 1987 election, and it was run from a small office in her house in London. I used to go in two days a week to help, then gradually it became three days. In 1992 we decided to set up Emily's List as a parallel organisation, to help lower-paid women with the costs involved in putting themselves up for selection as parliamentary candidates. By this time I was working a full week.

After Dulwich, Barbara decided to try for Stevenage and asked me if I would help her through the selection process. In the beginning I was still doing LWN and Emily's List from the London office, and started to come up to Stevenage a couple of days a week, but then it got more and more. It's extremely demanding working for Barbara, partly because she's got a huge range of responsibilities.

For me, it's a totally new way of working. I was in my 60s when I started working with her and had to adapt. I've got very strong ideas - and I've been a Parliamentary candidate. I'm a decision- maker and I sometimes want to go ahead and do things without referring back, and that is a problem. I've had to discipline myself to say, "This isn't your campaign, you've got to check whether this is what Barbara actually wants to do before you jump in and do it." It's not a bed of roses, partly because we do too much.

She's also immensely important to her husband Ken in his work as a writer - book tours and so on; equally, Ken is very supportive of her. They've done fund-raising for the Labour Party, having dinners, that sort of thing, but it's not really them. They are very happy when they're in Stevenage, they fit in well and are part of the local community.

Barbara is very open to ideas and wants to talk things through, she doesn't want to jump in with both feet. Having the courage to stand back and think the issues through and listen to various sides of opinion, is very important - and rare with politicians. Many of them have a set of preconditions attached to every issue which can get in the way of solutions.

She has very strong views. She's a consensus-seeker, but not woolly. She has her own set of standards, her own basic core of beliefs which drive her, but when it comes to finding solutions to problems, that's when she wants to work consensually. We've never found it difficult to talk a problem through to the point of agreement, to the point where we both see there are two sides and I might feel one way and she might feel another. We both know where we stand.

Barbara is to the left of me. I was very bruised by the ultra-Left battles of the early 1980s. It's the only time in my life that I contemplated leaving the Labour Party, and I'm very glad that I didn't.

Because she has an art background, the Labour Party asked her if she would advise on image and personal presentation. That is used as a way to put her down - which irritates me enormously because it's not all about frivolity or glamour, it's about being seen to be somebody serious. Barbara quotes Steve Biko, whom she worked with years ago in South Africa: Steve said to her one day, criticising the way she used to dress (beads, bangles and ethnic- type clothes), that the more radical your politics the more conservative you should look, because the image gets in front of what people say and people retain visual impressions long after they forget words.

She calls me her political mother. I worry a lot: at 72, am I capable of doing what she wants me to? - and she keeps saying, "I just want your judgement." For me it's been a new life, which I needed after Frank died. I've come to a new place, which I like. I'm always busy, which I like. It's given me an enormous amount. For anybody of my age, it is enormously flattering to know that somebody of her intelligence values your advice. It's great for my ego.

I'm very fond of her as a person. I find her fun to be with. I wish she wouldn't be so hard on herself.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat