RIP the two battling Joans

Paul Routledge recalls the redoubtable former Labour left-wing MPs who both died on Friday
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LABOUR is mourning the loss of two of its most passionatelyleft- wing women, Joan Maynard and Baroness Lestor of Eccles, the former Joan Lestor. Both became MPs and served on the party's ruling national executive, and they died on the same day.

Miss Maynard - she was never "Ms" - died aged 76, after a long illness, at her home in Sowerby, North Yorkshire. Lady Lestor, who had been suffering from motor neurone disease, died at 66 in a London hospice.

Among the tributes that flooded in yesterday, Labour MP Chris Mullin said: "Both were down-to-earth, straightforward characters and both in their way inspired great personal affection among those who knew them."

The two ex-MPs died on Friday. News of Lady Lestor's death broke late that day, but Miss Maynard's death was not disclosed until yesterday.

Joan Maynard, who would not have been ashamed of being called hard-left - indeed, her nickname was "Stalin's Granny" - was MP for the inner-city constituency of Sheffield Brightside from 1974 until her retirement in 1987. She was a member of the national executive for 15 years, and vice- chairman of the party.

A farmer's daughter, she was a lifelong champion of landworkers and played a leading role in the successful campaign to end the tied-cottage system. She was elected vice-president of the Agricultural Workers' Union, now part of the TGWU.

The "two battling Joans" lived remarkably similar lives. Neither married, and both fought the great left-wing causes of their day. They shared a hatred of the apartheid regime in South Africa and campaigned for the relief of poverty at home and abroad. Both were ardent members of CND. But while Joan Lestor was able to serve in Tony Blair's shadow cabinet, it is inconceivable that Miss Maynard would have felt at home in New Labour's high command.

Lady Lestor was elected MP for Eton and Slough in 1966, and served in both Harold Wilson's and James Callaghan's governments. She lost her seat, but returned as MP for Eccles in 1987 before standing down through ill- health at the last election. She was created a life peer.

A junior minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and in the Department of Education and Science, she resigned in 1976 in protest at cuts in public spending. She chaired the Labour Party in 1977-78.

As a single parent, she brought up six children, two of them adopted.

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, who succeeded Miss Maynard as MP for Brightside, said: "Joan was a redoubtable fighter for socialism who cared deeply for the people of Sheffield and the agricultural workers whose cause she had taken up vigorously throughout her life. It is a great pity that she won't be able to see the final implementation of the national minium wage, but she would have been proud of the progress we have made."