UK Politics

The MPs and ex-MPs who died in 2017 - part one

More than 30 MPs and former MPs died in 2017. Here's a brief look at their lives, and the contribution they made to politics and public service.

This is part three of a four-part series - read part two here, part three here and part four here.

John Cummings: 6 July 1943 - 4 January 2017

Former colliery electrician John Cummings was MP for the County Durham mining constituency of Easington from 1987 to 2010.

According to his sister Aileen Morton, interviewed by the Sunderland Echo, Cummings was a "man of the people" - who was dedicated to his loved ones and passionate about helping others, which stemmed from the age of 12 when he would collect shopping for people on his newspaper round.

Born in Newcastle, he was a fifth-generation miner, the son of Mary and George Cummings. Educated at Murton council infants, junior and senior schools and Easington Technical College, he trained as a colliery apprentice electrician between 1958 and 1963 before beginning a mining career that was to last until he entered Parliament.

As the Echo noted, his interest in politics began when he became a Young Socialist, with meetings with one of his predecessors as Easington MP Manny Shinwell, a British trade union official and Labour politician.

As an electrician at Murton Colliery, he rose through the ranks to branch secretary of Murton Mechanics and was on the executive of Durham Colliery Mechanics Association. He went on to become a councillor in Easington and eventually became its district council leader.

Mr Cummings and his Jack Russell dog Grit were a familiar sight on the picket lines in East Durham during the miners' strike.

As a Labour MP, he remained a staunch defender of miners' rights and fought for compensation for those left with ill health.

His Guardian obituary said: "Unimpressed by political careerists, disdainful of sections of the London metropolitan left and deeply uncomfortable with New Labour, John was 'real' Labour, even if he shied away from apparently easy epithets. This extended to his choice of newspapers: he religiously took the Daily Telegraph, claiming that he needed to read it 'to find out what the enemy are up to'."

Mrs Morton told the Echo: "John always helped people and that started right from when he was a boy. He was a man of the people."

Nigel Spearing: 8 October 1930 - 8 January 2017

One of Labour's most dedicated parliamentary Eurosceptics, Nigel Spearing was an MP for 27 years, having represented Acton for four years before beginning 23 years as MP for Newham South in 1974.

According to his Daily Telegraph obituary, he voted against Britain joining the Common Market and EU, saw an elected European Parliament as "a threat to UK self-government", and warned that monetary union would lead to "government by bankers".

The paper noted: "Convinced the EEC was 'not at heart a democratic community, but an economy fit for transnational companies to work in', Spearing chaired the British Anti Common Market Campaign in the early days of UK membership, and more recently was a vice-president of the Campaign for an Independent Britain.

"Despite his views on Europe, he proved a scrupulously fair chairman of the European Legislation Scrutiny Committee, but was convinced such measures deserved to be debated by the entire House."

Born in Hammersmith, Mr Spearing was the son of Austen Spearing, twice a Liberal parliamentary candidate, and his wife Mary.

"As a prefect at Latymer Upper School, he gave orders to Peter Walker, the future Conservative environment secretary," the Telegraph said.

After national service in the Royal Signals, he read geography at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and went on to become head of geography at Wandsworth School. He was a housemaster at Elliott School, Putney, until his election to Parliament in 1970.

According to the Newham Recorder, the father-of-three was well-known for cycling to meetings and his passion for helping constituents.

Ronald Buxton: 20 August 1923 - 10 January 2017

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Ronald Carlile Buxton was a civil engineer and Norfolk country gentleman who in 1965 embarrassed Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson by defeating his foreign secretary, Patrick Gordon-Walker in a by-election at Leyton.

But the Conservative MP's joy was short-lived as he only held the seat for 14 months.

Born to Captain Murray Buxton and Janet Carlile, whose father had been MP for St Albans, he was educated at Eton, before serving as an army officer, fighting in the Burma Campaign during the Second World War.

According to a tribute in the Wymondham and Attleborough Mercury, he bought Kimberley Hall, near Wymondham, Norfolk, in 1958, saving the grand country house from demolition. Members of his family still live there.

"He was also a keen pilot, and once narrowly avoided disaster when over the Mediterranean flying back from Africa," the paper noted. "With fuel running dangerously low, he dropped a message in a boot onto the deck of a passing tanker, which was able to pick him up after ditching in the sea."

Married to Phyllida in 1959, the couple went on to have four children. Although he farmed in Norfolk, Buxton's major farming project was in Zambia where he had 10,000 hectares of land and about 8,000 head of cattle.

