Co-operative activist and MP Jim Dobbin dies at 73

Labour/Co-op backbencher Jim Dobbin passed away at the age of 73 while on a parliamentary visit to Poland. The late MP for Heywood and Middleton, who played an instrumental role...

Labour/Co-op backbencher Jim Dobbin passed away at the age of 73 while on a parliamentary visit to Poland. The late MP for Heywood and Middleton, who played an instrumental role in the establishment of Rochdale Boroughwide Council, was an active campaigner for co-operatives.

“In my borough [Rochdale], we are proud of our links to the co-operative movement, and as a co-operator, I am proud of my role with the Co-operative Party”, he told MPs earlier this year when introducing a 10 minute bill to Parliament.

Former deputy Prime Minister of the Labour Party, John Prescott was part of the group visiting Poland with Jim Dobbin, whose death he described as a tragic loss. He said: “Jim was an excellent local MP, a strong believer in Europe, a proud Scot and a passionate defender of the NHS. His passing is such a tragic loss and he will be sadly missed by the Labour movement. Jim was a great comrade. Our thoughts are with his wife Pat and their family.”

Jim Dobbin served as UK representative of the Council of Europe and as vice-chair of the Council’s Public Health Committee. Born in Fife, Scotland, Jim Dobbin was the son of a coal miner. After studying bacteriology and virology at Napier College, Edinburgh, he worked as a microbiologist within the NHS for 33 years, until his election as a councillor in the Metropolitan Borough of Rochdale in 1983. He became the leader of the council in 1996 and a year later was elected to the House of Commons.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Jim Dobbin’s death was a sad day for Parliament. “He was a dedicated public servant, representing the people of Rochdale, both on the council and at Westminster, for three decades,” said Mr Miliband. “Working in the NHS for more than 30 years, Jim had a deep passion for helping others.”

Co-operative Party general secretary, Karin Christiansen, also praised the late backbencher for his continuous dedication to promoting co-operatives. “Jim Dobbin was a committed co-operator, who was proud to represent Rochdale – the birthplace of modern co-operation – as a councillor and an MP for the last 30 years.  Jim was a regular at Co-operative Party conferences and parliamentary group meetings and was proud to be both Labour and Co-operative. Jim was a source of support to the Co-operative Party staff – many of whom will remember him fondly – and was never too busy to help the Party over the years,” she said.

“In recent years, Jim championed the creation of the largest housing co-operative in Britain, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, which announced it was becoming a co-operative after an overwhelming vote by tenants in 2011. This year Jim introduced a piece of legislation under the ten minute rule bill in Parliament to strengthen the support that local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) provide to the co-operative and mutual sector. Jim Dobbin will be missed as a dedicated public servant and someone who was proud of the co-operative movement’s past but also committed to ensuring it had a bright future. My sincere condolences go to his family and friends,” added Ms Christiansen.

An MP for 17 years, Jim Dobbin won with a 5,971 majority at the last election. Councillor Richard Farnell, leader of Rochdale Borough Council, paid tribute to the late Labour/Co-op MP. He said: “Jim Dobbin MP has been an extremely good friend and colleague of mine for 35 years and I am absolutely devastated about the news about his death.

“You could not wish to meet nicer man – people called him ‘Gentleman Jim’ and it was all true. He was compassionate, caring and an excellent constituency MP. Just a few days ago I met him for lunch and he was in good spirits, looking forward to fighting the next general election. I came away with a long list of things he wanted me to work on as leader of the council to help the borough. Middleton and Heywood has lost an excellent MP, he always worked tirelessly and rarely had a day off.”

Fellow Labour/Co-op MP Tom Greatrex tweeted that Jim Dobbin was “a decent man of faith in politics”. Another Labour/Co-op MP, Jonathan Reynolds, also paid tribute via social media, saying Mr Dobbin was “an honest, courageous and compassionate man”.

Chair of the Co-operative Party, Gareth Thomas described him as “hardworking but unassuming excellent Co-op MP” while Conservative MP Stuart Andrew said he was “such a gentlemen who always greeted you with a smile”.

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