We now come to tributes to Jack Dromey.
Jack made his mark long before he came into this House, in particular as a fearless, energetic trade unionist. I remember campaigning with him in the ’80s and ’90s to save the Royal Ordnance factory in Chorley. He was positive, down to earth, and determined to help working people—characteristics that remained with him throughout his career. I have to say, as somebody who knew Jack and worked with Jack: he was innovative; he was absolutely visionary. We sat down, upon a closure where thousands of jobs were going to go, and Jack said, “We’re in this together; we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the people whose jobs are at risk.” He said, “We’ve got to look beyond what kills people. We can do something different. Let us look for alternatives that save people’s lives.”
The expertise that was in Royal Ordnance Chorley was second to none. Of course we had to fight for the jobs in the first place. It became a choice between Glascoed and Chorley, and Jack said, “With the land values we know where British Aerospace will be.” In the end we came up with real alternatives. We had seen Lockerbie. We had seen the destruction and the loss of life, and in Chorley they designed a cargo that stopped the plane coming down. That was the vision of Jack, who said, “If we can’t save the jobs in making bombs, let us save jobs by finding an alternative to save lives.” So that is my personal experience of Jack Dromey. I knew him on other occasions, but I have to say: he was inspirational to me and he has been inspirational to many others in this House.
Since his election to this House in 2010, he proved to be an exemplary Member of Parliament. He was an assiduous and effective campaigner for his constituents. As a Front Bencher, he was trusted to lead for the party in particularly sensitive areas such as housing, policing, pensions, and, most recently, immigration. While he was a robust Front Bencher, he always demonstrated respect for his opponents and was well like and admired across the House. Nobody could fall out with Jack Dromey.
While we mourn a colleague, it is Jack’s family who will of course feel the loss most deeply. I know the whole House will join me in expressing our condolences to the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). Harriet, I know that all Members of this House will join me in saying to you and your family that we are so sorry for your loss, and it is a sad loss for this House.
I will now take brief points of order to allow for tributes to an esteemed colleague.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 7 January, this House suffered the loss of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, Jack Dromey, and it is right that we should come together now in tribute to his memory. Let me offer my condolences, on behalf of the whole Government, to the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), and her family.
Although Jack and I may have come from different political traditions, I knew him as a man of great warmth and energy and compassion. I can tell the House that one day—a very hot day—Jack was driving in Greece when he saw a family of British tourists, footsore, bedraggled and sunburned, with the children on the verge of mutiny against their father: an experience I understand. He stopped the car and invited them all in, even though there was barely any room. I will always be grateful for his kindness, because that father was me, and he drove us quite a long way.
Jack had a profound commitment to helping all those around him, and those he served, and he commanded the utmost respect across the House. He will be remembered as one of the great trade unionists of our time—a veteran of the Grunwick picket lines, which he attended with his future wife, where they campaigned alongside the mainly Asian female workforce at the Grunwick film processing laboratory. Having married someone who would go on to become, in his words,
“the outstanding parliamentary feminist of her generation”,
Jack became, again in his words, Mr Harriet Harman née Dromey.
Jack was rightly proud of the achievements of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham, but we should remember today his own contribution to this House during his 11 years as the Member for Birmingham, Erdington. He was a fantastic local campaigner who always had the next cause, the next campaign, the next issue to solve. I was struck by the moving tribute from his son Joe, who described how Jack was always furiously scribbling his ideas and plans in big letters on lined paper, getting through so much that when Ocado totted up their sales of that particular paper one year, they ranked Jack as their No. 1 customer across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Jack combined that irrepressible work ethic with a pragmatism and spirit of co-operation, which you have just described so well, Mr Speaker. He would work with anyone if it was in the interests of his constituents. As Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, remarked:
“He was a great collaborator always able to put party differences aside for the greater good… Birmingham has lost a dedicated servant... And we have all lost a generous, inclusive friend who set a fine example.”
While Jack once said that he was born on the left and would die on the left, I can say that he will be remembered with affection and admiration by people on the right and in the middle, as well as on the left. Our country is all the better for everything he gave in the service of others.
On a point or order, Mr Speaker. Since the sudden passing of our friend Jack, tributes from every walk of life have captured the essence of the man we knew and loved: larger than life, bursting with enthusiasm and ideas, and tireless in the pursuit of justice and fairness. Jack channelled all those attributes into representing the people of Erdington, into a lifetime of campaigning for working people, and into his greatest love, his family.
The loss felt on the Labour Benches is great. The loss to public life is greater still. But the greatest loss is felt by another of our own, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). She and Jack were married the best part of 40 years ago. The annual general meeting of the Fulham Legal Advice Centre may not sound like the place to find romance, but that is where Jack and Harriet met, with Jack addressing the meeting, and Harriet inspired to blaze a new trail—one that eventually led her to the place she holds today, as an icon of the Labour party and of this Parliament.
When we hear Harriet talk about Jack, one word comes through time and again: “encouraged”. It was Jack who encouraged her to join Brent Law Centre. It was Jack who encouraged her to stand as an MP—the first pregnant by-election candidate. It was Jack who encouraged her to run to be the Labour party deputy leader. When Harriet became the first woman in 18 years to answer at Prime Minister’s questions, Jack sat in the visitors’ gallery with their children, beaming down with love and admiration. I am so glad to see Jack’s family here today, beaming down with the same love, affection and pride.
The sense that Jack was always on your side is felt across this party and across the trade union movement. You can always get a measure of someone by how they treat their staff or those who rely on them. One of Jack’s former employees has said that whenever they met new people, he would always say that she was the real brains of the operation and he was merely the bag-carrier. His humility and sense of humour were legendary.
Shortly after Harriet’s book came out, a staffer had a copy of it on their desk. Jack roared with laughter as he saw a photo of himself in his 20s, barely recognisable with the prodigious thick beard. “Good grief!” he exclaimed, “What was Harriet thinking?” “What? Putting the picture in the book?” replied the staffer. “No,” Jack said, “marrying me!”
I was fortunate enough to work alongside Jack when I was a new MP in 2015. Our friendship endured, and as I gave a speech in Birmingham just a few weeks ago, it was Jack’s face that I saw in the audience, beaming up at me. He texted me the next day saying how much he had enjoyed it. That was two days before he died, which brings home the shock of his sudden, tragic passing.
Jack cut his teeth as a campaigner who spoke truth to power. He picked battles on behalf of working people, then he won them. It would be impossible to list all those victories today. He led the first equal pay strike after the Equal Pay Act 1970 was brought into law; he supported Asian women to unionise against a hostile management at Grunwick; and, even this year, he campaigned for a public inquiry on behalf of covid bereaved families.