Tam Dalyell: 9 August 1932 - 26 January 2017

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Tam Dalyell was a Labour MP for 43 years and Father of the House of Commons - the member with the longest unbroken service.

But he was probably best known for his pursuit of Margaret Thatcher over the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War - and for his formulation of the "West Lothian Question", about the role of Scottish MPs after the establishment of the Scottish parliament.

Thomas Dalyell Loch was born in Edinburgh on 9 August 1932. His father Gordon Loch, a civil servant, adopted his wife Nora's maiden name in 1938.

It was through his mother that Dalyell later inherited the Dalyell baronetcy, although he never used the title.

He went to Eton before doing his National Service as a trooper with the Royal Scots Greys, having failed his officer training.

After he was demobbed, he went to Cambridge where he was chairman of the University Conservative Association.

It was while working as a teacher that he experienced a political conversion, brought about by the Suez Crisis in 1956.

Not only did he join the Labour Party, but the aborted invasion made him a committed opponent of future British military involvement overseas.

In 1962, he won the seat of West Lothian in a by-election, fighting off a strong challenge from a future SNP leader, William Wolfe.

In a parliamentary debate on devolution in 1977, Dalyell first proposed what would become known as the West Lothian Question.

When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 she found Dalyell a persistent critic of her policies.

But it was the Falklands War that raised his public profile. He strongly condemned the decision to sink the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano, insisting the vessel had been steering away from the conflict when torpedoed by a British submarine.

Dalyell stood down from the House of Commons in 2005, after serving 43 years as an MP, first for West Lothian, then, from 1983, the redrawn constituency of Linlithgow.

Sir John Wells: 30 March 1925 - 8 February 2017

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John Julius Wells became Conservative MP for Maidstone in 1959 - following in the footsteps of a 19th-century ancestor, also John Wells.

He held the safe Conservative seat until his retirement at the 1987 general election, when his successor was the future minister Ann Widdecombe.

Born to Rev Reginald Wells, an Anglican clergyman and later schoolmaster, and his wife, Margaret, who served in the Women's Hospital Corps in France during World War One, Wells spent his formative years on his grandmother's estate in Dumfriesshire, where he developed his passions for shooting and horticulture.

According to an obituary in The Scotsman, the tall, gangly Wells was described as another "blameless backbencher who represented Maidstone for 28 years without achieving national office or making any national mark at all", but he knew how to make his point.

The paper noted: "He championed matters agricultural and horticultural and was credited with a robust ability to grasp the complexities of key issues and argue local causes.

"As an MP, he once noisily chomped on a Kentish apple on the green benches of the House of Commons during a speech by the Labour agriculture minister (in Prime Minister's Questions) to highlight the harm being caused to the rural economy of cheap foreign imports from France, which he declared were not only subsidised, but also inferior to their English counterparts."

Kent Online reported that "on another occasion, to demonstrate his support for rural life, he rode his horse to the House Of Commons, while wearing a bowler hat and pinstripe trousers".

In Parliament, he served as chairman of the Horticultural Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Agriculture, as a longstanding member of the Speaker's Panel and also as chairman of Standing Committees.

He was also chair of the Anglo-Spanish and Anglo-Finnish parliamentary groups, reflecting the close links his constituency's chief industries - fresh produce and paper making - had with those countries.

Married to Lucinda, the father-of-four was knighted in 1984, in recognition of his long record of parliamentary and public service, and made a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent in 1992.

His son Andrew told the BBC that he was "a most energetic man with a wide range of interests, though he shared little common ground with either Ted Heath or Margaret Thatcher beyond their Oxford education".

Alan Thompson: 16 September 1924 - 18 February 2017

Professor Alan Thompson was an economist, academic, politician, author, educator and raconteur whose interests permeated many aspects of Scottish public life.

According to an obituary in The Scotsman, on election as Labour MP for Dunfermline Boroughs (1959-64) "he drew attention immediately with his campaigning zeal, supported by his grasp of economics on the world stage, his meticulous research and oratory.

"With his bespoke three-piece suits, bow tie, wide-brimmed hat (in winter Burberry and flowing scarf) he was recognised among Westminster's best dressed as well as 'one of the gentlemen of the Labour Party'."

Born in Hull in 1924, Thompson attended the local grammar school, but as the Second World War raged, he joined the Green Howards - an infantry regiment of the British Army, where he taught soldiers the firepower of the Bren gun and the right way to hurl a Mills grenade.

