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Tribute to Lord Haworth by Lord Smith

Lord Haworth: 26 April 1948 – 28 August 2023 | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

Lord Smith of Finsbury

Lord Smith of Finsbury

4 min read

A no-nonsense Lancastrian and former secretary to the PLP, Lord Haworth had a passion for his party and for the mountains of Scotland. Warm, witty and stubborn, he was also the most loyal of friends

I first came to know Alan when I was a newly-elected Labour MP in 1983 and he was working in the Parliamentary Labour Party’s (PLP) offices in the old cloisters. He went on to great things, becoming secretary to the PLP in 1992 – helping to steer the shadow cabinet towards the stunning election victory of 1997 – and then joining the House of Lords in 2004. Alan was from Blackburn, and he had a no-nonsense Lancashire voice and attitude to life that served him well through the Labour Party’s turbulent years of the 80s. He was understated but stubborn in his dedication to the party and its success – and he was the most loyal of friends. Warm, witty, generous-hearted; and yes, occasionally curmudgeonly too. He seemed to be almost indestructible; and his loss – from bacterial pneumonia followed by a heart attack, whilst on holiday in Iceland with his wife Maggie – is so hard to bear.

When we met, we rapidly discovered that we had a shared love of mountains and mountaineering, and especially of the hills of Scotland. It was no accident that Alan chose as his baronial title the area of Fisherfield in the north-west of Scotland – the last great wilderness in the country, a landscape of remote mountains and lochs with no roads or habitations for miles. He revelled in the remoteness and the challenge. He had climbed all the “Munro” mountains (over 3,000 feet in height) in Scotland; and being Alan, he had not only to accomplish all the Munro summits (which is the norm for most of us) but he had to get to all the subsidiary tops too.

He had climbed all the 'Munro' mountains in Scotland

And being Alan, and a lover of history, his completion of the summits had to be done, in 2001, 100 years to the day since the Reverend A E Robertson had become the first ever to do so; and then his completion of the subsidiary tops, in 2023, had to be done 100 years to the day since the Reverend Ronnie Burn had become the first ever to reach all the tops. It is surely fitting that Alan succeeded in this quest for the tops and managed the 100-year deadline, just a few weeks before he died. In the last few years his pace on the hills had slowed, but he was determined to succeed in the aims he had set himself. His grit won through.

Alan didn’t only look to Scotland to fulfil his passion for walking. He formed and led a group called the Radical Ramblers, who week by week tackled stages of the South Downs Way or the Essex Coastal Path or the Round-London ring route. His missives to the Radical Ramblers outlining prospective walks were thorough, detailed, self-deprecating, and full of fun.

His love of history led him also to write about the early years of the Labour Party. He co-authored with fellow peer Dianne Hayter a book on the first 29 Labour MPs, elected in 1906, Men Who Made Labour, and it’s a fascinating picture of the pioneering first years of Labour. As secretary to the PLP, Alan also had the sad task of writing the official obituaries for current and former Labour MPs. He brought all of his historical enthusiasm to the job, even though he deeply regretted each such occasion.

A passion for Labour and for the mountains. Enormous dedication. Fierce loyalty. An intense eye for detail. Stubborn beyond expectation. And an immense gift for friendship. These are the qualities that we will forever remember, and hug close. We’ll miss him.

Lord Smith of Finsbury is a non-affiliated peer

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