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Tribute to Lord Rosser – by Baroness Smith

Lord Richard Rosser: 5 October 1944 – 10 April 2024 | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

4 min read

A former trade union general secretary, local magistrate and shadow minister, Richard Rosser was dedicated to improving the lives of working people. A true gentleman, quick witted and great company, no one ever had a bad word to say about him

Richard Rosser had a rare political gift. Despite being a formidable and tough parliamentary performer, with strong political views, no-one ever had a bad word to say about him. The many tributes to Richard from across the political divide – including the Lord Speaker, Lord True; Keir Starmer at PMQs, and the FCDO minister Lord Ahmad – reflect the high regard and affection in which he was held.

Such attention would have bemused Richard. A modest man, he never sought the limelight and was the epitome of a dedicated, hard-working public servant motivated by the cause to improve the lives of working people. Never dull, socially his quick wit and a wonderful sense of humour made him great company.

Richard was born in London in 1944, the son of Gordon and Kathleen. Although he left school to work as an industrial relations clerk with London Transport, he later gained an external BSc degree in Economics from the University of London. Within a few years, Richard was identified as a potential management high-flyer, but even in his early 20s his negotiating skills representing London Transport staff for the TSSA were recognised when he took up a full-time union job.

For 38 years, Richard loyally represented his members, rising through the ranks becoming elected general secretary in 1989 – a position he held until 2004. That period coincided with the privatisation of the railway network, during which Richard was pivotal in securing union recognition and terms of services with the various companies that took over from British Rail.

He also served as a Labour councillor in Hillingdon from 1971 to 1978, and as a candidate in the February 1974 general election. Richard’s sound political judgement was effective on Labour’s NEC, where from 1988 to 1999 (latterly in the chair) he helped shepherd through the ongoing reforms of Neil Kinnock, John Smith, and Tony Blair.

Beyond Parliament, Richard’s major interest was non-league football and he took great pride in his role as president of the Isthmian Football League

Having been appointed to the Lords in 2004, Richard initially served on committees whilst away from Parliament he continued in roles at the Prison and Probation Service Management Board, the National Offender Management Service and as a local magistrate.

After the 2010 election, Richard joined our whips office, and within a year was a shadow minister in not one nor two, but three frontbench teams: transport and home office (right through to 2023) and defence (until 2015). In all those roles, he personified precision scrutiny at its best. A naturally mild-mannered man, he could be a terrier at the Despatch Box and woe betide any unprepared minister. But though tough, he was never personally unpleasant, so even beleaguered ministers rarely took offence.

Beyond Parliament, Richard’s major interest was non-league football and he took great pride in his role as president of the Isthmian Football League. My local team is in that league, and for one game, Richard came for lunch beforehand – kitted out in his official blazer and tie. Last weekend, the Isthmian paid its own tribute, with players wearing black armbands and observing a minute’s silence prior to kick off.

During one of my last phone calls with him, Richard quite seriously said – in own inimitable, self-deprecating way – that he didn’t think anyone in the Lords would have noticed him not being around. I laughed as I explained just how many colleagues wanted me to relay their best wishes.

We all miss Richard dearly. He was a true gentleman, passionate about his politics and football, generous with colleagues and opponents alike, and decent to the core. Our thoughts are with Sheena, to whom he was married for over five decades, their children and grandchildren.

Baroness Smith of Basildon is a Labour peer and Shadow Leader of the House of Lords

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