Jack was a doughty campaigner, dubbed “Jack of all disputes”, who was feared by his opponents, but he was also deeply respected and liked across the political divide. Each and every one of us is richer for having known him. We will all miss him terribly.
The funeral service on Monday was beautiful and moving. Today, our hearts go out to Harriet, Joe, Amy, Harry and Jack’s grandchildren. The loss and grief they will be feeling cannot be measured or properly described. It cannot be wished away or pushed down and ignored, because great grief is the price we pay for having had love. We all love Jack and, even though he may no longer be with us here, that love will always live on.
May I say through you, Mr Speaker, and through the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) the mother of Amy, Joe and Harry, that the personal was very well covered in St Margaret’s two days ago? The political has been covered by the press and by Gordon Brown when he spoke at the service. I would like to contribute a parliamentary word and a trade union one.
The parliamentary one is that Jack showed what can be achieved if, by chance, you cannot have ministerial office during your time here. For those who come here thinking that being a Minister is the only thing that matters, they are wrong.
Secondly, I believe that if we could have more people who have had serious, continued trade union experience coming into this House, the House of Commons would be better for it, and I hope that that will not just be on one side of the House.
Over recent months, we have been forced to gather here far too often to remember colleagues who, very sadly and often suddenly, have been lost to this Parliament.
Jack Dromey is another Member of this House who has gone well before his time. On behalf of myself and my colleagues in the Scottish National party, I want to extend our deepest sympathies to all who knew and loved Jack. My thoughts, of course, are most especially with the Mother of the House; she has lost a constant companion at her side. She and the family bear the biggest burden of the loss of someone who was at the very centre of all their lives.
I would also like to extend sympathy to Jack’s beloved party, because we all know he was a Labour man through and through. I will also remember Jack as one of the feistiest campaigners in this place—a man rooted in trade union politics, rooted in the rights of workers, and a man who never lost an ounce of that spirit when he entered this Parliament. That fighting spirit extended to causes and campaigns far and wide, and I know that it extended to strikes and protests in Scotland, too. He was a true friend of Scottish workers and a champion of workers everywhere.
Jack was true to the cause and that is probably why he was so good at working cross-party and winning support and friendship across this place. My friend, the former Member of this place, Neil Gray, worked very closely with him on the Pension Schemes Act 2021 and he still speaks so fondly about Jack’s determination and his passion to make sure that that Bill was amended. He would often bound up the stairs to my office to seek my and my party’s support for various campaigns not just for him, but more often, for Harriet.
I will finish by sharing one story that I read about Jack, which I thought was both very telling and very touching. Apparently, a few years ago, a great admirer of the Mother of the House from the feminist movement approached Jack and said, “I always feel a bit nervous around Harriet—I am so in awe of her,” only for Jack to reply, “Me too. Even after all these years.” Today, we can assure Jack and his family that many of us were in awe of him, too. We deeply admired the way he conducted himself and the way he carried himself every day of his life. He left his gentle mark on so many and he will be greatly missed. May he now rest in peace. God bless you, Jack.
Thank you for allowing me, exceptionally, to speak from the Front Bench on a very difficult occasion. What an honour, my dear Jack, and what a sadness it is to speak of the friend I got to know from the other side of the Aisle.
For three years, Jack was the shadow Pensions Minister and we became close. We would meet, talk and plan, and sometimes agree to disagree, but always with equanimity. Politics is adversarial and heated. The media encourage us—in fact, demand of us—to be aggressive and mean-spirited. Jack did not play that game. Others have spoken of his decades of work for the union movement, of his being a loving father and a devoted husband, and even of his management of truculent children on a deserted Greek road. I want to talk about two things. First, he is the best example I know in 11 years in the House of Commons of cross-party working. Many used to joke about how often I would exchange texts with Jack. We worked together and we got results. I would give him briefings on all future legislation, ongoing inquiries and difficult issues. That requires a lot of trust, and such trust can go wrong, as we all know. But he never used confidences unfairly or for quick political gain. I believe that we and this House work better for such a thing. During the process of the Pension Schemes Bill, we spoke or sent texts to each other more than 110 times—I counted them up. Without his help, the Bill, in particular, the measures on collective defined contributions, and the work with the Transport and General Workers Union, would not have happened as they did.
Secondly, I want to talk about Jack’s kindness and generosity of spirit. My children died in childbirth in June 2020 and I want to share with the House what he said when I tried to return to work, as we had two Bills to do that autumn. He saw that I was struggling at this Dispatch Box on 29 June. He sent a text to me afterwards and I wanted to share it with the House:
“Guy, I know we both have a job to do, but I was not comfortable today. I feel for you, and your wife, my friend. We will build work around you. My thoughts are with you. Please take your time. Best wishes, Jack”.
Jack Dromey was, in my opinion, a man made in the Teddy Roosevelt spirit: kind but combative; passionate but polite; and always in the arena, always striving for the benefit of others. There can be no finer compliment than saying that “The Man in the Arena” quote, which is my favourite, applies utterly and totally to Jack. Farewell my friend, it was an honour to know you.
My husband Henry introduced me to Jack and Harriet when we got together in the ‘70s. We were, as ever, at some conference, Jack was, as ever, preoccupied with fixing some vote, and I was in total awe of Harriet and Jack. Fortunately, I got the seal of approval and we have been friends now for nearly 50 years. Those who knew him well know what a generous, kind, funny, enthusiastic, interested and interesting, loyal, unselfish and consistent friend Jack was.
Jack’s life was filled by his total passion for social justice, his tribal loyalty to the Labour party, his consummate determination to be at the heart of any and every campaign that might help to make the world a better place, and his relentless optimism that he would always win. Jack’s life achievements were so many, his campaigns so eclectic, that it is impossible to capture everything in a short tribute. I want to focus on his work before he became an MP. From the Grunwick strike to fighting to maintain the Rosyth and Plymouth dockyards, from corralling the first ever equal pay strike at Trico to observing the Luanda mercenary trials in Angola, seeking to stop the execution of three British mercenaries, wherever there was injustice, Jack was there. I remember Jack in the ‘70s leading the occupation of Centre Point in London, when London was littered with empty new office buildings while the homeless slept on the streets; in the '80s, when he bravely led the trade unions to oppose Militant in Liverpool; in the ‘90s, when he served on Labour’s national executive committee and worked to modernise the Labour party and make us fit to govern; and in the noughties, when he organised the cleaners’ strike here in Parliament when they were earning as little as £5 an hour.
