Ashok Kumar, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland since 1997, died unexpectedly on 15 March 2010 aged 53.
Ashok Kumar was born in Hardwar, India, the son of Jagat Ram Saini and Santosh Kumari, who brought him to live in Derby at the age of two. He went to Rykneld Boys’ secondary modern and left with only two O-levels at the age of 15. He then found himself unable to get a job, but was rescued through an introduction to socialism from a friend, which then led to him being persuaded to return to full-time education. He was awarded a BSc in chemical engineering at Aston University, Birmingham, an MSc in process control and a PhD in fluid mechanics. He became a research fellow at Imperial College London, and worked for British Steel, which took him to Teesside and his political career.
Every weekend Ashok returned to Teesside from Westminster and worked on his local campaigns to promote his own political causes and those of the party. In consequence, he achieved a phenomenal 80% contact rate with his constituents, which was regarded with awe by his colleagues at Westminster and with quiet satisfaction by the residents of the seat he first won (before boundary changes) in 1991. He was modest about this achievement.
Kumar was an assiduous MP at Westminster. He did not speak much in the chamber, but submitted many written questions. Most recently he had been active in representing the interests of the workers at the Teesside Cast Products blast furnace at Redcar. He was parliamentary private secretary to Hilary Benn, first at International Development and then at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
He was a member of the science and technology select committee from 1997 to 2001 and the trade and industry select committee from 2001 to 2003. He was also involved in parliamentary work on the chemical industry and was a member of the all-party Indo-British parliamentary group. A member of the British Humanist Association, he had campaigned for a national holiday to mark the birth of Charles Darwin.
Hilary Benn said he was “deeply shocked and saddened. Ashok was a pioneer, a doughty fighter for his constituents and a Labour man through and through who cared deeply for others. He was also fearless in pursuit of what he saw as right. I came to value his friendship, his loyalty and his sense of fun over the many years we worked together. It is very hard to believe that Ashok is no longer with us.”
Gordon Brown said Ashok was “a tenacious campaigner” and “a warm and incredibly generous man”.
He never married, and lived in the same house in Marton, Middlesbrough, throughout his years in the area.