Obituary: Ossie O'Brien

Ossie O'Brien was an MP for 11 weeks and one day. Yet, during the Darlington by-election, the curtain-raiser to the 1983 general election, and in his fleeting days as an MP he won the affection of his colleagues. Roy Hattersley described him as the best by-election candidate of the decade.

He was born Oswald O'Brien into a family of teachers in 1928, in Darlington. From St Mary's Grammar School he went to Faircroft College and Durham University before National Service in the Navy.

After experience in a number of heavy industries in the north of England he became a Workers' Educational Association tutor and an immensely popular staff tutor at Durham University. In 1966 he had the ill luck to lose by one vote at the selection conference of the Labour Party in Darlington. In his maiden and only speech, on 14 April 1983, he said with a chuckle,

My entry to the House at this time however is inevitably tinged with sadness and regret, as it results from the death of my much-loved and respected colleague and predecessor, Ted Fletcher. Many honourable members will not know, although some Labour members know, that in 1962 I was beaten by Ted Fletcher for the Darlington nomination by the narrowest possible margin. Legend has it that it was a majority of one. Nevertheless, we worked amicably together over successive elections.

Ted Fletcher's record speaks for

itself. He served the people of Darlington for more than 18 years and was working on constituents' problems until shortly before his death. I recall him telephoning me just a few days before he died and insisting that even if he could not go to London and to the House he could at least write letters to ministers and to government departments.

Ossie O'Brien put all personal disappointments to the back of his mind for the sake of the cause of the Labour Party.

Those who took part in the campaign will never forget the bitterly cold by-election of 24 March 1983 among the warm-hearted people of Darlington. O'Brien scored 20,544 to the 18,132 of Michael Fallon and the 12,735 of Alan Cook standing for the Social Democrat Party. However 78 days later the situation was to be reversed and Fallon went on to a ministerial career, staving off challenges from O'Brien in 1987.

After he left Parliament O'Brien worked for Alcohol Concern and contributed to the literature considering the increasing problem of drugs in society. But for the verdict of the electorate and the ill luck 18 years earlier of such a close selection conference result, he would undoubtedly have made a serious contribution to Parliament in the field of education and training.

Tam Dalyell

Oswald O'Brien, politician and teacher: born Darlington 6 April 1928; Staff Tutor, Durham University 1964-78; Director of Studies and Vice-Principal, Co-operative College 1978-83; Chairman, Society of Industrial Tutors 1978-82; MP (Labour) for Darlington 1983; Director, Education Division, Alcohol Concern 1984-86, Director, Workplace Advisory Service 1986-97; married 1950 Freda Pascoe (one son); died Darlington 10 March 1997.

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