Obituary: Jim Dobbin, politician

BORN: 26 May, 1941, in Kincardine. Died: 7 September, 2014, in Poland, aged 73

Jim Dobbin. Picture: PA
Jim Dobbin. Picture: PA

Jim Dobbin was a Labour Co-operative politician and a microbiologist who had represented Heywood and Middleton in Manchester, since 1997. He held firmly to his Catholic roots and remained an independent-minded politician on health and social matters. He was on a Council of Europe trip to Poland when he died.

Dobbin made care for sick and disabled people central to his work as an MP. In June he voiced his concern for parents of sick children. “It is essential that health and social care services work together to ensure that services are joined up and funded fairly by the NHS and local authorities to ensure that the excellent care they provide can continue,” he said.

Two months ago Dobbin was reselected to fight the general election next year.

Colin Lambert, the Rochdale Council leader who ran Dobbin’s constituency office, yesterday recalled him with particular affection. “Jim was a lovely man: a lifelong Labour man and loyal to the party, though he was never afraid of standing up for his principles.

“He led his life founded on his faith and was devoted to his family. He kept closely in touch with Scotland through his visits north to watch Celtic, who he had supported all his life.”

James Dobbin was the son of a Fife coal miner and attended St Columba’s High School, Cowdenbeath and St Andrew’s Roman Catholic High School, Kirkcaldy. He then studied bacteriology and virology at Napier College. On graduating in 1966 he spent more than 30 years at the Royal Oldham hospital as a bacteriologist.

He became active in local politics and from 1983–97 was a member of the Borough Council of Rochdale, becoming the Labour leader in 1994 and the leader of the council in his last two years.

Dobbin unsuccessfully contested Bury North in 1992, losing to the sitting MP Alistair Burt. At the general election of 1997 he won Heywood and Middleton – succeeding the former Prime Minister James Callaghan. It was a widespread urban constituency that he was to serve with distinction until his death.

Because of his considerable experience in the NHS Dobbin often spoke on health issuess in the Commons and was involved in a number of All-Party Parliamentary Groups including Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction, Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia and Hospice and Palliative Care.

As co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases, he recently called for integrated healthcare in the developing world to improve sanitation and reduce disease.

His firmly held Catholic upbringing did not permit him to support the same-sex marriage bill. As the bill went through the Commons he argued: “I think MPs who voted for this change will rue the day they did so.”

As the local MP Dobbin was much in the news after the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, the drummer who was murdered in Woolwich.

He spoke emotionally how the death had “absolutely 
traumatised” people in Fusilier Rigby’s home town of Middleton and supported the family at the funeral at Bury Parish church.

Dobbin was proud of his Labour roots in Fife but also his commitment to the Co-operative movement. He firmly believed the movement provided an alternative and more ethical way to transact business.

In May 2009 it was revealed that Dobbin claimed more public funds for staff than the other MPs in Manchester. He defended this by stating that he also had the largest number of constituents.

Dobbin, a scrupulously fair and honest man, pointed out that nationally, he had one of the lowest overall expense bills.

With his goatee beard and avuncular manner Dobbin was a respected MP on both sides of the House. He was a deeply principled and independent-minded parliamentarian who upheld his Catholic and social beliefs firmly throughout his career – both in the NHS and in the Labour movement.

The former Labour Deputy leader Lord Prescott, who was on the trip to Poland, said: “Jim was an excellent local MP, a strong believer in Europe, a proud Scot and a passionate defender of the NHS. Jim was a great comrade.”

Dobbin chaired the all-party Pro Life Group, and had been awarded a Papal Knighthood from Pope Benedict XVI.

His devotion to Heywood and Middleton is evident in his last letter to his constituents – sent out last week. He had sponsored the Middleton charity cricket match, unveiled a plaque and attended a service of dedication.

His sign-off sentence reflected the measure of the man: “It’s time to support our community and businesses. It’s time to present the Borough of Rochdale as a good place to live in and visit.”

Dobbin is survived by his wife Pat, who he married in 1964, and their two sons and two daughters.

ALASDAIR STEVEN