John Garrett, the radical managerial reformer and former Labour MP for marginal Norwich South for 19 years (1974-83 and 1987-97), has died in September 2007 after a short illness, aged 76. A pillar of the soft-left Tribune group, he won unusual praise from the rightwing Gerald Kaufman as the man who “knows more about managerial techniques for control of public expenditure than anyone else of his generation”. Garrett was unstinting in his efforts to modernise the economy and parliament by applying the latest management techniques, using the hands of experts such as himself.
Born in Romford, Essex, the son of a book-keeper, and brought up and educated in Walthamstow, he won a first in geography and a BLitt for research into industrial location at University College, Oxford. In 1956-57 he was a fellow at the University of California graduate business school.
A Labour party member from the age of 20, he was elected to Greenwich borough council in 1970, and in February 1974 narrowly captured the Tory-held Norwich seat from Dr Tom Stuttaford – one of the victories that put Harold Wilson back into No 10. Joining the Tribune group, Garrett concentrated his efforts on improving parliamentary and industrial efficiency, and tried to reform the public accounts committee. He blamed industrial overmanning on “low investment and ill-trained management”. His knowledgeable efforts soon attracted support, winning more than 40 votes in the annual shadow cabinet elections from 1979 to 1981. He also became PPS to Robert (now Lord) Sheldon and Stan (later Lord) Orme (obituary, May 3 2005).
Garrett’s efforts were not similarly appreciated in his constituency. In 1983, his seat returned to the Conservative fold. But he won it back narrowly in 1987. In his last decade he was better appreciated. He was appointed to the public accounts committee in 1987 and in 1988 was named deputy spokesman, under Bryan Gould, for trade and industry. He won high praise when, with only half an hour’s notice, he stood in for Gould on the final day of the budget debate in March 1989.
That same month he threw cold water on Labour’s new enthusiasm for regional government. He warned that if the party regained power, regional government “would hand over half the nation’s population to Tory-dominated regional governments in the east, south-east, south-west and probably in the Midlands and London”.
Outside politics, his interests included birdwatching, theatre, cricket, art and design, photography, painting and architecture. He leaves Wendy, his wife of 48 years, and two daughters, Georgia and Sophie.