Former MP for Manchester Central .
As for many other members of the politically aspirational working class in the 20th century, it was reading Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists as a young man that fuelled Bob Litherland’s socialism. The former Labour MP, who has died aged 80 from cancer, went to work in the printing industry when he left school at the age of 15, but later embarked on a course of self-education through Labour party correspondence courses.
Bob Litherland was born in n Collyhurst, Manchester, and was hugely proud when he came to represent the area as MP for Manchester Central after the 1979 election. He won the first byelection in that parliament, shortly after Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government took office.
Elected to Manchester council in 1971, he believed strongly in the potential for municipal socialism. He became chairman of the council’s direct works committee, which was heavily engaged in slum clearance in the 1970s, and Litherland’s pride in the improvements in Manchester’s council housing was reflected in his maiden speech in the Commons. He was the first MP to be sponsored by his union, Sogat, which represented print workers.
Litherland was not a firebrand MP, but maintained a consistent leftwing position. He thought Harold Wilson and James Callaghan could have been bolder as prime ministers, joined the Tribune group and then, during the party’s internal strife in the 1980s, the Campaign group. He was delighted when Michael Foot became party leader, sponsored Tony Benn for the deputy leadership in the acrimonious election in 1981 and subsequently supported Eric Heffer and John Prescott in their abortive leadership bids.
He was a member of CND, voted against sending the taskforce to the Falklands and made a controversial visit to Kabul with two other leftwingers in 1981. He was never afraid to speak his mind, but was widely liked and respected for his decency. Although he did not share Tony Blair’s politics, he forgave him quite a lot for being able to win elections for Labour.
Litherland stood down as an MP when he reached retirement age, leaving the Commons in 1997. Despite a diagnosis of cancer 10 years ago, the last years of his life were happy ones as he pursued, among other interests, a love of watercolour painting. He is survived by his wife, Edna, whom he married in 1953, his children, Neil and Joy, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Robert Kenneth Litherland, politician, born 23 June 1930; died 13 May 2011