Jim Marshall

Labour MP who made Leicester South one of the party's safest seats
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The Independent Online

James Marshall, politician: born Sheffield 13 March 1941; MP (Labour) for Leicester South 1974-83, 1987-2004; an Assistant Government Whip 1977-79; married 1962 Shirley Ellis (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1986 Susan Carter; died Leicester 27 May 2004.

The shock at the news of his death at 63 and the headlines it received in Leicester would have amused Jim Marshall. The Member for Leicester South for 26 years shunned publicity. But it was his particular brand of grass-roots politics that turned this once weather-vane East Midlands seat, which passed from Labour to Conservative with the changing government of the day, into one of the safest Labour seats in Britain.

James Marshall, politician: born Sheffield 13 March 1941; MP (Labour) for Leicester South 1974-83, 1987-2004; an Assistant Government Whip 1977-79; married 1962 Shirley Ellis (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1986 Susan Carter; died Leicester 27 May 2004.

The shock at the news of his death at 63 and the headlines it received in Leicester would have amused Jim Marshall. The Member for Leicester South for 26 years shunned publicity. But it was his particular brand of grass-roots politics that turned this once weather-vane East Midlands seat, which passed from Labour to Conservative with the changing government of the day, into one of the safest Labour seats in Britain.

He was honest, straightforward and a committed socialist with a passion for the underdog and a record in local government that made him an ideal representative in Parliament. It is rare for anyone in politics to be around for more than a third of a century and not make enemies, but it would be difficult to find anyone being unkind about Marshall. Few could have recovered from the shock of losing a parliamentary seat by just seven votes to re-emerge four years later with a majority in four figures, having spent the intervening time re- engaging with his former constituents and working on a market stall in Leicester city centre.

By the time of his death, the seat he represented had changed out of all recognition since 1974. Leicester South is a tale of two cities: the urban, inner-city area of Spinney Hill and Wycliffe and the leafy suburbs of the Knightons and Aylestone. Marshall formed a bond with constituents. It was through his intervention that the Muslim community was able to have a strong and confident role in the life of the city.

His support for them and their various community issues was unwavering and his principled stands were rewarded with genuine affection and votes in parliamentary elections. Although thousands deserted Labour at the city council election in 2003, primarily over the Iraq war - which Marshall voted against - there was little doubt that they would have returned to the Labour fold at the next general election, which Marshall had indicated would be his last.

Jim Marshall was born in 1941 and educated at Sheffield City Grammar School before reading Engineering at Leeds University, and gaining a PhD there in 1968. He first worked as a research scientist for the Wool Industries Research Association. He became interested in politics in Leeds and, at 24, was elected as a city councillor. He later moved to Leicester and worked as a Polytechnic lecturer, contesting the safe Tory seat of Harborough in 1970 and then Leicester South in the February election of 1974. He resumed his municipal career as a councillor of Leicester City Council from 1972 to 1976, becoming its leader in 1974 just before his first election to the Commons in the October general election.

From his election he was a popular figure, acquiring friends among trade-union MPs. He served in the Whips Office from 1977 until the Callaghan government was defeated in 1979, and was known for his light touch.

Shortly after the election he was promoted to the Opposition front bench by Neil Kinnock. He served as spokesman on Home Affairs in 1982-83, returning in 1988 for a four-year stint as Northern Ireland spokesman. When Labour was returned to government in 1997 he served in three select committees: European Legislation 1997-98, and again from 1999 to 2001, and as a member of the European Scrutiny Committee from 1998. His interest in European affairs prompted him to stand for the East Midlands seat on the delegation of the Council of Europe and Western European Union, to which he was elected by his colleagues unopposed.

Having spent 14 of his 26 years in Parliament in opposition he took no pleasure in voting against the Labour government. However, as a politician of high principle he was prepared to defy the party whips on a number of occasions. Discussions with the whips on these issues, even for a former whip, were considered out of the question. He would not be persuaded to change his mind.

He was without question a constituency MP first and foremost. At the time of his death he was spearheading a campaign to stop the closure of four post offices in Leicester South. He was also making it very clear to senior figures in the Government that more attention should be given to the Middle East and the concerns of the Muslim community.

Keith Vaz

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