Veteran Labour MP and rebel 'Red' Ron Brown dies aged 69 after long illness

RON Brown, the former Labour MP for Leith and anti-poll tax campaigner, died in hospital yesterday after a long battle with liver disease.

The rebel MP, who famously grabbed the House of Commons mace and smashed it to the floor during a debate on the poll tax, was 69.

He died peacefully at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary yesterday morning, his family confirmed.

Last night his son Gavin, 39, revealed that the family planned to erect a bench in his memory in the heart of his former constituency.

In a statement he said: "He will be greatly missed not only by family and friends but by the many socialists and ordinary people whose lives he touched.

"He was affectionately dubbed 'Red Ron' by friends and foes alike for his lifelong battle against poverty and injustice. Even in illness he could be seen most Saturdays campaigning or 'chewing the fat' at the Fit o' the Walk. It is here that family plan to place a commemorative bench in his memory."

He added: "The family would like to thank the staff on ward 205, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for their wonderful and tireless work and support throughout Ron's illness."

Brown was nicknamed "Red Ron" because of his left-wing views. He was a fervent anti-poll tax campaigner. However controversy followed much of his career.

Born in West Pilton, Edinburgh, he was first elected as MP for Leith Commons in 1979.

He made the hated poll tax as an issue of principle and was threatened with bankruptcy when he and his wife refused to pay it, eventually appearing before a sheriff court.

In 1987 he caused 1,500 damage to the Speaker's Mace when he hurled it to the floor. He was also vehemently opposed to nuclear weapons.

He was expelled from the Labour party in 1991 after he was fined 1,000 for trashing the flat belonging to his former lover, Commons researcher Nonna Longden.

He contested his seat in Leith as an independent, but lost out to Malcolm Chisholm, the official Labour candidate.

After leaving the House of Commons he remained active in public life, as president of the Edinburgh Trade Unions Council.

Before he entered politics Mr Brown served an apprenticeship as a mechanical fitter and then worked with the Electricity Board and then Parsons Peebles where he was shop steward convener.

He was a popular councillor in Leith from 1974 before taking up his seat in Westminster.

He went on to stand on a Scottish Socialist Party platform in the inaugural Holyrood elections in 1999 but was not elected.

For years, rumours circulated that he had links to Russia's KGB, and he later admitted a five-year association with Oleg Gordievsky, a former Soviet spy and British double agent, but he denied being involved in espionage.

He was also a close confidant of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, visiting him in Libya several times in a bid to strengthen trade links.

Last night Tam Dalyell, the former Labour MP for Linlithgow, said he had fond memories of his friend and former parliamentary colleague, who was well known for travelling to obscure countries to meet with revolutionary leaders.

He said: "Ron Brown was a much mocked figure for going to places such as North Korea and other unfashionable states.

"But the fact is that he did go to Afghanistan in the immediate post-Russian period and warned us of the likely consequences of Mrs Thatcher backing the Mujahideen.

"I used to talk to him about his adventures and learned a lot. When I visited as their guest, the Leith Labour Party, I sensed how much he was liked, surpassed only by the love and respect they showed to his late wife, the raging left-wing May Brown."

Mr Dalyell said that Mr Brown deserved to be remembered for his informed comment on the Arab world.

Mr Brown, a widower, is survived by his partner, two sons Gavin and Alan, 41, and six grandchildren.