Finally, two personal memories. In all our fantastic adventurous holidays together, whenever we arrived at a new destination, Jack’s first question was always, “What’s the wi-fi code?” He was not looking for a local restaurant. He was not finding a place for us to have a drink. His first priority was always, “Is everything okay in Erdington?” On new year’s eve, we would always have a sing-song, me playing the piano and everybody else singing. Each year, Jack, with his great singing voice, would give us a solo performance, that harked back to his Irish roots, of “Danny Boy”, with the women joining in to help him with the high note at the end. We always brought in the new year with a bang.
Our grief at his loss is an expression of our love for the man. Jack will continue to live on in all our todays and tomorrows as we take forward the campaigns he worked on and enjoy the successes he achieved. Thank you, Jack, for everything, and for just being you.
It is a privilege and an honour to speak today about Jack, who I am proud to call my friend and colleague in this place. He was my parliamentary neighbour, as his constituency inside Birmingham city ran alongside the royal town of Sutton Coldfield, and there were many mutual issues affecting our constituents, on which we worked seamlessly, constructively and enjoyably together.
Jack’s arrival in Birmingham was somewhat unexpected, not least because those of us keenly watching the outcome of the selection contest had been advised that this was an all-women shortlist, but we quickly established a rapport. The thing I learnt early on about Jack was that he was a brilliant negotiator. Faced with a brick wall, his instinct was not to pound his way through it, but to skilfully manoeuvre around it wherever possible. And he was ineffably charming and patient. He had a considerable knack locally of bringing people of different persuasions to common positions. He did it at times of great anxiety in the automotive industry in the west midlands with Caroline Spelman, our former colleague from Meriden, with West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and, most recently, with me working on Afghans coming to Birmingham from Kabul.
All of which leads me, finally, to a story about Jack’s negotiating powers and—forgive me for name dropping, Mr Speaker—about his relationship with the Marquis of Salisbury, a former colleague in this place, Conservative Minister and Member for South Dorset, Robert Cranbourne. When his lordship was a Defence Minister, he held regular meetings with the unions in Whitehall. These meetings sometimes ran for four hours and meaningful results were slow in being achieved, but during particularly drawn-out moments the Marquis, as he is now, would catch the eye of the then senior trade union negotiator, as he then was, Jack Dromey. After one such meeting, his lordship rang up Jack to suggest that it would perhaps be better if they sorted out the business beforehand, possibly over lunch, and, to Robert’s relief, Jack willingly agreed. “Where should we go?” asked Jack, to which the Marquis replied, “I wonder if you might like to come to White’s, my club in St. James’s,” to which Jack replied, “Ah, I’ve always wanted to go there.”
And so affairs of state and the Ministry of Defence were congenially sorted out by these two distinguished public servants. On the first occasion, as various chiselled-featured members of the British establishment walked through the club’s hallowed portals, Jack drank orange juice, but on the final occasion, after a particularly successful negotiation had been concluded, glasses of vintage port were consumed. As he stepped out on to the street, Jack thanked his lordship for his kind hospitality, and as he left said over his shoulder, “By the way, please don’t tell Harriet where we’ve been. And especially do not mention the vintage port!” [Laughter.] For the avoidance of doubt, Mr Speaker, I can of course confirm that this was a workplace event. [Laughter.]
As we remember an adopted son of Birmingham taken from us far, far too soon, let us remember the words of Harry, Jack and Harriet’s son, who with both sadness and pride spoke of the quality, but not alas the quantity, of the years they all had together.
To the tributes already paid, I add the profound sympathies of both myself and all the Liberal Democrats who sit on these Benches. As a relatively new Member of the Commons, I confess that I did not know Jack that well, but what I did know I really, really liked.
I first met him in a mindfulness meditation class, which he, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and I attended with other MPs as we sought to find some calm in the storm of the 2017 to 2019 Parliament. I dare say that it was, at times, hilariously awkward. I remember Jack taking those classes with great humour. He oozed wisdom and kindness, and I think it was that shared experience that meant that, when we caught each other’s eye while passing each other in the Lobby, he would ask how I was, and he really meant it. Since his passing, I have learned that that kind man, whom I liked so much, had a similar effect on pretty much everyone he met. The tributes today are proof of how respected he was across the political spectrum. While a trade union man through and through, he was a pragmatist. He would work with anyone who could deliver his aims and shared his values.
Part of Jack’s appeal and great strength was that he was so obviously driven by his values and by a deep desire to help people. Quite simply, Jack Dromey was one of the good guys. I think it says it all that he worked to the last. In that final debate on Afghanistan, he urged Parliament and the Government to take a more compassionate approach to those in the world who need us the most and said:
“Our country has a proud history of providing a safe haven to those fleeing persecution.”
He also spoke of our country’s most fundamental values
“of decency, honesty and fairness.”—[Official Report, 6 January 2022; Vol. 706, c. 129WH.]
Jack embodied those values.
To the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham, to their children, Harry, Joe and Amy, and to the whole family, there are no words, but I hope that from today’s tributes they can take some comfort in knowing the impact that Jack had and how he affected not just this House but the whole country.
Jack made a big impression as soon as he was elected to this place in 2010 and was appointed to the Front Bench straight away. I was a rookie Minister and he was my shadow. It was a forbidding prospect because Jack came with such a reputation, as the Leader of the Opposition attested, as one of the big trade union leaders of his day, used to rallying mass meetings and getting his own way. It was with a little trepidation that I committed myself to going head-to-head with him for many weeks in Committee for what became the Localism Act 2011.
However, I was quickly to discover that Jack’s success was based, as evidenced today, on his charm, persuasion and forensic mind. He had a tremendous impact as we spent those many weeks together. In fact, so persuasive was Jack’s oratory and work in Committee that, much to the Whip’s consternation, he incited my first rebellion—as the Minister taking the Bill through Committee! [Laughter.] His remarks were so persuasive that I could find no argument against his amendment and declared that I would accept it, and we did, despite the fact, as former and current Ministers will know, that my speaking notes had “RESIST” in bold type. It is objective to say that Jack’s powers were simply, literally, irresistible.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) attested to Jack’s brilliant work in forging alliances irrespective of party. He mentioned the work that Jack did with our former right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman, his constituency neighbour. They stood up in particular for manufacturing industry interests that created jobs in their constituencies and across the west midlands. That joint work was vital during turbulent times; when investment decisions were being considered, showing the unity of purpose of the local MPs projected nationally was very important.
