I got the phone call all service spouses dread on 9 May 2010 after my husband trod on an explosive device in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. I didn’t really think that we would get through the rest of that year in one piece, let alone what remained for me of my Army career. Eleven years later, we have a beautiful family, my husband is running his own business for mental health first aid, and I’m following a new path in politics, including co-chairing Labour Friends of the Forces (LFF) with Labour’s Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan MP.
We’ve been on a journey to get here, as many ex-service people often have. I think those journeys can help our network of veterans within LFF keep Labour, including our Shadow Defence team, in touch with the reality of life for former and serving military personnel and their families. We want to grow our organisation to help reconnect the Labour Party with its roots in Forces communities.
A couple of generations ago, most people had a soldier, a sailor, an airman or airwoman in their families, but now many people won’t know anyone who has served. Service communities can feel increasingly remote, even though these are the same communities who should be natural Labour voters.
I was elected Co-Chair of LFF back in October last year following a relaunch of our organisation on Armed Forces Day 2020. I suppose I’ve slipped into old habits really, and I’ve loved the year of team-building where we’ve steadily grown a network of veterans, families, reservists and supportive Labour members into a functioning member-led organisation. LFF can claim a track record of impact already in actively supporting and amplifying the campaign for Commonwealth veterans who face sky-high visa fees, to have their fees waived. Our network wrote and passed motions across more than 30 local authorities in support of the Commonwealth veterans in the space of six months. This put the Tories under enough pressure to open a consultation on the matter, and Stephen Morgan MP (shadow minister), continues to hold the government to account at Defence Questions. We compiled a collection of veteran-friendly policies for local election candidates based on the work of our members who are Labour councillors across the UK, doing the frontline work every day to help service families transition to civilian life and find support in crisis. Our members are setting up working groups to address the overrepresentation of veterans in the criminal justice system, post-Service education, and to look at support to often-invisible female veterans. There’s a lot going on but so much more we could be doing. The rest of this year will see us set up in Scotland and the regions, as well as continuing to work with service charities to address mental health and homelessness, amongst other issues. We want to increase our supporter numbers too. Membership is free for all Labour members who want to support our service communities. We would love your support. You can sign up here: https://www.labourforces.org/join/ to follow our work.
Sarah Church is the former Labour Parliamentary Candidate for South Swindon, mum to 3
daughters, wife of an injured soldier, and Co-Chair of Labour Friends of the Forces. She
served in the Army for 13 years and now works for UK Research and Innovation. Sarah
completed the FWN Mentoring Scheme in 2015-16.
Follow her on Twitter @Sarah_C_Church