David Walsh obituary

·2-min read

Dave Walsh (known as Walshie), who has died of a kidney infection aged 73, was a prominent figure in Teesside politics for decades, including as the Labour leader of Redcar and Cleveland. Dave was known with respect and affection by many on Teesside. He wanted to create a better world and he was, in later life, an inspiration to many. I met Dave in the mid-1980s when I served as a councillor in Middlesbrough.

Born in Bexley, Kent, to Lilian and Thomas Walsh, not much is known of his early life, but his birth certificate reveals that his father was a “corrector of print”. After leaving school, he worked for British Rail as a yard shunter, before moving to Teesside where he was a crane driver for Cleveland Bridge & Engineering. Taking redundancy in the 80s, he then studied modern history as a mature student at Teesside Polytechnic.

As a teenager, Dave took part in anti-Vietnam war protests in London. He joined the Labour party on Teesside, and in 1985 won a seat on Cleveland county council. In 1989, he became chair of the powerful Economic Development and Transportation (ED&T) committee. With an overall council budget of more than £500m a year, and as part of a new progressive Labour leadership, Dave was in his element. ED&T launched a range of initiatives, although a proposed Cleveland-wide light rapid transit scheme was thwarted by local Conservatives and Independents.

Cleveland was abolished by the Tory government in 1996. Dave was then elected to Redcar and Cleveland council, one of four successor unitary authorities. He served until 2003, becoming leader for the last four years. He was re-elected in 2013 and became deputy leader and cabinet member for adult services, until he lost his seat in 2019. During this time he campaigned for people with disabilities while his own health declined. He also worked as a caseworker for the local Labour MP Ashok Kumar and, after his death, Labour successor Tom Blenkinsop. He didn’t lose a single one of the dozens of tribunals he undertook against the Department for Work and Pensions.

Dave had an impressive intellect and energy, and his depth and breadth of knowledge remains unrivalled locally. Political and professional leaders on Teesside would seek and benefit from his advice. He also researched and helped highlight industrial and political history from centuries past, such as Stockton’s battles against Oswald Moseley’s fascists, and the discovery of iron in Eston Hills, which powered the industrial revolution. This helped to enlighten a new generation of students and political activists.

Of many journalistic endeavours, he wrote a column for the Teesside Gazette, contributed to several local blogs, and for 12 years penned a monthly column for an East Cleveland community newspaper. He ran regular quizzes on Facebook and in local pubs, visiting many, his thirst and appetite for knowledge equalled by his thirst for a good pint of real ale.