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Tribute to Ronnie Campbell

Ronnie Campbell: 14 August 1943 – 23 February 2024 | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

3 min read

An MP for 32 years until he retired in 2019, Ronnie Campbell never ceased working to better the lives of working-class people in his constituency. An inspirational man with a distinctive sense of humour, he was a source of great support to me – and many others

On the 23 February 2024 my dear friend and colleague Ronnie Campbell died. We worked together for over 40 years, first in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), then in local politics and in Parliament. Over those four decades he was always a source of great support and friendship for me and many others.

Ronnie was chair of the NUM branch at Bates Colliery in Northumberland when we first became acquainted. He was elected chair in 1982, having worked as a miner from the age of 14. I was a young miner in the 1980s and it was then that I first observed Ronnie’s inspirational principles and sincere affection for his community – attributes that never diminished over the years that followed.

It is especially pertinent that Ronnie should die during the year that marks the 40th anniversary of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, to which he gave such unwavering support. He was an outstanding champion of the Labour movement and his commitment to serving his members and the people of Northumberland was immense.

Ronnie was a local councillor for 18 years, representing his beloved town of Blyth. He worked tirelessly as an advocate for the Blyth Valley, something he continued to do following his election to Parliament in 1987.

In his first parliamentary election campaign he set out some of his many priorities, including extra nursery places, support for young people and women, and the restoration of trade union rights. During his time in the House of Commons he never ceased working to better the lives of working-class people in his constituency and throughout all of the United Kingdom. He did so using a brilliant, if sometimes unconventional, approach that few of us who worked with him will ever forget.

Ronnie had a wonderful laugh and always found strength in humour, even during the darkest times

I was lucky enough to join Ronnie in Parliament in 2010 and soon found myself sitting next to him and his good friend Dennis Skinner. Ronnie brought a unique presence and a distinctive sense of humour to Parliament. He rarely allowed tradition to stand in his way. It was not uncommon for him to suffer the wrath of the Speaker as a result of his comic interventions, which sometimes I confess were the result of my mischievous encouragements.

But of course Ronnie was a serious politician with serious ambitions for his people. Whether it was for local campaigns such as the restoration of local rail passenger services, or national ones such as opposition to the Poll Tax, he was always at the forefront. As an MP he was especially committed to fighting for the investment and training needed to bring new high technology industries into Blyth. His campaigning zeal often had an international dimension. On one famous occasion in 1990 he joined a secret mission by MPs to meet Saddam Hussein because he felt the need to do everything possible to seek the freedom of one man from his constituency being held hostage.

During his time as an MP, and after he retired, Ronnie was always happiest being with his people. Whether it was at Croft Park watching his team Blyth Spartans, or on a picket line, his love of his people was always there to be seen. As was his intense love for his wife Deirdre and his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Ronnie had a wonderful laugh and always found strength in humour, even during the darkest times. I cherished our friendship and, like so many others, will never forget him.

Ian Lavery is Labour MP for Wansbeck

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