Jeremy Bray -2002

Dr Jeremy Bray, Labour MP for Middlesborough West 1962-70, for Motherwell and Wishaw 1974-83 and for Motherwell South 1983-97 died in June 2002, aged 71.

Jeremy William Bray was born in Hong Kong in 1930. His parents were Methodist missionaries in China. The Bray family fled from China as the Japanese invaded in 1937 by climbing on the last boat to get out down the Pearl River. Back in Britain, Jeremy was educated at Aberystwyth Grammar School, Kingswood School, Bath and Jesus College Cambridge, where he read maths – going on to undertake further research there in pure mathematics, before spending a year at Harvard as a fellow, and taking his PhD. On again returning to Britain he took up a post with ICI at Wilton, Teeside, as a technical officer. His first political contest was for the hopeless seat of Thirsk and Malton, in 1959. In 1962 he was selected to fight the Parliamentary by-election at Middlesborough West, caused by Macmillan’s Solicitor General leaving the Commons for the Judicial Bench. By-elections of that sort now have a well-established pattern of punishing the governing party, but in 1962 this was a far from foregone conclusion, and Jeremy’s victory, overturning a Tory majority of almost 9000 with a Labour majority of 2,200, was seen as a very major victory, and one which paved the way for the General Election victory of 1964. Almost immediately on his arrival in the Commons he was appointed to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, a useful one for a steel constituency MP.

Jeremy Bray’s maiden speech was regarded as a strange phenomenon, but it was very typical of his approach to politics. His scientific, technological and meticulous approach to almost all matters was never more evident. His speech came late at night, moving a new clause to a Finance Bill, relating to a complex issue of annual allowances on increases on stocks of prescribed goods. Jeremy’s approach was the complete antithesis of broad-brush and windy waffle – it was precise, it was calibrated and it was to a specific purpose.

For a brief period in the 1964-66 Parliament Jeremy served as George Brown’s PPS, resigning in 1965 in order to criticise the National Plan. In 1966 he was appointed as Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Power, and in 1967 as Joint Parliamentary Secretary at The Ministry of Technology, a post he loved. But his Ministerial career was not to last. He wrote a book, whilst a Minister, Decision in Government. It was a very complex attempt to link economic modelling to political policy. He saw it as an important contribution to economic policy making. Harold Wilson saw it as an attack on the economic policies of his Government. His resignation was required.

In 1970 he lost his seat at Middlesborough, which he had only held narrowly even in 1966. In his absence he re-doubled his commitment to the Fabian Society, for whom he had written many pamphlets, and was their Chairman in 1971-72. From 1971 to 74 he was co-director of Research into Econometric Methods at Imperial College.

He returned to Parliament in 1974 for Motherwell, another steel-making town. Much has been made of the esteem in which Jeremy was held by the steelworkers union, and this was an undoubted assistance in securing the nomination for this safe Scottish seat – but he was helped no end at the final selection Conference when his principal rival tried a sectarian joke about Celtic supporters…. or was it Rangers’ ? Anyway, it completely backfired and Jeremy picked up a crucial tranche of support from those who hadn’t enjoyed the joke. Back in Parliament he was for many years a member of various Select Committees, including the Expenditure Committee and the Treasury and Civil Service Committee. He was deeply acquainted with the famous Treasury model, and knew her shortcomings as well as her beauty. Indeed he used to treat the PLP to speeches on the matter. From 1983 until 1992 he was an Opposition Spokesman on Science and Technology.

He was an acknowledged expert on steel-making and on the economics of steel, and although his determination was not enough to save Gartcosh and then Ravenscraig, their closures were undoubtedly delayed by his painstaking efforts of behalf of the steelworkers of Lanarkshire, and he was held in deep affection by them.

He retired in 1997 and was actively working on a final book when he died. His funeral is taking place in Cambridgeshire this morning, and our deep condolences are extended to his wife Elizabeth, whom many people working here knew well, as she was a serving member of the PLP’s Staff Liaison Committee, for many years.

Alan Howarth, PLP