Jack’s lifetime of knowledge, experience and passion for manufacturing industry made him an authority, carrying universal respect and the confidence of employers creating jobs. I was therefore honoured when Jack asked me, after Caroline stepped down at the last election, to continue that partnership with him. We met regularly with businesses and trade union leaders, not only in his beloved automotive sector, but in aerospace, chemicals, life sciences and food and drink. He is greatly missed by the leaders of those sectors.
Ministers from the Front Bench and my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), as well as the Prime Minister, have attested to what an effective advocate Jack was. He achieved what he did through kindness, enthusiasm, optimism and encouragement, but not without drawing on his trade union skills of organisation and tenacity. His achievements and how he won them made him respected across this House and across the country. He represents, as does the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the very best of this House.
I will start by saying how great it is to see the Mother of the House, our inspiration, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), in the Chamber today, and her family. I knew Jack for years and years; I could probably speak for the next two hours about all the campaigns we worked on together, first as Transport and General Workers Union officers and then as MPs elected to Parliament at the same time.
There are a couple of campaigns that I will talk about particularly. The first, which many people in this Chamber will remember, was when Kraft took over Cadbury. Seven factories were taken over by Kraft, and Jack led the trade union campaign to protect their jobs—a very successful campaign, by the way. As part of that campaign, which I got involved in at Jack’s behest, we went to see the then Business Secretary, Peter Mandelson.
Before the meeting—this is just the sort of thing Jack would do—he discovered that Peter’s favourite chocolate was fruit and nut, so we got a cardboard box roughly the size of Westminster Abbey and filled it with Cadburys Dairy Milk Fruit & Nut before having a very constructive and successful meeting—I wonder why it was so constructive and successful? I must add that I remember saying to Jack before we went in, “Jack, Peter’s quite a lean sort of bloke. He obviously looks after himself. Do you think some of that chocolate might be surplus to requirement?” So by the time we got into the meeting the box was a bit lighter than had originally been the case.
The second campaign, which again was successful—even more successful, actually—was one that is largely forgotten now, involving S&A Foods. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind the name, because that will be important. S&A Foods was a big agricultural combine, largely producing strawberries, about 30% of the British strawberry market. Its workers were largely migrants and very badly exploited. It was a big workforce: I am talking 4,000 to 5,000 people working on the land in the west country picking strawberries, but just for three months a year, and being very badly treated.
Jack got involved in that campaign and, as he always did, threw everything at it. He worked his heart out on getting recognition, getting better terms and conditions and improving the lives of those thousands of people working on the land. That became quite a big deal at the time, and I remember Jack and I going to a meeting of Transport and General Workers Union members and officers afterwards.
Jack always had about 50 things going on in his brain at the same time—that was just the way he was—so as he rose to speak to the members, he was not really concentrating on his words. He opened his speech by saying, “Right, what I want to talk to you about now is S&M”, and I could see the faces of all these pretty traditional—for those who knew the T&G—trade unionists faces dropping, going, “What!”. I was nudging Jack, saying, “Jack, it’s S&A, not S&M—that’s something entirely different.” I think.
As I said at the beginning, I could talk at great length about all the campaigns I did together with Jack. He was always an inspiration. He always led from the front, and he was very largely successful. He was one of the most successful trade union officers industrially in the past 50 or 60 years, or something like that, and often in difficult conditions. Jack had one overriding aim, and that was to improve the conditions and the lives of the people he and we represented. In that, I think he was successful, and in that, I think he left the world better than he found it.
I do not remember the first time I met Jack, but that is probably because when I did, I walked away feeling like I had known him forever. He was gentle, sweet and naturally mindful—by which I mean that, unlike some colleagues, his eyes were not darting around to see if there was someone more interesting or important to speak to. If you had his attention, you held his attention.
To me, he was always so kind. He never defined me by my politics or my football team, but as a person. He always asked about my family and, whenever we had a conversation about my son Freddie, he would regale me with tales and the occasional picture of his grandchildren, accompanied by a beaming smile and sparkling eyes. His adoration of his family was clear to see.
Jack was exceptionally polite. Like a child who can spot an ice cream shop from a mile away, Jack it seems could spot a colleague who needed a confidence boost. He always had a word of praise for anyone downhearted about their performance in this place—a cheeky, “Well done”, a smile as he sat down, a kind tribute in his own comments. He was quite simply a lovely colleague.
I am sure he was prone to arguing with the sat-nav or left his shoes in a perilously dangerous place, but from the outside he looked like a pretty perfect husband, one who loyally and lovingly supported his wife at a time when Parliament was even more challenging for women that it is today. I hope that most of us think that we have a Jack at home, but I still reckon that he could have made a fortune giving consultancy on how to be the long-suffering but supportive male other half. This House has lost someone special, but my heart does not break for us; it breaks for the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and his three children and grandchildren. As I sit down, I remember his warmth and gentleness. I send my love to them today.
It is a pleasure to add a contribution from my party. I apologise that my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) was unable to be here. He lost his brother last week and the funeral was yesterday, so I will make some comments on behalf of my party.
I came to this House in 2010. I had some relationships and experience in the council and the Assembly, but I knew that this was a bigger place, with more MPs and more people. I looked about, to know who to watch to learn the ropes and the trade. In my opinion, Jack Dromey was one of the people to look at, because, whenever he spoke, had I been going to leave the Chamber, I would sit down. I wanted to hear what he was going to say. That was the sort of gentleman he was.
My last engagement with Jack Dromey was in Westminster Hall—that will be a surprise to people that I was in Westminster Hall, but I was. On that day, Jack Dromey was there as a shadow spokesperson to speak on the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. We had a good debate and a good response from the Minister. Afterwards, as I always do, and others do, I thanked Jack Dromey for his significant contribution on a subject that he loved and wanted to add to, and he thanked me in his turn. The Backbench Business Committee had given us the privilege of a debate, but Jack Dromey thanked me for at least requesting it. It is hard to believe that that was on 6 January. Less than 18 hours later, I got a message from the girl in my office to tell me that Jack had passed away. I said, “You’ve got it wrong. I saw him yesterday. That just cannot be right.” Unfortunately, it was right.
Jack Dromey was a man of strong principles, with a devotion to service. His legacy is of a fighting spirit and relentless optimism, and it is one to which each of us on these Benches can and should aspire. Jack, I feel, was a master of all campaigns. If he was campaigning for something, be on his side, because that was the winning side. All of us, both on this side of the House and across the Floor, are the poorer for his absence.
My thoughts and prayers are with his family—with Harriet, our friend and colleague, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), and the children—as they face the coming days without this wonderful man, so suddenly taken from us all, but they will have fantastic memories.
