Kevin Hughes

NUM-sponsored MP
Click to follow

Kevin Michael Hughes, mineworker and politician: born Doncaster, Yorkshire 15 December 1952; MP (Labour) for Doncaster North 1992-2005; Government Whip 1997-2001; married 1972 Lynda Saunders (one son, one daughter); died Doncaster 16 July 2006.

The once-mighty National Union of Mineworkers in the post-war years until 1964 had some 40 NUM-sponsored MPs. Today, at the time of the death of Kevin Hughes, the NUM-sponsored MP for Doncaster North from 1992 to 2005, their number has dwindled to six.

I sat in front of Hughes, on the opposition benches, on 11 May 1992, and vividly recollect his moving peroration:

"There is deep resentment and bitterness among many of my constituents at the proposed privatisation of the coal mines. Many were jubilant when the coal industry was nationalised in 1947. Men who gave their lives to the industry will be deeply saddened and its privatisation will be a bitter blow. My constituency used to have six pits but now there are only two. Many thousands have lost their jobs in mining and in connected industries in the past few years and they fear that privatisation will wipe out mining in Doncaster . . . That would . . . sterilise one of the country's greatest assets, its massive coal reserves, and throw on the scrapheap our experienced and professional miners. It would be foolhardy and economic madness to close our mines and then import coal."

Kevin Hughes was born in 1952 into a mining family, some of whose antecedents had migrated from Ireland to Yorkshire to find work in the mines, at the turn of the 20th century. When he went underground at 18, Hughes's natural leadership qualities were spotted both by his fellow colliers at the huge Brodsworth pit, who elected him to minor posts in his early twenties, and ultimately to the important position of branch delegate at the age of 29. They were also spotted by the Sheffield University politics lecturer and later Professor of Social History at Warwick, who nurtured so many future Labour and trade union leaders, Royden Harrison.

Harrison believed that education for all was necessary to the exploitation of possibilities for the political and social advance of Labour. A Michael Foot of lecturing, he pioneered day-release courses for Derbyshire and Yorkshire miners. Hughes was one of those who benefited.

The Yorkshire area was the epicentre of the 1984 miners' strike, and the Doncaster area was a centre of Yorkshire activity; it was Arthur Scargill's stamping ground. But Hughes was not one of the "hotheads", and said later that he had been profoundly unhappy at the way things had got "out of hand" at Orgreave. "I am not an uncritical fan of Arthur," he said,

though I shall always think that he and we were right to predict the demise of the coal industry, if Mr Ian McGregor [the National Coal Board chairman] and the government of Mrs Thatcher were to get their way.

It was partly because of the sound judgement that he had displayed that Hughes was supported for a place in the Doncaster Borough Council in 1986 and only a year later was elected Chairman of its Social Services Committee.

When I was the guest speaker at one of a large series of Labour Party suppers, it was clear that Hughes was not only the guiding hand behind the organisation of the meetings, but he was the anointed and preferred successor of Mick Welsh, MP for Doncaster North.

Elected in April 1992 with 34,135 votes, to the Conservative Robin Light's 14,322 and the Liberal Steven Whiting's 6,787, Hughes championed the cause of community care. Caring for the elderly and disabled at home should not be a cheap option. Hughes would say that it was the duty of a Labour government to restore self-respect to local government councillors and personnel in Britain.

After only four years in the Commons, Hughes was promoted to being an Opposition Whip in 1996, metamorphosing into a Government Whip in 1997, responsible for the Yorkshire region MPs. In 2001, for reasons which I have never been able to fathom, Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, virtually cleared out the Whips Office, and Hughes lost his position. He showed no bitterness - on the contrary, his was a formidable voice at Parliamentary Party meetings for the government loyalist cause, and he was bitterly critical of me and other dissenters who, he thought, were splitting the government party over Iraq, foundation hospitals, and tuition fees. In his view we should be displaying rather more trade union-like discipline.

Five years ago, Hughes was asked by the Speaker to become a member of the Speakers' Panel, which involves the chairing of Standing Committees. He had the makings of a very effective Chairman, and possible Deputy Speaker, before his life was cut short by motor neurone disease.

Tam Dalyell