Updated: Friday, 18th May 2018 @ 4:27pm

'Oldham has lost a political giant': Britain reacts to death of 'great' Michael Meacher

'Oldham has lost a political giant': Britain reacts to death of 'great' Michael Meacher

| By James Dawson

Political figures from Greater Manchester and beyond have responded with sadness to the death of Michael Meacher MP, describing him as a ‘quintessential gentleman’ who made a ‘significant contribution to national and international politics’.

The Labour politician, who served as MP for Oldham West and Royton for the last 45 years, passed away today aged 75, after what has been described as a ‘short illness.’

An outspoken critic of the government, Meacher had until recently written regular blogs for his website criticising the Government’s austerity programme and was one of 48 MPs to defy Labour the whip and vote against the recent Welfare Bill.

Mr Meacher was also one of 36 Labour MPs to nominate Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election and described his victory as ‘a seminal day in British politics, marking the coming together of the two great conditions needed for transformational change’.

Paying tribute to his former supporter, Corbyn said that Meacher – whom he first met in the early 1970s – ‘exemplified the very best socialist and labour traditions of this country’.

“From the first day we met I was impressed by his commitment to social justice, his knowledge of inequality, and his practical approach to Social Security law,” the opposition leader said.

“The 1970s were a time of fervent political debate and Michael was at the heart of that and later, as a long serving member of Labour's National Executive, played a huge role in debates about party democracy and the economy. 

“He worked with Tony Benn and others from the Cambridge School of Economics on how an interventionist investment led economy could protect and develop manufacturing industry in Britain, as well as jobs and skills.

“His insight into economic issues was later demonstrated in his superb analysis of the nascent banking crisis that struck in 2007-8 and the attempt to introduce an austerity-led solution in Britain. 

“Had Michael’s calls for banking regulation been properly heeded we might have been in a very different place.

“From 1997 Michael was environment minister in the Labour government and was well ahead of his time in his thinking and in his approach, both to issues of climate change and pollution, and to agricultural systems and the sustainability of the natural environment, both in this country and globally. 

“He cut a big figure and was loved by the environmental movement in Britain, and around the world, including those he met at the 2000 Millennium Summit in South Africa.

“Early this year  after the general election Michael was one of those who urged me to stand in the leadership election and gave huge support, both with his nomination, advice and public endorsement of our campaign.  

“He was a valued friend and commentator utterly committed to democracy in our party and movement, as well as in the wider community. 

“His contributions on social justice, equality, environment and economic policy showed a man of enormous breath and intellectual vision.” 

A former cabinet minister, Mr Meacher served as a Junior Minister for Health and then for Trade, between 1974 to 1979, under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, before latterly working as Minister of State for the Environment under Tony Blair between 1997 and 2003.

As Environment Minister, he played a key role in establishing and implementing the Kyoto agreement, where Britain and other countries agreed to tackle global warming by reducing greenhouse gas and carbon omissions.

Mr Meacher also played a prominent role in the shadow cabinet throughout Labour’s period of opposition in the 1980s and 1990s, serving a number of shadow cabinet roles including Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Services and Shadow Secretary of State for Employment.

Labour's Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP was amongst a host of party members to offer tributes to their colleague.

"Michael Meacher dedicated his life to the Labour Party and all that we stand for,” he said.

“He brought issues such as climate change into the party’s agenda years ahead of his time. 

"My sincere condolences go to his family, he will be greatly missed by our movement and by us all."

Former Labour Leader Neil Kinnock, whom Michael served under, said: "Michael was a dedicated democratic socialist who used his great intelligence and huge capacity for hard work to produce thorough analysis and radical answers to social and economic policy challenges, always with the purpose of exposing wrongs and advancing justice.

 “He was also a very honest and courteous man with a lucid and diligent manner that disarmed critics and earned admiration and trust.

 “Despite our serious – sometimes profound – disagreements, Michael's loyalty to me and to the changes we secured in the Labour Party in the 1980's was greatly valued, not least because he showed resilient courage against malicious attacks from sectarians.

 “As a Minister, he demonstrated characteristic mastery of detail and won respect for the quality of his work within the UK Government and more widely, as I saw for myself, among other EU Governments.

“Michael's vigour and youthful appearance gave the impression that he had many productive years before him.

“I am therefore shocked as well as deeply saddened that he has gone, and I offer my sincere sympathy to his loved ones."

Mr Meacher, along with Sir Gerald Kaufman, Kenneth Clarke and Dennis Skinner, was the longest running MP still in service, having served since 1970, retaining his Oldham West and Royton seat with a 14,738 majority at May’s general election.

Tony Lloyd, Greater Manchester’s Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner, paid tribute to ‘a great friend, a great MP and a great politician’.

“Michael Meacher was a close personal friend, someone I have known and worked with for three and a half decade,” he said.

“Socialism is once again fashionable and Michael would never have denied his socialism.

“Michael was known by everyone in his constituency as a great, hard-working MP. He worked for individual families, and the communities of Oldham, Greater Manchester and beyond.

“He and I worked together over the years in parliament, in particular to defend jobs and the skills base at BAe in Chadderton.

“But Michael’s contribution to national and international politics was a significant one.

“Unusually he served in the Callaghan government of the late 1970s and the Blair government in the late 1990s. His work on the environment still lives on.”

A number of political figures who knew Mr Meacher from his work in Oldham also paid their respects, including neighbouring MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, Debbie Abrahams, who said she would ‘miss Michael very much’.

“I’m devastated to hear the news of Michael’s death,” she said.

“Michael was such a kind man and so encouraging and supportive of me both before and after I was elected as MP for Oldham East & Saddleworth. 

"I’m proud to say he was my friend as well as a distinguished Labour party colleague. He was the quintessential gentleman.

“His parliamentary career was exceptional, spanning 45 years, encompassing many varied roles in opposition and in government. But he never wavered in his determination to represent Oldham West, and Royton from 1997, at every opportunity available to him.

“My thoughts are with his family, friends and his constituency office team at this difficult time.”

Oldham Council Leader Jim McMahon said that like many in Oldham he was ‘grieving the loss of a friend’.

He said: “Michael was someone I confided in, trusted and held in great affection. I'll miss him. 

“Oldham has lost a political giant – an extremely popular man who helped countless numbers of people and always got a fantastic reaction on the doorsteps over the 45 years that he served his constituents. 

“On behalf of everyone in the borough I offer our sincerest condolences to his wife, Lucianne, and all his family and friends at this incredibly difficult time.”

A number of members of shadow cabinet from around Greater Manchester also lauded Mr Meacher's contributions to British politics. 

Jonathan Reynolds, Shadow Minister for Transport and MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, said: “'Michael was a distinguished Parliamentarian, a well thought of local MP and a good friend and colleague.

“He cared passionately about creating a fairer society and he dedicated his life to creating it.

“His tenure as Environment Minister, between 1997-2003, was a particular high point. He will be sorely missed and my condolences go to his friends and family”.

Lisa Nandy, Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and MP for Wigan, praised Mr Meacher’s record on climate change.

She said: “It is so sad to hear Michael Meacher has died.

“He was one of the first to see the risks of climate change, a great advocate and a good friend."

Image courtesy of Loughborough University, via Youtube, with thanks