I am sure that you will agree, Mr Speaker, that the message that must go to his family today is that they are not alone with their grief and that this House and this great family of MPs and staff are united behind them.
No one could have failed to be moved on Monday by the incredible tributes to Jack from his three children, Harry, Joe and Amy. All of us know the pride that Jack had in his family, but we felt it, too, on Monday, and also their pride in him.
Jack had that wonderful way of making you feel that everything was going to be alright. It did not matter what scrapes he had got you into, it was all going to be okay. I was lucky to work with Jack on so many campaigns. He was just so formidable on so many different things. If we despaired, he always had some good new idea to pick us up, and then he would be off running with it and we would be racing to catch him up. If we got too highfalutin, he would remind us what they were saying in the Dog and Duck. If we faltered, as all of us do from time to time, he would be there to tell us that we were brilliant and not to lose faith.
Jack was a fabulous feminist. We all saw the support that he gave to Harriet over so many decades. We heard from Amy, Jack’s daughter, on Monday that true feminism at home meant also making sure that Harriet never had to learn how to use a washing machine. I have to say that I was so proud when I heard that. I have known Harriet and Jack since I was in my 20s, and have avoided, wherever possible, using the washing machine at home, and have resolutely refused to learn to cook. I must tell Amy that she got me into a bit of trouble on Monday, because Ed, who was sitting next to me, turned and glowered at me and said, “So, it was all Jack and Harriet’s fault.” I just said that I had learned from the very best.
Jack did not just support Harriet; he supported so many of us as women parliamentarians and women in the trade union movement. One woman trade unionist told me that, many years ago, Jack had encouraged her when she was a young mum to put herself forward in the trade union movement. That would have been pioneering enough at that time, but what he also did when he spied her husband standing at the back holding their child was to find him and tell him what an incredibly important and noble job he was doing in supporting her, too.
Jack also had that amazing special ability to bring people together at a time when politics can feel so divided. We heard how, when he died, he had tributes from the five biggest manufacturing groups in Britain and also the five biggest trade unions, which is a unique reflection of the industrial alliance that he had worked so hard to bring together. In the Labour movement, he not only straddled the left-right divide, but had strong roots in both our liberal and our communitarian traditions. Unusually, his politics and values throughout his life bound together that fierce support for equality, feminism, anti-racism and individual rights, with those deep roots in community, solidarity, family and faith in the dignity of work. He brought that all together. We need more Jacks.
I was with Jack the afternoon before he died. Every conversation that I had with him that day was just pure Jack. I doubted something that I had done, but he said that it was brilliant—I am sure it was not. We talked about Christmas, and he said how wonderful his grandchildren were. He then went on to speak in a debate in Parliament and make a passionate and patriotic case for the Government to do the right thing by vulnerable Afghan refugees. As a last act in Parliament, it was entirely fitting and a demonstration of his persistent decency and solidarity.
Most of all, Jack was an optimist. He loved life and he loved people. He made lives better because he believed that things could be better. So many of us have learned so much from Jack that we will make sure that that legacy carries on.
Jack Dromey was my mentor, my teacher, my political partner and my friend for almost a decade and a half in Birmingham. Like for many of us here today he was like a father to me; indeed, he was at school with my dad, at Cardinal Vaughan in west London, part of that extraordinary generation of second-generation Irish kids: sharp, chippy, pushing, determined to make a contribution to social justice.
It didn’t always start smoothly: my godfather, Spud Murphy, then a prefect at Cardinal Vaughan, used to talk to me fondly about having to give Jack a clip round the ear for smoking behind the bike sheds at school. But Jack was not a rebel without a cause: his cause was social justice, and he fought for it his entire life. His glorious life was one long crusade for the underdog; he fought for them whenever and wherever he found them. His campaigns in Birmingham are innumerable: he fought for more police numbers, he fought for covid families, he fought for the food bank, he fought for Erdington High Street, he fought for manufacturing jobs, he fought for the factory at GKN—and this was all just in the last week of his life.
As you will know, Mr Speaker, Jack brought a particular approach to all his campaigns. It generally started with a very, very long list of bullet points, and Jack would start off by saying, “Just three points”, and we would tease him as he got to, “And seventeenthly”, but he brought to every single one of his campaigns what he used to fondly say was a certain “je ne sais quoi”. He made sure that at the core of every single one of his campaigns were the stories, because we have all been educated in the legend of Joe and Josephine Soap in the Dog and Duck in Erdington. He also brought to all his campaigns not just the art of coalition building but incredible calm, along with persistence. He used to very proudly say that his nickname in the union was “Never snap, never flap Jack”, and he reminded me of that very often as I was losing my rag over the last year and a half.
On the last day of Jack’s life we were working together on a book about the future of our great region, the heart of Britain, and as ever he brought to that an extraordinary optimism. He put the green industrial revolution at the core of what he wrote, and this is what he wrote:
“I am passionate in my belief that change is possible. However, as my experience as an MP for a constituency with high levels of inequality and poverty, it is crucial that any change is not just ambitious in the objective of dealing with climate change, but radical in creating opportunity for all. There is much to do and little time to achieve it before it’s too late.”
I say to the Mother of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), and the family watching today, like you we have all struggled with the shock of loss. I myself have found comfort in the words not of an Irish poet but of a Greek, who wrote centuries ago:
“Even in our sleep, pain…falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
The wisdom we draw from Jack Dromey’s life is very simple: we should all try to be more Jack. Our community, our country, and this House of Commons will be a damn sight better for that.
It is a pleasure to follow my colleague and friend from Birmingham, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), and what I want to say is going to be all about Birmingham. Jack did not sound like me. He was not groomed as I was, just as a child loves their parents no matter what, to love Birmingham, because it was given to me at birth. Jack did not have that, and he loved it way more than me. He would talk about Birmingham in terms that made it unrecognisable to me. I love the place, don’t get me wrong, but Castle Vale, while I love it, is not a place of great beauty. The Aston expressway is not a thing to behold, yet when Jack talked about Birmingham and Brummies, he felt so much as if he was from the tradition of the place of my birth. I think much of that is to do with his Irish ancestry, which so many of us in Birmingham have, but there could be no greater advocate for the city of Birmingham.
