John Hurst: Politician who championed local health services and fought the sale of council housing

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The Independent Online

John Hurst was a passionate campaigner for the NHS, civil liberties and public housing. Born in Redcar, Yorkshire in 1941, he moved in his teens to East Ham in London, where his father held a senior position at Beckton gas works. From the local grammar school he went to Hull University to study maths and physics.

On graduation, in 1962, he was recruited by Montague Burton, then one of the world's largest clothing firms, in Leeds, as a computer programmer. From there he moved to International Computers Ltd (ICL) which was formed in 1968 as a part of the Industrial Expansion Act of the Wilson Labour Government. ICL was an initiative of Tony Benn, the Minister of Technology, with the intention of creating a British computer industry that could compete with leading world manufacturers like IBM.

Hurst was soon sent to Moscow and other points east to put on training courses. These visits reinforced his negative views on the Soviet version of "Socialism". However, by then he had long been committed to Democratic Socialism of the Labour variety. This included anti-colonialism, and he devoted much of his free time to the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Although disappointed with recent events in Zimbabwe he remained deeply devoted to Nelson Mandela.

In 1970, Hurst joined British Rail, partly because of a lifelong fascination with the railways and partly because he felt he would be working for a great public sector institution. Starting in BR's computer division, he later moved on to management. In the 1980s he was a senior manager at the headquarters of what was still a publicly-owned industry, reporting to a director appointed by a Thatcher cabinet minister.

Increasingly he felt at odds with government-imposed policies as one industry after another was privatised and it seemed only a matter of time before it was the turn of BR. He later wrote of this period, "Coming to work became a miserable experience, surrounded as one was by crude self-seeking, a lack of concern for the general good, chronic fear, no solidarity, inclusiveness or fellowship and a cackling contempt for the weak."

At 46, he was "persuaded" to take early retirement. He then worked as a consultant for the Post Office and other bodies and developed his political and intellectual interests, among which was Jungian psychology. He graduated with an MA from Essex University and was working on a PhD at Lincoln University. Apart from public issues he was a cricket devotee and lover of classical music.

Through BR Hurst had moved to Grantham in the early 1970s, and for him this Conservative-dominated town represented a challenge. He was elected to South Kesteven District Council and to the Lincolnshire County Council and was deeply disappointed when defeated, after many years of membership, first in the District Council Elections in June 2007 and then in the subsequent County Council Elections in 2009. He felt that these losses were the result of government unpopularity rather than a verdict on local Labour politicians. A notable aspect of his years as a councillor was his part in the fight to keep services at Grantham Hospital. He also campaigned against the sale of council housing. He was well-known in Labour circles up and down the country and the local MP, Quentin Davies, said of him, "No one who knew him could have failed to be struck by the genuineness and selflessness of his devotion to the community".

Hurst died suddenly at home, where he was found by his Iranian-born wife.

David Childs

John Hurst, born: Redcar, Yorkshire 2 October 1941; married Fereshteh (two sons); died Grantham 5 December 2009.