Obituary: Martin Redmond

Martin Redmond never reached the height of office or the length of service achieved by an earlier Don Valley MP, Tom Williams, a notable Minister of Agriculture, but he was his logical successor as a man entering the House straight from the coal industry and the National Union of Mineworkers, a man with the deepest of local roots. That pattern may now and for ever be broken but it was good for Britain that it existed. Parliament and local government need awkward, shrewd, kind and honest men. Redmond could be a one-man awkward squad when he chose.

The deep mines around Doncaster were sunk around the turn of the century and they required a large labour force. People were drawn there from all over Britain. Among them were numbers of Irishmen, including Redmond's family.

He was born in Scawsby, near Doncaster, in 1937 but moved as a boy to Adwick-le-Street and left school at 15, destined for the mine. However, like many young men from the coalfield, he volunteered for the army, becoming a superb driver and a junior NCO before returning to work in the coal industry, where he became active as a union member.

He served as a member of Doncaster Urban District Council before local government reorganisation in 1974, and was elected to Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council in 1975. He soon became prominent there; he could not have been outshone. A tall, well-built man with an eye for style, his neatly trimmed beard made him look like a cross between Henry VIII and Edward VII. This contributed to his popularity and even though much of his industrial service was as a foreman/driver for the National Coal Board, he held the allegiance of the miners in the Doncaster area of the NUM, perhaps the most left-wing of the four Yorkshire areas of those days.

However, whilst Redmond was of the left he was his own man, always possessed of a sense of the practical. As a councillor he gave strong support to the leader of the council, Jim MacFarlane; and when MacFarlane died very suddenly in 1982, Redmond took over. In those days, before the dramatic government budget cuts, Doncaster Council was able to achieve a great deal to improve local conditions. Earlier, as a young teacher, I had taught boys from Denaby Main mining community, boys also destined for the pit, who lived in the crowded streets from which their grandfathers had been evicted in the strikes of the early years of this century. During Redmond's tenure on Doncaster Council, the Denaby Main area was transformed - evidence of his commitment and of his practical approach to council service.

Redmond entered the Commons as Labour MP for Don Valley in 1983. Many members of parliament have local government experience, relatively few of such substantial character. Redmond made his maiden speech on the Housing and Building Control Bill in 1983 and a second on the Coal Industry later that year but he was not at ease. His third speech, which gave him greater assurance, came about when one of my former students, a striking miner, and one of Redmond's constituents, told me about a prosecution for obstruction which he faced. The prosecution claimed that he had committed serious crimes, including armed robbery, a few years earlier; but on a date when he had actually been abroad on a package holiday. I had a constituent who had had a similar experience and I told Redmond he would either have to take part in the debate I secured in July 1984, or at least intervene in my speech. He decided to speak. Energy, commitment and indignation were gathered. A Conservative member sat down after a trite, rather patronising speech. Redmond's began in a brutally explosive way. His confidence developed, and from then on he frequently, if softly, put forward a penetrating point.

In 1987 Redmond was elected to the Council of Europe and quickly gained esteem; he made it clear that he was not just a jovial Englishman. He was appointed a member of the Budget and Environment committees, and a rapporteur, concerned with the computerisation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (1993-94). Unfortunately health problems developed and he had to withdraw from this role in the early 1990s, subsequently staying at his home close to Doncaster, and coming to the House only when it was politically imperative. But his interest was unabated and he maintained a heavy flow of written questions and Early Day Motions; some were very serious but others seemed rather cryptic or occasionally comical in intention.

Redmond had not planned to retire at the approaching election but at last he had to announce that intention. His attachment to his constituency remained enormous even during severe illness. He reacted ferociously to the Boundary Commission proposal to take away part of his patch.

One delightful moment came when some of Redmond's constituents had been arrested in Athens. His enquiry on their behalf produced a reply - in Greek. Redmond immediately went in hot pursuit of his Labour colleague Eddie O'Hara, a former classics master, and required him to provide an immediate translation. There followed a most rumbustious representation and Redmond's constituents came home.

He was critical of some police forces during the miners' strike but subsequently, in the early 1990s, he completed an attachment with the police to find out more about their work. His ambition then, as he went out on motorway patrols, was to join in the apprehension of speeding parliamentarians regardless of friendship or political persuasion. My wife usually drove instead of me when he was on patrol.

Martin Redmond never married. It is doubtful if his union and political commitments gave time for much private life. But he loved children, even if he never ever assisted parental authority. One of my sons, who occasionally cleaned Martin's car, regarded him as a summer Santa Claus, for the payments he received were utterly inflationary.

Martin Redmond, politician: born Scawsby, South Yorkshire 15 August 1937; Member, Doncaster Borough Council 1975-83, Chairman of Labour Group and Leader of Council 1982-83; MP (Labour) for Don Valley 1983-97; died 20 January 1997.

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