I know that many people want to speak, so I will touch slightly not only on Jack being an honorary Brummie—not even “honorary”, Jack Dromey was a Brummie through and through, without question—but on him being an honorary sister. The first time I ever spoke in this building, it was Jack Dromey who sat next to me. He put his arms around me afterwards and said, “I am so proud of you. I am so proud to see you here”—mainly because I was a girl from Birmingham and he loved Birmingham. The last time I ever sat in this place with him was just a week before he died, and we had just been put on the same team together, the shadow Home Affairs team. He said to me, as I sat down from asking a question of the Home Secretary, “It is so delightful to be completely outsmarted and outflanked by brilliant women.” That came as no surprise to me. I say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), all her family and her children that Birmingham will truly miss Jack Dromey. All the love of a sometimes not very beautiful place is with you and your family.
Jack and I were both elected in the 2010 general election, and he was my constituency neighbour, but because he was selected relatively late to be our candidate in Birmingham, Erdington, we did not get to meet until we were both newly elected Birmingham Members of Parliament.
I remember in those early weeks lugging around a massive rucksack that basically had a mobile office in it, having no idea of the lobbying required to get ahead in the race for an office in this place. Jack came over to me—we had only spoken a couple of times at this point—and told me that he had secured a whole suite of offices in Portcullis House. On hearing that, I was immediately insanely jealous, but he went on to ask whether I wanted to share them with him. Of course, I went from insane jealousy to all but falling at the man’s feet with gratitude. He laughed and said he simply had to rescue me from my flipping bag, because it was practically the same size as me, and he could bear it no longer. That set the tone for our friendship—lots of gentle mickey-taking and loads of laughter.
I was always struck by how ready Jack was—we have heard so much about this today—with his praise and encouragement. It is something that his children spoke so movingly about at his funeral. Jack would always stop you, text you or drop you a note to say he had seen you make a speech or give a TV interview—whatever it might be—and that it was “first-class, absolutely brilliant, the best of Labour.” He never hedged his bets when it came to praise, did Jack, but he really believed in generous and uncomplicated affirmation not just of his loved ones, but of his friends and colleagues. The sincerity meant it always mattered to the person on the receiving end. It always made a difference.
Not every conversation with Jack was quick. He would stop you to talk about the famous “three or four quick things,” but I soon clocked that the correct number was calculated by taking the number of things Jack said he wanted to talk about, multiplying it by two and adding three. It seemed to work every time, and Jack always got a promise out of you, or maybe more than one promise, to attend a meeting, to look into something or to join one of his campaigns.
In one of our more recent conversations, he told me he wanted to talk about campaigning—four quick things were actually 11—and at the end I laughed and said, “Jack, mate, how is it that your four quick things have now led to 10 absolutely urgent, immediate priorities for my to-do list?” I soon regretted admitting those 10 priorities, because he then laughed wholeheartedly and said, “That’s the target from now on, Shabana: 10 things to be added to the to-do list.”
It is difficult to believe that a man so full of energy, positivity and generosity is gone. He leaves an immense legacy, not just as a titan of the labour movement but as a thoroughly decent, good man. Jack Dromey was first class, he was absolutely brilliant and he was the best of Labour.
It goes without saying that the loss of Jack has shocked us all, and our hearts go out to Harriet and her family.
Jack was, as we have heard, respected across this House. He was an extremely generous person, often giving praise to his colleagues and associates whether they wanted it or not. I am privileged to chair the Tribune group of Labour MPs, of which Jack was an enthusiastic member. On many occasions, he would stop me somewhere en route as he rushed off to a meeting to tell me what a wonderful job I was doing of organising the Tribune group. On one occasion, when he was particularly effusive with his praise, I stopped him and said, “Jack, not even my mother would believe what you are saying.” He just carried on undeterred, thinking his message had not got across.
No matter how much he was over the top with his praise, he always left you feeling better after speaking to him. He felt the Tribune group had a lot to offer the party, and we met regularly to discuss the issues of the day. Jack would always keep the discussion well grounded and to the point. When we were losing sight of the bigger picture, he would intervene, “Just a few quick points, may I, chair?” He would then set out his opinion, always carefully thought through, with an anecdote here and a shaggy-dog story there—sometimes long and sometimes short, depending on the audience—and always with a twinkle in his eye. He would then bring us back to the point, with the apocryphal question, “What do Joe and Josephine Soap in the Dog and Duck think?” I heard about Joe and Josephine so many times that I feel I have been to the Dog and Duck. I actually got to the point where I googled it, and there is no Dog and Duck in Birmingham. We will miss him in those discussions and, above all, we will miss his dynamism and enthusiasm, which spurred us on; and I will miss his encouragement in keeping the Tribune group going.
We are both proud long-term members of the Transport and General Workers Union. He had been a high-ranking official, becoming deputy general secretary, and I was a lowly lay member of the transport section. We got to know each other when he came to this place, and we found we had a number of mutual acquaintances from the trade union, mainly because my region—the London region—was very influential in the union, and my branch, the cab section, was very influential in London.
Many of the people in my branch were on the broad left of the trade union, and Jack back then was a member of the broad left. There is no questioning Jack’s left-wing credentials. He built a long reputation on the campaigns he fought and won as a trade union official. His determination to stand up for social justice was legendary even then, over 30 years ago, and he continued this struggle in his parliamentary career.
The negotiating skills he honed as a trade union leader enabled him to forge alliances across the divide in this place and to get things done for the people of his adopted Erdington. In my opinion, there will always be a bit of London that is Erdington, and that is Jack’s legacy for them. Jack’s indefatigable campaigning on behalf of the trade union and labour movements touched six decades. He changed the lives of countless people who will never know what he did for them.
One last thing we had in common is that 16 months ago I became a granddad. Nothing made Jack smile more than when we talked about the unalloyed joy of being a granddad. It is probably those chats that I will remember most when I think of Jack. So Jack, if out there, in a parallel universe, there is a Dog and Duck with Joe and Josephine in it, perhaps sometime in the future—not too soon—we will sit down with a pint and find out finally what they actually think. It was an honour and a delight to have known you.
Thank you for squeezing me in, Mr Speaker.
I had known Jack for about 12 years, since he was first selected to stand in Birmingham, Erdington, and I am still a councillor in Kingstanding in his constituency. I have to confess that Jack and I did not always see eye to eye on every issue. I think the first time we met was on Aylesbury Crescent in Kingstanding, where we did not exactly meet on equal terms; we actually had a few coarse words. But whenever I or anyone had a debate with Jack, including in public meetings, we would always get the wink and nod after the little dig or political point, and I respected that enormously.
