Labour’s Portsmouth brothers: Ken and John Ferrett

Ken and John Ferrett
Ken and John Ferrett

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Growing up in a family of eight in Landport, John and Ken Ferrett found life to be competitive and dominated by talk of politics. Here they talk to political reporter Miles O’Leary about their journey to the city council.

But unlike the two high-profile brothers, John and Ken Ferrett live in the same country and have never had much of a sibling rivalry.

The pair, who are members of Portsmouth’s Labour group, share similar passions and have taken a parallel journey into politics.

From a young age, they knew their lives would be dominated by political life and have a competitive edge.

The brothers grew up in a busy maisonette in Landport with three other brothers and three sisters.

‘The political influence came because of the family,’ John, 49, the elder of the two, explains.

‘We have always been political, we came from a political sort of house.

‘Our grandfather, Bill Ferrett, was a member of the Labour Party.

‘We would discuss all kinds of politics; local politics, whatever. It was quite a competitive environment.

‘All the boys were into sport.’

Ken, 43, looks back on the heated family discussions.

‘We can remember as kids going to our nan’s house in Hilsea on a Sunday, and my dad would be debating politics with his brother Bill,’ he said.

‘It would start off quite funny and then it would end up getting quite heated.’

If they’re not busy attending group meetings together, they’re usually with their families – but that doesn’t stop them regularly catching up on Twitter, over the phone or when they go running together.

Talking about the bond the brothers have, Ken says: ‘The fact we are like chalk and cheese is probably why we don’t clash that much.

‘We cancel each other out really.’

But like many brothers - they have their differences.

John is louder and more confident, while Ken is more careful with his words.

They’re both long-standing trade union representatives, John having entered the role in 1990 and his brother joining in four years later.

Beforehand, John went to university and secured a master’s degree in social policy and criminology, whereas Ken opted for something more hands-on and landed an apprenticeship at the dockyard as a painter.

John explains it wasn’t until he got involved with the industry and listened intently to the needs of hard-up workers that he decided to join Labour.

‘I started to see the cohesion between the unions and the Labour Party and how it promised to represent working people.

‘I wanted to have a political allegiance,’ he says.

Ken, too, decided his beliefs were very much the same, and decided to join the party a year after getting involved with the unions.

John says: ‘We’ve had different paths in a way because Ken has worked in the dockyard pretty much all of his life, whereas in my first 13 years of leaving school, I had 12 to 13 jobs.’

After both going on to spend years attempting to win of one Portsmouth’s political seats, they celebrated finally landing a place on the council for the first time at the local elections in 2012 – Ken in Nelson and John in Paulsgrove.

John first stood in Milton in 1998, whereas Ken first tried out in Milton in 2002.

Ken says there was a greater sense of confidence going into that election than all the previous ones.

‘When you have been standing as a councillor for so long, it can be demoralising when you know you are standing in a seat you can’t win,’ he explains.

‘But when you know you have a chance of winning, you have to take it.’

John, now Portsmouth’s Labour group leader, says it was a proud moment for the party locally given the tough times it had faced.

‘We ran the council at the end of the 1990s up to 2001/2002 – but then in seven years we went from running the council down to having two councillors,’ he says.

‘It was significant here in Portsmouth at the time because of the rise of the Lib Dems.’

This year at the May elections, Labour took a blow as Ukip snatched seats from all the main political parties as their rise in popularity grew.

‘If you look at the results, Ukip took results from all the parties, but as we were already the third-placed party in Portsmouth, it meant we had to make an impression,’ John explains.

‘I’m not going to lie, it was devastating for us because we worked so hard, we really thought we had made impressions.’

Even now, the brothers are close.

So what is Labour’s grand plan going into next year’s next set of local and general elections?

John has been selected as Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Portsmouth North, and has pledged, with the help of local councillors, to help secure the future of the dockyard should he be voted in.

‘From a Labour Party perspective, Portsmouth North is the priority seat for us in the city,’ John says.

‘The party will be focused on overturning Penny Mordaunt’s majority.

‘We want a Labour government in order to implement a lot of what we want to do.

‘I want to see the naval base be protected, see the two new aircraft carriers in the base and will be fighting to ensure they stay there and are deployed.

‘I want to help try and regain parts of the base that have suffered from the loss of shipbuilding.’

Shipbuilding fight

HAVING spent his life at the dockyard, Ken Ferrett knows all too well how the workforce has been affected by the loss of shipbuilding.

The decision by defence giant BAE Systems to move the operation to the Clyde, in Scotland, meant hundreds of jobs were put at risk.

Ken is a painter and signwriter for ships and represents workers specialised in that trade on behalf of The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians.

Ken says that while his workforce has been unaffected by the cuts, some from the shipbuilding side of the business had found jobs as painters and signwriters.

‘We’ve had people who have taken voluntary redundancy being replaced with guys from shipbuilding, so we’ve had some turnover,’ he said.

‘But we have had no compulsory redundancies on our side of the business.

‘Yet it’s been very sad. Through the years we built up quite a close relationship with the trade union representing the shipbuilding side.

‘We know from talking to them that the announcement had a huge impact.’