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Labour figures pay tribute to ‘one-of-a-kind’ Frank Dobson at funeral service

Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Blair were among mourners at the service in north London.

The casket containing the remains of Frank Dobson is carried into St Pancras Church (Yui Mok/PA)
The casket containing the remains of Frank Dobson is carried into St Pancras Church (Yui Mok/PA)

By Tom Pilgrim, PA

Senior Labour Party figures past and present have paid tribute to Frank Dobson at the former health secretary’s funeral.

Mr Dobson, who served as MP for the constituency of Holborn and St Pancras for 36 years, passed away last month aged 79 following a long-standing illness.

The Yorkshireman was remembered as an “amazing man” by mourners at St Pancras Church in north London on Monday.

A host of high-profile Labour figures attended the service to pay their respects, including party leader Jeremy Corbyn and former prime minister Tony Blair.

Joining them were ex-Labour leaders Lord Kinnock and Ed Miliband, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Speaking ahead of the service, Mr Miliband described Mr Dobson as “an amazing man with deep Labour values” who had “great achievements” from his time in government.

Mr Miliband said Mr Dobson was a “one-of-a-kind person” with a “fantastic sense of humour”.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry also said before the service that Mr Dobson was a “good friend” who had supported her when her mother died while she and Mr Dobson worked on a committee together.

“He took me, upset, and sat me at a table outside and just talked to me about grief and how to handle it,” she said.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves following the service (Yui Mok/PA)

A hushed silence fell over the large congregation that packed out the church on Monday as Mr Dobson’s coffin was carried in, followed by his family.

Among the flowers laid on top of the coffin were some red roses, a symbol of the Labour Party.

Funeral attendees sang the hymn Jerusalem and listened to a reading from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline read by Oscar-winning actress and former Labour MP Glenda Jackson.

Those inside the church were also joined together in singing a rendition of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles in honour of Mr Dobson’s support for West Ham United FC.

In an emotional and often humorous eulogy, Mr Dobson’s son Tom remembered his father as “kind and warm as well as pugnacious” and “relentless and resilient”.

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Mr Dobson served as the MP in St Pancras for 36 years (Yui Mok/PA)

He praised his parents for creating an “extraordinarily happy” home as he grew up and for providing him and his siblings with “unconditional love”.

Tom Dobson said his father was a believer in “collective action” and a “lifelong anti-racist” whose “politics was both radical and practical”.

As MP for a diverse London seat, he witnessed “tensions and difficulties” but saw a common “solidarity” among constituents, his son said.

“He tried to serve them all equally and never bowed to prejudice,” he added.

He said his father had managed to “keep his Yorkshire roots, accent and identity while becoming an adopted Londoner”.

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Former prime minister Tony Blair arrives for the service (Yui Mok/PA)

Tom Dobson highlighted his father’s support for women’s reproductive rights, adding that his “proudest” achievement was accelerating the roll-out of the meningitis C vaccine that helped see deaths from the disease fall close to zero.

After praising the “exemplary” NHS staff and those who supported Mr Dobson in his last few days, his son asked the congregation to applaud “the best of us and the best of this city”.

As he walked back to his seat, funeral attendees rose to give Tom Dobson himself a standing ovation.

Tributes were also made in church by shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer QC, who took over Mr Dobson’s parliamentary seat in 2015, and IVF pioneer Professor Robert Winston.

Prof Winston praised Mr Dobson’s “extraordinary humanity” and for playing a “pivotal role” in the filibustering of a 1985 parliamentary Bill promoted by Enoch Powell that would have blocked IVF research.

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The widow of Frank Dobson, Janet, centre, and his daughter Sally, left (Yui Mok/PA)

Sir Keir described his constituency predecessor, who was also a former Camden Council leader, as “Mr Camden” who was “respected everywhere”.

He joked about Mr Dobson’s sense of humour, most of which “can’t be repeated here in a church”.

Mr Dobson’s commitment to tackling racism, housing issues and improving health were also highlighted by Sir Keir.

“Thanks Frank, not just for being a legend, but for being our legend,” he added.

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Ed Balls and his wife Yvette Cooper were also at the funeral (Yui Mok/PA)

Former Labour home secretary Jack Straw said before the service: “He was a great friend and a fantastic MP for St Pancras and a man with an outrageous sense of humour.”

Speaking afterwards, former Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls said Mr Dobson was “a brilliant health secretary” who was “passionate and very determined”.

Mr McDonnell said “Frank was a major figure in the Labour movement’s history”, adding he was “unsurpassed in his commitment to his local community”.

PA

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