I last saw Jack at Penny Holbrook’s funeral, about a week and a half before he passed away. My heart goes out to everybody in the Erdington constituency Labour party, because they have had a terrible year, with so many people sadly passing away. Within five minutes, Jack and I were talking about MG Rover. He said, “I remember one particular day”, and I looked at him and said, “Of course you were involved with MG Rover. Why wouldn’t you have been?” We had a long conversation about it. I think he was talking about the situation in 2000 or 2001, when he said, “We went into a meeting with the Phoenix Four”—they thought that the success and the campaign had been won—“I have no shame in telling you that I cried in that room that day”. That is because the issue meant so much to him, because of the thousands of workers at the site and what the company meant to the community.
Then, of course, Jack went on to talk about his grandchildren, as he was playing with another small child at the funeral. He was having a good laugh about the height jokes that his son Joe made to him all the time. We left on good terms that day.
Jack had a very good sense of humour. We have a WhatsApp group for all Birmingham MPs, who will remember that just a few weeks ago—Jack being Jack—he tried to organise something that could have politically shown up me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on a police debate. My right hon. Friend and I have never been so quiet in a WhatsApp group before: because Jack had got the wrong WhatsApp group! He had accidentally got the all-party one, rather than the Labour one. The argument on tactics started between the other MPs, when all of a sudden someone noticed that my right hon. Friend and I were in the group. I saw Jack the next day and he came up to me with a big, beaming smile. I will not repeat what he said because there were a lot of expletives, although it was something along the lines of, “I’m a bit of an idiot, aren’t I?”, but he smiled and joked about it.
Jack was a good man who fought passionately for the city that is my home. Many of us will him terribly.
I rise as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), who chairs the group, apologises that he is not here; he is at a funeral today.
Jack was a valued and prominent member of the Ireland and the Irish in Britain group—the community from which he came. Shortly after my arrival here in 2015, he welcomed me not only as a new MP, but as a fellow child of Ireland’s 33rd and, frankly, finest county: county London. “Where are your parents from?”, he asked. “Mine are from Cork and Tipperary”, he proudly did say. His father was a labourer, his mother a nurse—the people who came here to rebuild England. Their work and experience underpinned and drove his politics and dedication to public service. In the trade union movement, he always saw the parallels between his own parents’ struggles and those of newer migrant communities, and he built links with those new migrant communities—most recently with the Polish community at an event at the London Irish Centre.
Jack’s support for the Gaelic Athletic Association in Birmingham and across Britain was a significant part of his involvement with the community. It is no surprise, given that his grandfather, Jack Doherty, was a hurler who played for Tipperary in several All-Ireland finals in the early 20th century. It was a very proud moment for him to take part in the St Patrick’s day parade in Birmingham—which had not taken place for decades because of the pub bombings—alongside the Erin Go Bragh GAA Club, based in his Erdington constituency. Just last year, engaging in the cross-party work of which we have heard so much today, he worked with colleagues on both sides of the House to save Páirc na hÉireann, the home of Gaelic games in Britain ensuring that a generation of children in the west midlands can continue to enjoy Irish culture and sport.
Jack’s son Joe described at Jack’s funeral how he had beamed when visiting the construction centre named after him, imagining his own dad—newly arrived on these shores—knowing what would become of his son. Jack was so proud, as many of us were, when there was an event here in Parliament to honour him and other sons and daughters of that generation of Irish construction workers who had helped to build Britain. He was one of a relatively small band of us MPs who are as proud of the people we came from as we are of the people we represent now, being both British and Irish. Jack also had a strong sense of justice. In the week when we mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, his involvement in the pursuit of democratic, peaceful politics on the island of Ireland and good relations between our two countries was recognised by the Irish Government and by the Irish ambassador to the UK, Adrian O’Neill, who attended Jack’s funeral on Monday.
Being Irish was very important to Jack, and Jack was very important to Ireland and the Irish community in Britain. We will miss him. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I first met Jack during the Longbridge dispute, when we, as Members of Parliament, were getting together to do our best to save that huge industry in Birmingham. Unfortunately we all know what the result of that was, but Jack always tried his best. I met him next when we had an issue with the HP Sauce company, which was pulling out of Birmingham and going to Denmark. I joined him when he said, “I am going to lead this campaign on behalf of the trade unions.” We had a couple of conversations and meetings and decided to organise a rally. We all walked through Aston for about a mile and a half to the factory, and spoke to the workers there. Eventually, as a result of Jack’s tenacity, we managed to secure better terms and conditions for the people who had been expecting to lose their jobs.
That is what Jack was about. He was a great man, and from that day onwards I realised that he was someone whom I wanted to know better and become closer to. So when my friend and his predecessor as the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Erdington, Siôn Simon, decided that he was going to move on, one of the first things I did was speak to Jack. On Friday evenings Jack was usually with his family, but one Friday evening Siôn and I met at a curry house where he and I and a couple of other friends tended to go to transact business, and I said, “Siôn, if you are leaving, perhaps we should speak to Jack Dromey, because he is a great guy, and we want someone like him who understands a community like Erdington which contains industries and a huge number of working people.”
When I called Jack he was in Ireland, listening to a recital being given by his daughter Amy. He texted me saying, “Can we speak tomorrow? I am at this recital, and I can’t talk to you now.” He contacted me the next day. The local Labour party then went through the necessary procedure, and selected him because it believed that he was the right person.
Jack was always at the forefront. Recently when a young lad, Dea-John Reid, was stabbed to death, Jack and I, along with our hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), turned up and spoke to representatives of the black churches and the community. I hope that our action has prevented any further uprisings.
Jack was always there. He was always there for the community, and he was always there for me. When I became frustrated by local authority issues, the following day he would either call me or come and see me in Portcullis House and try to explain how I could make progress.
Let me end by sending my condolences to the Mother of the House, to Joe and to Amy, and by changing an adage around: behind every strong woman there is a strong man. May Jack rest in peace.
I want to pay a very short tribute,
because we have heard so much from both sides of the House that encompasses so accurately Jack’s many qualities. When he came to the House, he was fully formed as a political activist and one of the greatest trade unionists of his generation. He had the abilities to ensure that social justice was advanced. He never gave up, and he was optimistic. He loved and was proud of his wife—he was a feminist before many of us knew what that word meant—and was unashamed to be Mr Harriet Harman. He was a very rare, very talented, very kind and gentle man who was the best of the Labour and trade union movement. We will all miss him terribly.
Condolences, obviously, to the Mother of the House and to his fantastic children, who are in the Gallery. As someone who was fortunate to benefit from Labour party romance, I always looked up to Harriet and Jack’s law centre romance as something that I should follow.
