Frank Dobson

(Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
(Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
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Frank Gordon Dobson, politician. Born: 15 March, 1940 in York. Died: 11 November, 2019, aged 79

Former health secretary Frank Dobson was a passionate defender of the NHS, and regularly railed against its potential privatisation.

He died in hospital on Monday evening after a long illness, in the midst of an election campaign characterised in part by claims the Conservatives would sell off parts of the health service to the highest bidder – even those on the other side of the Atlantic.

The hirsute 79-year-old Labour veteran, who stood down in 2015, said of his own government in 2005: “All the evidence shows that most people don’t want to shop around.

“What most people want is a prompt, quality service from their local hospital, their local community services and their local GP.

“They want their money spent on patient care and the professionals who do the caring. They don’t want it squandered on glossy brochures, public relations consultants and marketing companies. But that is increasingly where the money is going.”

Labour has repeatedly criticised Boris Johnson as the General Election campaign kicks in to gear, accusing him of failing to rule out expanding private provisioning in the NHS in future.

Mr Johnson said he “(believes) passionately in an NHS free at the point of use for everybody in this country”.

Mr Dobson, a West Ham supporter and father-of-three, was a familiar name on the ballot paper, having served the people of Holborn and St Pancras since 1979.

But he formally announced his decision not to seek a ninth straight general election win at a meeting of party members in 2015, saying: “I have decided to pack in when people are stopping me in the street to say they hope I am not going – rather than waiting until they ask why the hell I am still around.”

The York-born son of a railwaymanwas made health secretary by Tony Blair when Labour swept to power in 1997.

But his spell at the top table was cut short when Mr Blair persuaded him to run as the party’s candidate to be the capital’s first elected mayor.

After finishing third behind former colleague Ken Livingstone and Tory Steve Norris, he returned to the back benches, and spoke out against a string of party policies including the Iraq War, top-up fees for students, the marketisation of parts of the NHS and longer detention without charge for terror suspects.

Standing down from politics, he said: “It has been an honour to represent the people of Holborn and St Pancras for all these years, and to have made at least some contribution to making it a better place to live.

“I am proud of the people I represent. They get on together and help one another. Outsiders who have tried to stir up divisions have always failed. Common sense and human decency have prevailed.

“It has been hard work keeping up with the needs and aspirations of local people and helping resolve their problems. My constituents have been slow to chide and swift to bless.

“So I have enjoyed the job. I will keep at it until the next election and give whatever help I can to my successor.”

Ed Miliband, Labour leader at the time, described Mr Dobson as “one of Parliament’s finest and he will be sorely missed”.

He said: “Throughout his 35 years in Parliament he has fought for many causes, most notably our NHS, including his time as Labour’s first health secretary for 18 years, but he has always put the people of Holborn and St Pancras first.”

Tony Blair described Frank Dobson as a “politician of the highest calibre”.

As prime minister, Mr Blair appointed Mr Dobson to the position of health secretary after Labour’s landslide election victory in 1997.

Mr Blair praised the former Camden Council leader’s “many important improvements to the NHS” during his two years in the Cabinet.

“Frank Dobson was an exemplary public servant and politician of the highest calibre,” said the former party leader. “He was a great colleague with an often pugnacious style, but always loyal to the Labour Party and to changing the lives of people for the better.”

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s current leader, paid tribute to his political achievements, referring to him as “brilliant” when in charge of health and praised his “great wit”.

In an interview in Blackpool, the Islington North MP said: “He was also a great raconteur, a great purveyor of stories, a great source of gossip around the House of Commons and a great wit in many ways, and would always remember the good and the bad in just about everybody he met.

“As a parliamentary neighbour of mine we got on absolutely famously… we just got along extremely well.”

Frank Dobson is survived by Janet and their children, Sally, Tom and Joe.