Bruce George obituary | Politics

The former Labour MP Bruce George, who has died aged 77, had a profound belief in the need for a strong defence of the UK and chaired the Commons defence select committee throughout the first two parliaments of the Blair government. Although his views on defence issues were not those of the Labour party mainstream, he was widely respected and admired by his parliamentary colleagues in all parties as a politician of immense diligence and decency.

He sat on the backbenches as the MP for Walsall South for 36 years until his retirement in 2010. While he never won political promotion at Westminster, he nevertheless secured international recognition for his work as part of the UK delegation to Nato for 29 years and of the assembly of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), of which he was a member from 1992 until 2010, and of which he was elected president for two years from 2002.

He was also popular in his West Midlands constituency because he was accessible as an MP with a hands-on approach to dealing with local problems.

George regarded the select committee system at Westminster as “the jewel in the crown of our legislature” because it provided a means to hold any government to account. After first winning his seat in February 1974, he was appointed to the defence select committee in 1979, when the new system was introduced, and would later tell a Commons debate in 1992 that a properly functioning and financed select committee system could help redress the inexorable decline of the legislature. “If we simply allow the government to get away with telling us what to do and tinkering with the existing system, we shall deserve to slip even further into political impotence,” he said.

He remained a member of the committee until he was obliged to stand down in 2005 because of a rule limiting the chairmanship to two parliamentary terms. It was a measure of his status in the post that he had been made a member of the privy council in 2001, a highly unusual mark of respect for a backbencher.

He was born in Mountain Ash, Glamorgan, the only child of Edgar George, a former police officer who became the head of security for the National Coal Board in south Wales, and his wife Phyllis (nee Thomas). He won a place at the grammar school in Mountain Ash, studied for a BA in politics at the University College of Wales, Swansea, and, after two years working as an assistant lecturer in social studies at Glamorgan Polytechnic (now the University of Glamorgan, 1964-66), qualified for an MA at the University of Warwick.

He lectured in politics at Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University, 1968-70) and as a senior lecturer at Birmingham Polytechnic (Birmingham City University) until winning Walsall South from the Conservatives in Labour’s unexpected victory in the first 1974 election.

In his maiden speech in the debate on Denis Healey’s first budget as Labour chancellor, George described his constituency as one of the workshops in the heart of the country that had helped produce much of the wealth of the land, but of which there was very little evidence on the streets of Walsall, where in some areas 20% of his electorate faced unemployment. His speech evoked his background, raised as he had been in the socialist tradition of the valleys of south Wales.

He had joined the Labour party there, while still an undergraduate in 1963, and his political commitment led him to contest the safe Conservative seat of Southport in the 1970 election. In a more practical demonstration of his political beliefs at that time, from 1970 he also worked as a part-time lecturer for the newly established Open University when the first students were enrolled.

He cut an amiable, if somewhat shambolic, figure in the corridors of the Commons. He seemed to personify the polytechnic lecturer from an early Kingsley Amis’ novel: he was a big man, untidy and dishevelled and always carrying paperwork. He had a voracious appetite for reading and his parliamentary office was remarkable for the quantity of books and papers he had piled on every surface. Even after election as an MP he worked as a visiting lecturer at the University of Essex (1985-86) and as a visiting professor at the University of Portsmouth (from 2009).

He had a wide range of international interests, was a member of a number of parliamentary international groups and published numerous books and articles on defence and foreign affairs. He turned out regularly for the Commons Football Club, of which he was a joint founder, supported Walsall FC and played snooker. He was an unpaid consultant to the Confederation of Long Distance Pigeon Racing Associations, loved Gilbert and Sullivan and, suffering himself from psoriasis, was vice-president of the Psoriasis Association.

He married Lisa Toelle in 1992 when he was 50, and his marriage brought him much contentment in later life. He decided to stand down as an MP before the 2010 election, saying that being an MP was like being married twice over – to a constituency as well as a partner – and he felt his wife deserved more of his time. He took pride in the official finding that he had “no issues” in the expenses scandal that rocked his last years at Westminster and, after his retirement, in the award of the Freedom of Walsall, the Order of Honour from the republic of Georgia for his role in overseeing their progress towards democracy and the OSCE medal for his contribution towards its mission.

His wife survives him.

Bruce Thomas George, politician, born 1 June 1942; died 24 February 2020

Source link