In memory of Frank Dobson
LCA Chairman Robert Gordon Clark reflects on the passing of a London political heavyweight, Frank Dobson, who died on Monday after a long period of illness.
Frank Dobson was what I would call an old school politician. Yorkshireman born and bred, he was fiercely loyal and principled – but also a Londoner, committed to improving the lives of his constituents. While very much traditional Labour, he backed Tony Blair’s New Labour agenda, although at times I wondered how comfortable he found it all.
My first meeting with him was in the early days of London First, soon after the Conservatives won the 1992 general election. Frank initially treated the new business association with a scepticism (even suspicion). This turned to grudging cooperation, forged in part from a gradual understanding that business supported the need for a new form of regional government. Also, from personal respect for Lord Allen Shepherd, another man whose father was a railwayman, but who became one of Britain’s top businessmen as chairman of Grand Met and London First.
Frank’s brief role as Secretary of State for Health under Blair’s first New Labour government wasn’t easy. He was not happy at all with the cap on spending on the NHS. His decision to stand for the party against Ken Livingstone for Mayor of London in 2000 (Ken ran as an independent that year) was, to many, a political hospital pass of the first order. A number of seasoned London commentators expected Nick Raynsford to be the Labour candidate, but it fell to Frank and in the end he came third behind Ken and Steve Norris.
While many of his obituaries in the press may well focus on his Ministerial tenure and run for the Mayoralty, I suspect he will be most missed in North London, where he served as a Camden councillor and Leader in the 1970s. He went on to win the Holborn St Pancras seat in 1979 as Thatcher came to power, and then hold it through no less than seven elections to 2015 when he stood down. He worked hard to do what he felt was best for his community, often using his infamous sense of humour to get his point across. Even in his last year as an MP I vividly recall him attending a public meeting and challenging a developer on their plans.
Although I might not have agreed with him on everything, I respected his devotion to his working class roots and the policies he passionately believed in - and like many thank him for what he did for London over the last 40 years.