Ex-Labour minister Jim Wellbeloved dies


A former Labour minister who defected to the SDP and then rejoined the party after Tony Blair was elected leader has died, his family announced today.

Jim Wellbeloved was one of 28 Labour MPs who joined the Social Democratic Party when it dramatically split from Labour in 1981 in opposition to the party's drift to the left.

Having served as a boy seaman in the Royal Navy in the Second World War, Mr Wellbeloved worked as a union shop steward and was the first leader of Bexley Borough Council.

He was elected to Parliament in the 1965 by-election in Erith and Crayford, when his victory prevented Harold Wilson's perilously small one-seat majority in the Commons from evaporating altogether.

He worked as a parliamentary private secretary and whip before serving as defence minister for the RAF under James Callaghan from 1976-79, during which time he claimed to have flown in every plane operated by the air force.

He fought the south-east London seat again for the SDP in 1983 but was defeated by Conservative David Evennett by a narrow margin of 920 votes, and was unsuccessful in an attempt to regain it for the SDP/Liberal Alliance in 1987.

Mr Wellbeloved hit the headlines in 1981 when his question to Margaret Thatcher in the House of Commons prompted then Labour leader Michael Foot to disown his own party's candidate in the Bermondsey by-election, the left-winger Peter Tatchell, over his support for direct action against the Thatcher government.

After leaving Parliament, Mr Wellbeloved served as director general of the National Kidney Research Fund, president of the British Transplant Organ Donor Society and national vice-president of the Camping and Caravanning Club.

He died yesterday at the age of 86 after a lengthy illness. He is survived by wife Mavis, three children and four grandchildren.