Obituary: Ian Mikardo

MAY we add a few words to the obituary of Ian Mikardo (by Tam Dalyell, 7 April)? write Doris E. Thomas and Winifred M. Darter.

For keen but inexperienced young socialists, coming to Reading in the mid-1940s, Mik's monthly meetings were a must. At first we were not unduly impressed. No overwhelming charm of manner or appearance, a harsh, somewhat adenoidal voice, and yet, within minutes he had won our respect and, soon after, even a grudging affection.

Whatever the topic - the National Health Service, education, social deprivation, nationalisation or socialism itself - he inspired others. He knew where he was going and we wanted to go with him. When we sang 'The Red Flag' together, it had real meaning. Preaching to the converted maybe - but each month he would renew the enthusiasm, that kept us trudging the streets, selling the local Labour Party monthly the Reading Citizen, arguing and persuading people on their doorsteps and dispensing with sleep at election time.

For pure enjoyment we would listen to him dealing with hecklers. With a few pithy words he would send Tory infiltrators scuttling shamefacedly towards the door. Perhaps his own favourite was when he floored a provocateur who yelled 'What about Ernie Bevin?' by asking, 'Well, wot about 'im?' There was no response.

But above all Mik had that rarest of qualities among professional politicians - integrity. Not for him expediency. He was always a socialist, and nothing was allowed to compromise his principles. When the two Reading MPs were lambasted by the media for signing the first, pre-CND, 'Ban the Bomb' petition, his fellow MP immediately withdrew his signature, claiming that he had been tricked into it. Not so Mik; he regarded nuclear weapons as evil, and was never afraid to say so. When his close colleague and, till then, fellow socialist Aneurin Bevan made his famous 'to the conference table naked' speech, when he ratted on CND, Ian Mikardo stuck to his guns.