Andrew McIntosh 1933-2010

Andrew McIntosh, who has died aged 77, was the leader of the Labour group on the former Greater London council (GLC) from 1980 to 1981, but his career in politics lasted from 1963 until his death. He was a left-leaning north London intellectual, embodying decency and public service.

Born in St Pancras, north London, McIntosh attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hampstead school and the Royal Grammar school, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. He studied at Jesus College, Oxford, where he attained an MA, and at Ohio State University, where he was fellow in economics in 1956-57. After university he worked for the pollsters Gallup before moving into industry. From 1965 to 1981 he was managing director of IFF Research, a consultancy that operated with private, public and voluntary-sector clients. He maintained a role in the company until 1997.

In 1963, he was elected to Hornsey borough council and, on its abolition, to its successor, Haringey council, where he served from 1964 to 1968. He was GLC member for Tottenham (1973-83), and progressed to being opposition leader on planning and communications (1977-80). In 1980, he became Labour leader. To win, McIntosh had to fight a bitter right-left run-off contest with Ken Livingstone, who had emerged as the leader of a radical faction within the Labour group. McIntosh won by 14 votes to 13. Livingstone’s position had been strengthened by his “no cuts” opposition to Goodwin.

McIntosh led Labour into the 1981 GLC election; Labour won the election, but within 24 hours there was a leadership election and McIntosh was replaced – despite having the Labour leader Michael Foot’s support – by Livingstone. Thus began the left’s control of County Hall and, possibly, its greatest triumph. The ousting of McIntosh was a step that led to the abolition of the GLC and eventually to the creation of the office of mayor of London.

McIntosh stood down from the GLC in 1983, having been created a life peer in 1982. His talents led him to Labour’s frontbench in opposition, where he spoke variously on education, industry and the environment. He rose to be deputy leader of the opposition in the Lords (1992-97), before becoming deputy government chief whip (1997-2003). After that, he was minister for the media and heritage. He relished being a government minister in the Lords.

He married Naomi Sargant in 1962; she died in 2006. McIntosh is survived by two sons and a stepson.

• Andrew Robert McIntosh, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, politician, born 30 April 1933; died 27 August 2010