Jack Thompson 1928-2011

Jack Thompson, the former Labour MP from the mining fields of Northumberland, who has died aged 82, was one of the last of a breed of socialist politicians. He was respected as much by his opponents as by adversaries within his own party and, at times of strife, by the warring factors within the mining industry, which he was proud to call his own. He marched alongside Arthur Scargill during the difficult days of opposition to pit closures and the miners’ strike of 1984, but was ready to admit privately to his doubts about Scargill’s controversial leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers.

The MP for Wansbeck for 14 years from 1983, he was not well known outside Northumberland and the parliamentary party at Westminster. But though he did not seek public attention, he was one of the stalwarts of the Labour party in the north-east, with a reputation for being honest, fair, straightforward and down to earth.
His politics came from the left of the party, but he was regarded as a fully paid-up member of the “sensible left”, and, in 1990, he joined the opposition whips’ office as the northern whip. He also chaired the northern group of Labour MPs in 1991-92, having been its secretary for five years until 1990.

Born John Thompson, but always known as Jack, in the then pit town of Ashington, he was the son of a clerk, Nicholas Thompson, and his wife Lilian. He grew up there, and his last campaign, after retiring from Westminster in 1997, was to save the Ashington leisure centre from closure. He went to Wansbeck primary school, Bothal secondary modern, Ashington Mining College and Ashington Technical College. After training as an electrical engineer, he joined the National Coal Board as a shift charge engineer at Ellington colliery.

His career in politics was a steady one. He joined Labour in 1960 and became the secretary and agent to the local constituency five years later. He was elected first in 1970 to Newbiggin urban district council, where he chaired the highways committee, and then for five years from 1974, after local government reorganisation, he was a member of the successor Wansbeck district council, chairing the planning committee.

He was also elected to Northumberland county council in 1974, became opposition leader in 1978 and leader from 1981. Election to the House of Commons led to him resigning as leader, but he remained a member of the council for a further two years. He chaired the policy and resources and employment committees on the county council, and played a large part in ensuring that plans for a nuclear power station at Druridge Bay were shelved. Later, in the Commons, he also opposed the development of Sizewell, Suffolk.

Although convinced that nuclear power was not in the community’s interest, he was also motivated by his love of the local landscape. After he married Margaret Clarke in 1952, they travelled in a motorcycle and sidecar and subsequently took up caravanning.

He was a trade union MP, sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers, and at Westminster was assiduous in pursuing the concerns of those he represented. In 1984, at the height of the miners’ strike, he was one of those involved in a protest at the deduction of £16 from benefits paid to the dependants of those on strike that led to the suspension of the parliamentary sitting. He was a delegate from Westminster to the Council of Europe and the Western European Union, and in 1996 became deputy lieutenant of Northumberland.

He is survived by Margaret and their two children, Norma and Brian.

• Jack (John) Thompson, politician, born 27 August 1928; died 21 July 2011

(The Guardian)