Jack Dromey has been in my life for a very long time. I was a candidate in Taunton—an eminently winnable seat for Labour—and because I was from the Transport and General Workers Union as well as a Co-operative, this young man suddenly pitched up for a day to help me, so we have known each other since 1974. He was really suspicious of me at first—there I was, a university academic standing as the Labour candidate—but he found out that I had served an apprenticeship at the ICI paint factory in Slough and we became great friends. Ever since that day, we worked together—we started the all-party parliamentary manufacturing group—and did wonderful campaigns together. He was not just a colleague or a comrade; he was a mate.
When you are serious about politics, you come here on a Thursday morning, to make the Leader of the House’s life a misery, and Jack was a member of that club. I still see him there. Jack was so warm and generous, and he had a way of worming things out of you. He had a big family, and I have four children and 12 grandchildren. We used to compete, and I know more about his family than you could ever believe because he would tell me. He would ask of my family, “How are you getting on? What stage are you at?” but I bored him because everything he had to say was more exciting than what we were doing.
The fact about Jack was his passion. As Chair of the Education and Skills Committee and then the Children, Schools and Families Committee, I have always been passionate about children’s issues, and he was passionate about families and children. He once said to me, “Barry, if you are a Member of Parliament and you care about the job, you cannot bear to think of a child in your constituency going to bed tonight with nothing in their tummy.” He was compassionate, he was funny and he was wise. I was with him and John Smith one night when we raised a glass of champagne and said, “Nothing but the best is good enough for the workers.” Jack, we love you, miss you and will work to be even better than we are because of you.
I first met Jack when I was a young researcher working for the then MP Oona King and he was at the Transport and General Workers Union. She had secured a private Member’s Bill to ensure that cowboy contractors did not do shoddy work in council homes or treat their staff badly, but she was double-booked for a meeting with senior officials—that was not uncommon for her—and I was terrified, because she said that I had to sit in and work out what the Bill should contain. She said, “Don’t worry—Jack Dromey will be there. Let him do the talking,” and of course what happened was that Jack mobilised the business community and trade unions and got the Government to support our Bill. Despite its not getting through, the Government supported the measures, and Oona, Jack and others managed to change many thousands of people’s lives by improving the work done in council homes. That legacy continues up and down the country, including in my constituency. I often look at those blocks of flats and think, “If Jack and others hadn’t done that work, people’s lives would have been much worse.”
When I arrived in Parliament, Jack was always there, as others have said, providing constant encouragement. Even when I was going through very tumultuous times in my constituency and in managing the politics there, he would have very encouraging words, constantly giving me confidence and constantly supporting me whenever I needed it.
In his last speech in Westminster Hall, which I had the privilege of chairing, he said that
“the bravery of our service personnel and Government officials who stayed on the ground in Kabul, at great personal risk during Operation Pitting, represented the very best of Britain.”—[Official Report, 6 January 2022; Vol. 706, c. 129WH.]
He told the Government how important it was to act to protect Afghani people for what they did.
Jack represented the best of British—the best of our country—and he is greatly missed by all of us. He was family to me, and I know to all of us across this House and in his constituency. My thoughts are with the Mother of the House and the family. Jack will be greatly missed, but he will always live in our memories and in what we go on to do. That is his legacy.
Jack Dromey had a fierce heart for justice, and combined with his inherent kindness and decency, he was able to achieve so much for so many, and we have heard much about that today.
First, I want to pay tribute to Jack on behalf of my constituents. When Jack was not in Birmingham, Erdington, his home was in Dulwich and West Norwood. He and the Mother of the House are familiar figures in our community, valued and faithful supporters of our local independent businesses, kind and generous neighbours, and friends to so many. A few weeks before Christmas, I spotted from my car the lovely scene of a pair of grandparents taking a grandchild for a walk, before realising some moments later that this was Jack and the Mother of the House. Since Jack’s untimely death, so many of my constituents have expressed their shock and sorrow, and have told me how much they will miss Jack.
Secondly, and briefly, I want to pay tribute to Jack as a tireless champion of early years education, and maintained nursery schools in particular. Jack understood the transformative impact that high-quality early years education can have on reducing inequality and disadvantage, and he understood that every child, no matter their background, deserved the best. As the recently appointed shadow Minister for children and early years, I have spent the last few weeks meeting people who work with small children, and so many have mentioned Jack’s powerful advocacy for their profession and how much he will be missed.
Jack was a friend to all of us, especially to colleagues with less experience, to whom he offered support, a listening ear and, always, wise counsel. Jack is irreplaceable, most of all to his family and to the Mother of the House, for whom there is so much love in my constituency of Dulwich and West Norwood and across the wider Lambeth and Southwark Labour family.
I think we all thought that Jack would always be here because the whole of his life was devoted to being there for others—the workers he represented, the constituents he was so proud to serve and the family he loved. I simply want to say that it was such a privilege to be at his funeral on Monday. As we have heard, his children spoke so beautifully about their father, with so much love and joy, and I am absolutely certain that he was looking down on them from on high, bursting with pride. Amid the laughter and the smiles, and the tears and the stories, there was a moment in the service when a shaft of sunlight came through the window and illuminated the nave, and I like to think that it was illuminating also the essential truth about Jack’s life. Although it was cut short, he used every single day that he had in trying to build a better world—oh, what an example for the rest of us to follow!
I am now going to bring in the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). May I just say, Harriet, that this shows how the House can be at its best, and that it is at its best because of the love for you, Jack and your family?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. On behalf of myself and my family, I warmly thank all hon. Members who have spoken today. I say to everyone from all the around the country who has sent us cards, emails, texts, tweets, and who have posted on Facebook, that the memories they have shared with us, and the respect that they have shown for Jack, have given so much comfort to me and his beloved family as we face the total shock of his sudden death from heart failure just three weeks ago.
Jack hated inequality and oppression, and his life’s work was a steadfast focus on supporting those who were fighting against it. His roots in the Irish working-class immigrant community, his solidarity with black and Asian people fighting against inequality, and his respect for middle-class people who, though not suffering hardship themselves, wanted to work to end it for others, made him the polar opposite of the culture wars and the living embodiment of the coalition that is the Labour party. He spoke up for people and they heard him, and that made them stronger, whether they were those he worked with or those he had never met.
Much has rightly been said about Jack’s support for me in my work. It was phenomenal and it was unswerving. But it was not just because I was his wife; it was a matter of principle. Jack believed that men should support and respect women, and he detested men who he saw holding their wives back in their own self-interest.
For all of us who received it, Jack’s support was a super-power. It made us all walk taller; it made us all feel stronger. We will so miss him. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your tribute, for your kindness to me and to his family, and for allowing us this time today to pay tribute to Jack.