Gordon Bagier: Politician who championed railways in thebattle against road transport

 

One of the reasons for the decline in the authority and public esteem of the House of Commons is that so many of the new entrants have done little in their lives other than politics, or activities closely allied to it. In 1964, when he beat Paul Williams in the marginal seat of Sunderland South, a victory that won him the epithet "The Hero of Sunderland" in the local press, Gordon Bagier brought a wealth of experience, first as a wartime Royal Marine, then two decades of promotion to ever-more responsible jobs on the railways.

Gordon Bagier was a proud Geordie, though in footballing terms he was a fan of Sunderland FC. Peter Snape, who shared an office for many years with his fellow railwayman, recalled that in 1973, when they reached the FA Cup final and famously beat Leeds United, he, George Grant and Bernard Conlon bedecked the Strangers Bar at the Commons with Sunderland scarves.

Bagier had followed his father and joined the railways as an apprentice. In 1941 he volunteered for the Royal Marines; assigned to HMS Belfast, he arrived in the Far East shortly after the fall of Singapore. He told me he became interested in politics when he witnessed the poverty and inequalities in India and Ceylon, as Sri Lanka then was.

On one of the visits, in which I participated, to a UK Defence Establishment, as a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party Defence Group, one of my colleagues laughed, "Gordon, you are always so immaculately turned out!" to which he replied, "Once a Royal Marine, always a Royal Marine." His military service imbued him with the self-discipline and sense of self-organisation common to army MPs; his office was never a mess, and, whereas most MPs become casual about punctuality, if ever Bagier was not on time, there were excellent reasons.

On his return to the railways his abilities saw him fast-tracked to Signals Inspector. Service on the councils of Keighley and Sowerby Bridge, and the presidency of the Yorkshire area of the National Union of Railwaymen, brought him to the attention of Sid Greene and Sid Weighell, NUR branch secretaries who fixed union support for his nomination for Sunderland South. His narrow victory was one of the Labour gains which sent Harold Wilson to Downing Street with a majority of five in 1964.

An early campaign was for better co-ordination between different forms of transport. He wanted the government to encourage local authorities to develop land next to railway stations for bus stations or car parks. Linking car parks to public transport now seems like ancient wisdom; it was not so obvious in 1965. It helped that a newcomer to Parliament, but familiar to many MPs as Yorkshire president of the NUR, so obviously knew what he was talking about.

Bagier's technical expertise was put to constructive use. In March 1965 he asked Tom Fraser, the Minister of Transport, if he would give a general direction to the railways to provide adequate numbers of high-capacity wagons to transport large steel plates from steel mills, in order to conform with the production requirements of shipyards in the North-East. Fraser answered, "No". It was characteristic of Bagier's seriousness of purpose that the following day he should say in the House, "In view of Mr Fraser's not very helpful reply, would the Minister at the Board of Trade, Roy Mason, take an interest in the matter?"

Mason replied that Lloyd's List and Shipping Gazette reported that there had been an improvement in steel supplies, particularly to the Wear. "This is no doubt," he added, "due to my friend's energy and activity." Mason was right – Bagier was a most energetic and active operator in any cause.

It looked as if he was destined for the Front Bench in 1967 when Roy Jenkins chose him as his PPS at the Home Office, but when Jenkins became Chancellor Bagier accepted James Callaghan's invitation to remain at the Home Office. I asked the great Permanent Secretary there, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, why Bagier subsequently left. He replied, "Because Mr Callaghan expected his PPS to devote his entire parliamentary life to the tasks he needed done as a senior cabinet minister." Bagier was not prepared to sacrifice his personal and political life to the demands of the Home Secretary, but he thus sacrificed the ministerial career which Callaghan always delivered for his protégés.

In the mid-1970s, Bagier campaigned with success for grant aid for the Tyne and Wear Metro. I know at first hand the amount of hard grind – he was a shrewd behind-the- scenes MP – which Bagier invested in getting agreement. Peter Snape recalled that Bagier led a crucial delegation to Tony Crosland as Environment Secretary at a time when the government was proposing to cut railway subsidies on the basis that they only helped relatively prosperous middle-class commuters in the south of England. "Come and tell that to the crowds milling around Tyneside stations at rush hour," Bagier replied. The cutting of subsidies did not take place.

He thought highly of the British Rail chairman Peter Parker, who regarded him as a valuable ally in the battle of rail versus road. In particular, he wanted the major movers of freight in Britain to utilise the rail system more fully.

Bagier's later years were mainly devoted to the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. However, he unwisely accepted hospitality from the Greek Colonels, which damaged his standing in the Party. When I asked him gently, as my friend who had arranged for me to be an NUR-sponsored MP, about his Greek associations, he was unrepentant. "I was a marine, and I understand the military psyche," he said. "The Colonels were not all bad for Greece."

An increasingly uneasy relationship with his constituency Party, but not with his constituents, who rightly perceived him to be a caring and effective MP, persuaded him to make way for Chris Mullin at the 1987 election. In retirement he supported a number of worthwhile causes. His daughter Jill Fletcher was elected as a Labour councillor for Washington North in 2006.

Tam Dalyell

Gordon Alexander Thomas Bagier, railwayman and politician: born Newcastle upon Tyne 7 July 1924; MP for Sunderland South 1964–87; PPS to Home Secretary 1968–69; Chairman, Select Committee on Transport 1985–87; married 1949 Violet Sinclair (two sons, two daughters); died 8 April 2012.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor