Harry Harpham was an authentic MP who will be sorely missed
Former Home Secretary Lord Blunkett reflects on the sudden death last week of Harry Harpham MP, his parliamentary successor in Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, who was also his Parliamentary Agent for many years.
Harry (who was actually christened Robert) who became a close friend of mine, was one of those politicians who could genuinely be described as ‘authentic’ in terms of background.
Commentators and pundits alike, always talk about the need for Members of Parliament to reflect the background of those they represent, and to have a different outlook to those who have come through what are described as the ‘usual routes’ into the House of Commons.
Harry was one of those Members of Parliament.
At the age of 18 he worked as a miner in a deep mine pit in Nottinghamshire. The significance of this became apparent when the major split took place in the National Union of Mine Workers back in the strike of 1984. Nottinghamshire saw a large number of those working in the pits joining the alternative union, the UDM. Harry was one of those who stuck with the NUM and was on the picket line at a time when family members were at loggerheads with each other, communities were split and lifelong friendships were broken.
That rested with him all his life. Even at the time of Margaret Thatcher’s death I had to remind him as gently as possible as a friend, that the world had moved on.
But of course, Harry had as well. Going to the Northern College (an adult residential college located between Sheffield and Barnsley) he then made his way to the University of Sheffield where he studied politics.
As a City Councillor (rising to be Deputy Leader) with a very special interest in housing, Harry made his name within the City of Sheffield but not just for his public work. Harry was respected for being both loyal (he was my Parliamentary agent for the Brightside and Hillsborough constituency for many years) but also hard headed and practical.
Living as he did in one of the more disadvantaged parts of the constituency, and having assisted at the regular advice surgery, he had no illusions about the challenge of entering the House of Commons.
A tragedy indeed therefore that he had only 9 months to make his presence felt, to bring that grit and determination to the benches of Labour in Opposition from May 2015. In that time however, he demonstrated not only his ability to put across the case for the people he cared about but also the incredible bravery of keeping going to the very end knowing for months before, that he had terminal cancer. He will be sorely missed.