Obituary: Dr Norman Godman, Labour MP who fought for the people of Greenock, Port Glasgow and Inverclyde

Norman Godman (Picture: I.T.N./REX/Shutterstock)
Norman Godman (Picture: I.T.N./REX/Shutterstock)
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Dr Norman Anthony Godman, former Labour MP. Born: 19 April 1937 in Hull. Died: 20 June 2018 in Glasgow, aged 81.

Dr Norman Godman, who has died at the age of 81, was a Labour MP for 18 years.

An assiduous tribune and powerful advocate for constituency interests, he represented Greenock and Port Glasgow from 1983-97 and latterly Greenock and Inverclyde from 1997 until his retirement from the Commons in 2001.

Godman was never a limelight case, preferring to go about his business quietly but effectively.

A man of the Labour mainstream, his career came to an end at a time when there was an over reliance on image and branding as substitutes for hard policy underpinned by sound principles. That culture was not for him.

An old-fashioned socialist, his values were marked by a belief in social justice and world peace. By old fashioned I do not mean overly doctrinaire or impervious to the need for change. I mean a belief in the importance of ideology as a basis for making economic, political and moral choices.

His beliefs were incorruptible and he was incapable of bending or fashioning a view in order to get on.

He would have warmly approved of the advice that Clement Attlee gave a young Tam Dalyell in the House of Commons tearoom in 1962. “You owe Parliament hard work, the Labour Party your loyalty and the country your best judgement”. His work rate was beyond dispute, he always offered his best judgement but he was not afraid to be disloyal when the actions of his own Government offended his socialism.

Norman Anthony Godman, known to family and friends as Bowie, was born on the 19 April 1937 in Hull. He had one sister and seven brothers. His father was a trawler skipper man and after leaving Westbourne Street Boy’s School at 15, the young Godman worked as a shipwright.

The work proved as hard as the resilience of those in the fishing industry but it was not for him. Night classes beckoned and then graduations from Hull and Heriot-Watt Universities as he started a teaching career in Scotland. Godman was a committed Labour man but he failed to win Aberdeen South in 1979. He was, however, elected in 1983, making his maiden speech on 24 June in a debate on industry and privatisation.

He reminded the House that unemployment in Greenock and Port Glasgow was approaching 20 per cent. Youth unemployment stood at 75 per cent. 34 per cent of pensioners depended on supplementary benefits. These were statistics. The human tragedy behind them propelled the quietly spoken Yorkshireman to rail against the injustices suffered by those he represented.

In Parliament he served on the Scottish Affairs Committee (1983-87), the European Legislation Committee (1989-95), the Northern Ireland Committee for a year and the Foreign Affairs Committee (1997-2001). In the late Eighties he served as an Opposition spokesman on Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

His own beliefs remained fairly constant throughout his life despite many on the Left around him being moved by the shifting philosophical sands when New Labour was born. Politics was always, for him, about delivering on the historical mission of the Labour movement. He had no time for spin, even less for apparatchiks who debased Labour values by wheeling and dealing.

In his early days he was a champion of the shipbuilding industry, particularly the Scott Lythgow yard on the lower Clyde. He was tenacious in his support for fishing communities and he took a life-long interest in Irish affairs.

On Northern Ireland he championed an inquiry into Bloody Sunday and privately lobbied Tony Blair for Lord Cullen to chair an inquiry. His sympathies lay predominantly, although not tribally, with the Nationalist community, in part because he agreed with the late David Ervine’s view that the Ulster Unionist Party were Tories and the DUP were Tories with bibles.

In one debate the late Rev Ian Paisley warmly congratulated him on a point. Discomfited, Godman observed: “You have just lost me 5,000 Catholic votes in Greenock.” The mischievous Paisley countered: “But I have just won you 5,000 Protestant ones in Port 
Glasgow.”

He displayed a moral courage in seeing down those in his local party who saw his support for a woman’s right to choose as a ground for cutting short his Parliamentary career. He would gladly have it cut short than to do or say something that cast him as a hypocrite.

Norman Godman was a warm, gentle and empathetic man who always sought to understand the beliefs and motivations of others. In 1981, he married his beloved Trish who was his soulmate in life, love and politics. She was his primus inter pares and he was delighted when she was elected a Labour MSP and Deputy Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament.

There was a lot to admire in Bowie. His values, which he argued for with a consistency which always made him a prisoner of his own conscience. He never sought moral high grounds or to ever promote himself above his values.

His human qualities were even greater. He was humble, hard-working, sought to do right by those who needed his advocacy.

He was a model public servant who gave Parliament his hard work, his party his loyalty – when he thought it merited – and he always gave the country his best judgement.

All of that amounts to a special kind of integrity and it will never be forgotten by those he helped, those who called him comrade, those who were friends, and above all, never forgotten by his family who love him.

BERNARD PONSONBY