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Jack Dromey Tribute: Birmingham has lost our greatest campaigner, and a first among equals

Jack Dromey MP (centre) with the Save our Schools campaign about underfunding in schools in Parliament Square, October 2018 [Photo credit: Ian Davidson/Alamy Live News]

4 min read

Jack Dromey, 29 September 1948 – 7 January 2022. MP for Birmingham Erdington since 2010.

Jack Dromey was quite simply the greatest campaigner most of us have ever worked with. From his very first sit-ins to helping marshall the votes for Harriet's bid to become Commons Speaker, Jack was not simply a founder member of the feminist husband's caucus, his life was a crusade for decency pursued quite literally right into the final hours of his life.

In Birmingham we are stunned. We thought because Jack was invincible, he was indestructible. We are struggling to comprehend our loss. Britain's second city has lost our leading citizen, our first among equals.

Born into an Irish family, Jack never lost sight of where he was from and who he was fighting for. He grew up as one of an extraordinary generation of second-generation Irish kids in west London: tough and smart, battlers for a better world, infused with Catholic social theory, with an innate love of stories, a gift for eloquence, a rage at injustice and a streak of empathy as wide as the Liffey. They weren’t so much lovers or fighters but fighters for love. And Jack knew how to fight. No one could count the causes he championed: they are innumerable.

In Birmingham alone he fought for factories, and against dodgy landlords. He championed road safety, and nursery schools – the jewel in the crown of our education service. He fought consistently for more police. He battled for the real living wage, a campaign he helped found. He championed the NHS and the plight of nurses on the front line. He organised the argument for a proper manufacturing strategy. He was an election organiser like none other. His 'to do' lists were the stuff of legend. And this was all in the last couple of months alone.

Jack knew better than anyone that power had to be contested and won if it is to be wielded for some good, whether that good was big or small

Jack's memory for stories was legendary and whenever he could, he created the stage for 'real people, real stories' – because he knew the power of ordinary words from real life to win hearts and minds. His patience in listening was infinite which made him an extraordinary broker of peace in any dispute, a treasured skill in union negotiations and the trials and tribulations of the Labour family. He could pour infinite quantities of oil on troubled waters. He was a coalition builder par excellence reaching across political divides to find a common cause.

He knew a picture could speak a thousand words, hence all of us have thousands of pictures together with him captured on the front lines of politics: outside 10 Downing Street, in the committee rooms of Parliament, in the Chamber, on marches, picket lines, demonstrations: election counts and on doorsteps. In other words, all the places where politics is shaped and power contested. Because Jack knew better than anyone that power had to be contested and won if it is to be wielded for some good, whether that good was big or small.

Jack was forged in the heat of the union movement. He was taught and inspired by the great leaders of the Transport and General Workers Union like Jack Jones whose memory he would invoke every week. But Jack knew too that a democracy needs democrats; the working men and women who struggle for change whether that is in politics or in the workplace. Jack knew that the good people who fight these fights need nurture, love, support, words of comfort, advice, encouragement and praise. Everyone who worked with Jack was the recipient of that encouragement lavished on us like a balm for the soul. On a long march, Jack knew how to put fuel in people's tank to keep them going. I would never and could never have stood for mayor of the West Midlands without him as my campaign chair. Indeed I wouldn't have done it all if he hadn't pushed me so hard.

We have lost a legend. But Jack’s legend will live on in the countless lives that he changed for the better.

Liam Byrne is Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill

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