He lectured in economics at Edinburgh University, before winning the Dunfermline seat when Labour was in opposition. He spoke out on issues ranging from ending children being involved in potato picking to demanding an accurate measure of diesel fumes from vehicles.

A champion of free speech, he took up the case of an indignant constituent whose British-banned copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover had been confiscated by customs officers, which finally resulted in the novel being published in this country.

He returned to Edinburgh University (1964-71), before becoming professor of the Economics of Government at Heriot-Watt University and a visiting Professor to Stanford.

In 1976 he was appointed the BBC's national governor for Scotland. He married Mary Long in 1960 and the couple went on to have four children.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: 21 June 1930 - 26 February 2017

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One of Labour's longest-serving MPs, Sir Gerald Kaufman gained a reputation as a persistent, often waspish, interrogator whose withering putdowns became a feature of his time in Parliament.

The former Father of the House of Commons famously described his party's left-wing 1983 manifesto as "the longest suicide note in history".

And as a practising Jew, he was known for his fierce opposition to the policies of the Israeli government and its treatment of the Palestinians.

Possessed of a sardonic wit, he was a prolific writer and columnist who also wrote satirical sketches for the BBC, an organisation that he later frequently criticised.

Sir Gerald became an MP in north-west England in 1970, first for the Manchester Ardwick constituency and then for Manchester Gorton, which he had served since 1983.

He was a junior minister between 1974 and 1979, and held a number of senior shadow cabinet posts through the 1980s, before returning to the backbenches in the early 1990s.

A family spokesman said: "Sir Gerald dedicated his life to serving those who he believed would benefit most from a Labour government and Labour values in action.

"He believed that policy and principle without power were simply not enough to deliver the better life that he fought for on behalf of his constituents for almost 50 years.

"[Throughout his illness], he remained firmly committed to, and focused on, the activities and wellbeing of his beloved constituency."

Sir Clive Bossom: 4 February 1918 - 8 March 2017

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Known as the man who spearheaded the search and rescue of Mark Thatcher - the son of former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher - when he was lost in the Sahara, Sir Clive Bossom was a keen motor sportsman who tried to rejuvenate Formula One racing.

Born in 1918 to Alfred Bossom and his first wife Emily Bayne, Bossom was elected Conservative MP for Leominster, in Herefordshire, in 1959, and became a passionate advocate for the motorist.

According to his Daily Telegraph obituary, he applauded Ernest Marples - Harold Macmillan's minister of transport - "for a remarkable job" in speeding London's traffic, but said the public's patience would run out unless more roads and flyovers were built.

The paper reported that Bossom was greatly exercised over the introduction of the breathalyser. "As MPs debated the bill authorising breath tests, he brought in a device on which a reading of 100mg of alcohol in the blood gave the advice: 'You're hopeless - go to bed,' it said.

"He also encouraged research into pills to reduce blood alcohol. He went on to suggest driving licences bearing a photograph (as they now do), using motorway verges to support wildlife, and fitting brighter rear lights on cars."

Bossom owned a 1902 Beaufort which he drove in the annual London to Brighton run. He was one of the first to buy a motor scooter, when the Suez crisis brought petrol rationing.

He married Lady Barbara North, sister of the 9th Earl of Guildford, in 1951, and the couple went on to have three sons and a daughter.

Don Dixon: 6 March 1929 - 19 February 2017

The Labour politician, who died in February aged 87, worked in the Tyne shipyards, as his father and grandfather had done before him, before serving in Parliament for 18 years.

After joining Labour at the age of 21, he became leader of Jarrow Borough Council for 11 years between 1963 and 1974. After that council's abolition, he spent five years as chairman of housing at South Tyneside.

He was MP for Jarrow, his home town, from 1979 until his retirement in 1997, serving as an opposition party whip under Neil Kinnock and John Smith.

He was considered to be on the traditional old right of the party, with strong trade union and industrial links and out of step with the new breed of MPs who dominated the party under New Labour.

In its obituary, the Shields Gazette said he was a "leading voice" in the north-east's fight during the 1980s against job losses in the shipyards and the coal mines.

The Guardian said he had "a reputation in the House of Commons as a gruff and somewhat belligerent MP, a man of few words, whose face bore testimony to his education in the school of hard knocks".

A hard-working teetotaller, it said he was known for his loyalty to the party and his love of Geordie poetry.

After leaving the Commons, he was given a peerage, becoming Baron Dixon of Jarrow in the county of Tyne and Wear. He retired from the House of Lords on 9 February 2016.

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