Obituary: Joe Ashton, Labour politican who also shone as an author and journalist

Joseph William Ashton OBE, politician and writer. Born: 9 October 1933 in Sheffield. Died: 30 March 2020, aged 83

Joe Ashton in 2007: (Picture: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire)

Joe Ashton grew up in the slums of Attercliffe, in Sheffield, but went on to become an MP, award-winning national newspaper columnist, author, playwright and director of Sheffield Wednesday football club.

He won Bassetlaw in a by-election in 1968 with a 740 majority. In his last election, four years before retiring in 2001, his majority was 17,460.

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His childhood was tough and poverty-stricken, but he passed his 11-plus and gained a place at High Storrs Grammar School.

After national service with the RAF, he became an engineer with Sheffield firm Davy United.

In 1962 he became a Sheffield councillor, before moving on to the national political stage.

In the late 1970s he served as a junior minister in the government of James Callaghan, and was lifelong friends with Tony Benn after becoming his aide – or “minder” as Joe called it.

Along with parliament, he wrote three books. His first, Grass Roots, was published in 1977 and two years later he joined the Daily Star as a 
columnist. There, he won 
columnist of the year in the What the Papers Say Awards.

The title of his twice-weekly column, Voice of the People, stuck with him through his career and he was well known for his northern straight-talking and ability to explain politics in an engaging and concise way.

His play A Majority Of One premiered at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1980 and was recently an inspiration for the stage play This House.

In the 1980s he was a regular on breakfast television programme TV-AM and was happy to take the early 6.30am slot, as he said that was when a lot of his constituents were getting ready to leave for work and would be watching.

His lifelong passion for Sheffield Wednesday saw him become a director at the club for nine years.

On his 30th anniversary in Parliament he was given the honour of speaking in the Commons after the Queen’s Speech.

He referenced the opening scene of the film The Full Monty, in a canal, saying: “That scene was shot at Bacon Lane bridge in Attercliffe, 200 yards from where I was born and 300 yards from where I started work at the age of 15.”

In 2007 he received an OBE for setting up the Association of Former MPs with parliamentary backing.

He had been suffering from dementia and his death was unrelated to coronavirus.

Joe Ashton was married to his late wife Maggie for 57 years and they leave a daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.

There will be no public funeral due to Covid-19 but a memorial service will take place later in the year.