Farewell to conference

Neil Marsden may have retired after two different careers in the police force, but he has every intention of remaining active with UNISON

man in a suit and bow tie

For Neil Marsden, who finally retired after one career in the police and then another in the police staff, winter is going to be about serious relaxation. “Just me, myself and my little dog”.

As well as Ettie, his springer/cocker spaniel cross, he has a motorhome waiting – and who knows where that will take him?

Neil is going to be missed at next October’s UNISON disabled members’ conference, where he’s often taken the chair – an instantly recognisable figure with his bow ties and large poppy.

He wears the latter because of close connections with the RAF – family members, including both his parents and his wife, were in that wing of the armed services, while the bow tie is always donned for the serious business of keeping conference under control.

With his dry delivery in broad Yorkshire tones and a sparkle in the eye, it’s not difficult imagining Neil as a copper. He makes the chairing seem effortless.

Away from the conference hall, he chats about attending a Labour Party conference with his father, adding that he’s still got a tattered autograph book with a real rarity on one page – Harold Wilson’s signature. Rare, he explains, because Wilson didn’t like signing on the spot, and would instead hand people a pre-signed slip of paper.

His father, a union rep in the National Union of Miners, helped write policy for the party in the 1950s and ’60s, and nearly became an MP himself. He stood twice, but his home constituency of Huddersfield was a Liberal stronghold and Neil’s dad refused to be parachuted into an area where he hadn’t lived.

“His principles kept him back,” he notes. “But that’s principle,” he adds, with evident pride.

Neil was a police officer for nearly 25 years, retiring when his wife had “some very serious health problems”.

Later, he had to return to work and eventually found his way, via guarding lottery scratch cards, to the post of a communications officer in the Wakefield area, dealing with “motorways, firearms, [police] dogs …”

For a man who says of himself that, “if you cut me in half, there’d be Labour Party down one side and trade unionism down the other,” whether or not to join a union was never a real question.

Getting active in UNISON has meant that, for around about 10 years, Neil has been on the national disabled members’ committee.

For all the talk of a restful winter with Ettie, and his motorhome, he fully intends to become active within UNISON’s retired members’ section.

Once a union man – always a union man. And it’s hard not to think that his dad would have been very proud.

UNISON organises conferences throughout the year, covering many parts of the union’s work. Neil was chairing disabled members’ conference in Brighton at the end of October.

Delegates discussed a whole range of questions, from how public transport affects the lives of disabled people to defending the reasonable adjustments that help ensure disabled workers can continue in their jobs.