Frank Dobson: How MP ‘rolled up his sleeves’ for us
He served as the MP for Holborn and St Pancras for 36 years
14 November, 2019 — By Richard Osley
FRANK Dobson had a knack for seeing what was coming down the line for his constituents and, while others were dithering about what should be done about the impending HS2 earthquake, he opposed the rail link from day one.
As the MP for Holborn and St Pancras for 36 years, he wanted to protect families and businesses whose lives were about to be turned upside down.
It was a theme which ran through Mr Dobson’s time as a councillor and then a long-serving MP.
As tributes poured in for Mr Dobson, the former health secretary who died on Tuesday aged 79, his successor in parliament, Keir Starmer, said: “Frank earned his popularity through his work across the area. He didn’t go in for grand-standing, he was straight-talking and when he saw a problem, he rolled his sleeves up and tried to fix it for people.”
Even after his retirement in 2015, Mr Dobson continued to support people in the Euston area against the arrival of HS2 diggers, albeit without being a back seat driver to the new MP.
Mr Starmer said: “As soon as I had been selected he offered support and advice which I will always be grateful for. There are some MPs who retire and still think they are the most important show in town. Frank was not like that. “He wanted to carry on protecting the community from things like HS2, to which he was opposed, well after he had retired, but he did so in his own respectful way.”
Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq said: “When I was a councillor in Regent’s Park, he came on demonstrations, attended all the meetings when the Crown Estate was planning to sell off homes there. He helped make sure that didn’t happen. And then we campaigned against HS2, which he opposed from day one, even while Camden Council was deciding what they thought of it.”
She added: “Even before I got involved in politics I knew the name Frank Dobson. “My parents talked about him in the 1980s because he had supported Bangladeshis living here during the Bangladeshi Liberation War. We will all miss him.”
Camden Council leader Georgia Gould said: “Frank is written into Camden’s DNA – rebellious, larger than life, passionate and always great fun. As Camden’s council leader he was a fierce protector of council housing. As an MP he was a great champion of the NHS and social justice nationally, and he never forgot to fight for our community. Anyone who has knocked on a door in Holborn and St Pancras will have heard story after story of how Frank helped people with the small and the big things.”
She added: “He was always there with a joke, sage advice, his big rumbling laugh or a hug and I will carry with me his warmth and huge spirit.” Mr Dobson had been a staunch supporter of council housing and was able to see a new block of homes – Dobson Court in Holborn – named in his honour last year. In the 1970s, Camden had bought up homes to create as large a housing portfolio as possible.
Mr Dobson often told the story of the celebrations at Lissenden Gardens when Camden acquired the estate.
He railed against racketeer landlords and private companies trying to profiteer with public services needed by all.
One of his favourite days was when Nelson Mandela – one of his heroes – visited Camden Town. Mr Dobson had worked with the anti-apartheid alliance and was there protesting outside South Africa House when Mr Mandela was first sent to Robben Island.
Former council leader Raj Chada said: “To me, he was ‘Mr Camden’ – leader of the council, MP for over 30 years. “He fought with passion for this constituency. He cared about the things that mattered to us – housing and the health service were priorities and his politics were rooted in he community.” He added: “We took great pride when he stood with us, even against the Labour party, be it on Iraq, the ALMO or tuition fees. His anecdotes were legendary and repeated often – and even more endearing for it.”
Long-serving Lib Dem councillor Flick Rea said: “He was old, old Labour. The sort of Labour politician I grew up with and understood and could get on with easily. I shall always be sorry that he was forced out of office, and forced to stand against Ken [Livingstone] for Mayor of London. He was used by the Labour Party.”
Mr Dobson’s unsuccessful run to be the first Mayor of London was an episode he rarely wanted to return to. For many it cut short too soon his time as health secretary, a role in which he secured extra funding, oversaw a huge programme of hospital upgrades, got rid of the controversial internal market and set up the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. He was popular within the health service – a mark of the respect that led him to being made an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.
A statement released by Mr Dobson’s family this week read: “His family would like to thank all the staff at the Homerton University Hospital for their outstanding expertise, commitment and care in the last few months and also the staff of York Hospital for his previous excellent care. He also greatly appreciated the support of his many and former parliamentary colleagues.”
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