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Ronnie Campbell obituary

<span>Ronnie Campbell outside the former Woodhorn Colliery, Northumberland.</span><span>Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian</span>
Ronnie Campbell outside the former Woodhorn Colliery, Northumberland.Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The former Labour MP Ronnie Campbell, who has died aged 80, was one of the last miners in Britain to be elected to the House of Commons. He took his seat as the MP for Blyth Valley following the 1987 election, two years after the collapse of the miners’ strike and a year after the closure of Bates colliery, in Blyth, where Campbell had worked underground since 1958.

Before his election to Westminster, where he stayed in office until he stood down in 2019, Campbell had spent more than two decades as an elected officer of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). He was among the original flying pickets in the 1984-85 miners’ dispute and was arrested twice during the bitter confrontations of the divisive strike.

He had also spent 18 years as a local councillor, and at Westminster he spoke with the authentic voice of his community, regarding his lifelong dedication to fighting for employment and for the future of the Blyth Valley as a simple matter of duty, while his uncompromising political career was defined by his belief in a representative democracy.

A socialist and member of the leftwing Campaign group of MPs, he happily espoused any cause that might advance the interests of his constituency, thus winning a reputation as a rebellious member of the “awkward squad”. He was a popular man, forgiven much for his gusty sense of humour, who was always guided by his principles and his Roman Catholic faith; he repeatedly refused to support any moves to relax abortion law.

He was as prepared to vote, in 2017, against the party line on Brexit – as laid down by Jeremy Corbyn, whom he had nominated as leader – as he had consistently opposed the Iraq war under Tony Blair. At one point in his 32 years in Westminster he was named by the whips as the second most rebellious MP in the Commons, and he also topped a “plain-speaking” poll by TheyWorkForYou.com in 2015 as the MP who spoke with the greatest simplicity and ease of understanding.

A month after his first election he voted against a pay increase of 21.9% for MPs and announced that he would take home a miner’s weekly pay of £210 and donate the rest to his constituency party.

The money was used to finance an office to deal with what was at the time 5,000 annual queries. When he retired at the 2019 election, Campbell spoke of his pride at the fact that he had secured an enterprise zone status for the Blyth estuary, won funding for new school buildings and for dealing with the problems of drug abuse in the area, but said: “The big one was just being there to help people.”

In 1998 he was ordered out of the Commons’ chamber for refusing to withdraw after calling a Conservative “a hypocrite”. When Margaret Thatcher died in 2013 and MPs were recalled over Easter to pay tribute to the former prime minister, he declined to attend on the grounds that it would be hypocritical of him to do so, given his unremitting criticism of her role in the closure of the coal industry.

He was embarrassed, however, following the revelations of the MPs’ expenses scandal that emerged in 2009, when he agreed to return £6,200 of £87,729 he had claimed for furnishing his second home in London, saying that taxpayers’ money should not have been used for furniture. “We were miles out of order,” he said.

Born in Tynemouth, Northumberland, now Tyne and Wear, Ronnie was one of eight children of Edna (nee Howes) and Ronald Campbell, a joiner. In 2005 he was reunited with a half-sibling born to his mother, the prison reformist Eric McGraw, who had been adopted as an infant. Ronnie attended a state primary school and Blyth Ridley high school, leaving aged 14 and signing on at Bates colliery after his 15th birthday.

He was elected to the NUM branch committee in 1965 and joined the Labour party in 1967. Two years later he stood for election to Blyth borough council, of which he was a member for five years. From 1974 until 1988 he was a Blyth Valley councillor, chairing the environmental health committee and vice-chair of the housing committee.

In 1986, when Bates pit closed down, Campbell signed on for the dole and planned to become a care worker. The NUM agreed to sponsor him as a parliamentary candidate and he unsuccessfully sought selection for nearby Berwick. Meanwhile the former Labour MP for Blyth Valley, John Ryman, had fallen out with his constituency party, resigned from Labour and announced he would not stand at the next election. Campbell won the selection to replace him by a single vote.

At Westminster he became a member of the select committee for the office of the ombudsman in 1987 and subsequently of the public administration committee (1997-2001) and of the health and social care committee (2005-2007). He announced his retirement at the next election in the summer of 2019 and stood down in December when his seat fell to the Conservative candidate, Ian Levy.

In 1967 Campbell married Deirdre McHale, a county councillor. She survives him, as do their children, Edward, Sharon, Barry, Shaun, Brendan and Aidan.

• Ronald Campbell, miner and politician, born 14 August 1943; died 23 February 2024