Anne Sacks

Dance critic turned politician
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The Independent Online

For a decade from the early 1990s Anne Sacks's name appeared on the arts pages of The Independent on Sunday and the London Evening Standard as a dance critic, reviewing performances and writing features. But she had more recently become well known for her work as a Labour Party organiser and politician. This culminated in her selection as parliamentary candidate for Lancaster and Wyre in the 2005 general election.

Her political activities started in South Africa, where she was born in 1954 in Springs, near Johannesburg. Her father, a GP, had emigrated from Lithuania and her family belonged to the large community of South African Jews who, in the early part of the 20th century, had fled persecution in eastern Europe.

She gained a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, in 1976 and followed this with a job as a political reporter on the Rand Daily Mail. A fierce opponent of apartheid, she saw her journalism as a campaign for change, writing about issues such as detention without trial and forced removal. In 1979 she enrolled in the School of Business at Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, to complete a Graduate Diploma in Industrial Relations. Following this, she edited a paper in her home town, the Springs Advertiser.

Sacks came to London in 1985, where she worked as a sub-editor for the Financial Times and also as a freelance sub-editor for most of the other broadsheets, including the two Independent titles. From 1990 to 1992, she was a political correspondent for The Jewish Chronicle, becoming the first journalist to interview the newly appointed Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and covering Margaret Thatcher's resignation.

Back with the national broadsheets, she was working as a sub-editor for The Independent on Sunday when she began writing dance reviews and features for its pages. Among her interviewees were the Bolshoi supremo Yuri Grigorovich in 1992 and the ballet's star Irek Mukhamedov in 1994. Soon after, she moved as a dance critic to the London Evening Standard, where she stayed for seven years, until 2001.

So for nine years she was part of the strange nocturnal world of newspaper critics, spending night after night in darkened auditoria, then rushing home to write her review. She was also travelling - to St Petersburg to interview dancers of the Kirov Ballet, for instance, or to New York to talk to the whiz choreographer Mark Morris. Yet despite all this busy activity, she was still working as a freelance sub-editor; she had also enrolled to do an MA in Cultural Studies with City University, gaining her degree in 1999.

After the Evening Standard, she became deputy syndication editor with The Times and Sunday Times, a post which she retained up to last year. Still interested in politics, she also took on (often voluntary) media work for political campaigns and individuals. She was a media consultant to the left- leaning think-tank Catalyst, and to Michael Cashman MEP. She was a press officer for Nicky Gavron's campaign as the Labour candidate for Mayor and, on Gavron's appointment as Deputy Mayor, she continued with Gavron and with Val Shawcross, a Labour member of the London Assembly.

She was added to the Labour list of candidates for the North West England region in the 2004 European elections, but because her name was last, she had little chance of winning a seat. Shortly after, in spring 2004, Sacks was selected as the Labour candidate for Lancaster and Wyre, the Labour MP having announced his retirement.

She plunged herself with enormous energy into her candidacy. She proved inspirational to people in the constituency, devoting herself to local causes and to individuals facing difficulty. She was, as a colleague said, interested in the "small print" of politics, in the citizens who came to her because their lives were blighted by bad housing or the impossibility of paying the Council Tax.

Lancaster and Wyre was the third most marginal Labour seat in Britain and went by a wafer-thin majority to the Tories in the 2005 elections. Sacks became, however, one of the best- regarded first-time candidates and was spoken of for the same region in the next elections, now that the boundary review has made the seat a safer Labour bet.

Last June, she had re-entered media relations, joining the public affairs consultancy Waterfront Partnership.

Nadine Meisner