Frank Gordon Dobson (15 March 1940 – 11 November 2019) was a British Labour Party politician. As Member of Parliament (MP) for Holborn and St. Pancras from 1979 to 2015, he served in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Health from 1997 to 1999, and was official Labour Party candidate for Mayor of London in 2000, though finishing third in the election behind Conservative Steven Norris and the winner, Labour-turned-Independent Ken Livingstone. Dobson stood down at the 2015 general election.

Early life and career

Dobson was born in 1940 in Dunnington, York, the son of Irene (''née'' Shortland) and John William Dobson. His father, a railwayman, died when Dobson was sixteen years old. Dobson attended Dunnington County Church of England Primary School and the Archbishop Holgate Grammar School (now Archbishop Holgate's School), where he was supported after the death of his father by a grant from the county council. He then studied economics at the London School of Economics, gaining a BSc in 1962. He worked at the headquarters of the Central Electricity Generating Board from 1962 to 1970 and for the Electricity Council from 1970 to 1975. After contesting a seat on Camden London Borough Council in 1964, he was elected in 1971 and chosen virtually unopposed as Labour Group Leader, and therefore as leader of the council after the resignation of Millie Miller in 1973. Having a young family, Dobson stood down as leader and resigned from the council in 1975 in favour of a non-partisan job as assistant secretary of the office of the Local Government Ombudsman, which he held until 1979.

Member of Parliament

At the 1979 general election, Dobson was elected as MP for Holborn and St Pancras South (later Holborn and St. Pancras). He voted for Tony Benn for Labour Deputy Leader in 1981, but thereafter became disillusioned and chose to align with what he called the "sane left". Dobson's naturally pugnacious style earned him rapid promotion to the front bench, where he served in several important posts from 1982. His liking for dirty jokes and conviviality won him many friends. He once remarked of Hazel Blears, who is 4'10" in height, "The good thing about global warming is that Hazel Blears will be the first to go when the water rises." After privatisation of the Rover Group in 1988 he quipped, "The price charged for Rover was so low that there is some suspicion that Lord Young thought it was a dog." As Spokesman on Environment and London from 1994, he led the national Labour response to a series of scandals over City of Westminster council and its former leader Shirley Porter.

In government

After Labour's landslide victory at the 1997 general election, Dobson was appointed as Secretary of State for Health. This was a high-profile post, but Dobson found it hard to build an impact. He faced interference from civil servants, who would claim that prime minister Tony Blair raised the issue of further private sector involvement in meetings with Dobson, which Dobson said to them "just wasn't true". He also had his hands tied by the decision to stick within spending limits set by the previous Conservative government. Dobson wrote a memo to Blair saying, "If you want a first-class service, you have to pay a first-class fare – and we're not doing it." When money was finally diverted to the NHS, Blair credited Dobson for kickstarting it. Dobson's abolition of the internal market in the NHS was reversed by his successor, Alan Milburn, who Dobson said was "carried away with the idea that the private sector could make a big contribution". Dobson was also instrumental, working with Tessa Jowell, in establishing Sure Start, which aimed to improve childcare, early education and health care for families with children.

Candidate for Mayor of London

Dobson was manoeuvered by the Labour Party leadership into announcing his resignation as Secretary of State for Health so as to stand as Mayor of London in the inaugural elections. He beat Ken Livingstone in the Labour Party's internal selection, helped by its electoral college system and the absence of any requirement for affiliated trade unions to ballot their members. In May 2000, Livingstone won the mayoral election as an independent candidate. Dobson finished in third place behind the Conservative candidate Steven Norris, and just ahead of the Liberal Democrat candidate Susan Kramer. Dobson was subsequently re-elected as an MP at the 2001 and 2005 general elections, albeit with reduced majorities.

Political views

In 2000, Dobson was named "Beard 2000" by the Beard Liberation Front, amid controversy over his claim that Labour spin doctors had told him to shave off his prize-winning beard for the upcoming elections for Mayor of London. Dobson said he had told them to "Stick it up their wicket". He was the subject of controversy for living in a council flat while receiving a six-figure minister's salary. He continued to live there, despite owning a large property in Yorkshire. In an interview in July 2014, he responded to this criticism, saying: "I first lived there when we were subtenants of a subtenant of a private landlord. We were then sold to Camden council. What should I have done? Exercised the right to buy, which I voted against?" In the Labour leadership controversy after Tony Blair's declaration he would step down within a year of September 2006, Dobson called for Blair to step down right away and end uncertainty. He also attacked Alan Milburn for making a "terrible mess" of the NHS. Milburn had been mentioned by Charles Clarke as a potential future Labour leader several hours earlier. Dobson was criticised for hypocrisy after he spoke against Post Office closures, then voted for such closures in Parliament. In the expenses scandal, he supported the Speaker of the House in his attempts to block exposure of expenses, arguing he was merely being scapegoated (for example, on BBC Radio 4 on 16 May 2009). He also supported the Speaker in allowing a warrant-less search of the offices of Conservative MP Damian Green. A survey of his constituents revealed that in 2008, Dobson responded to 69 letters out of 269 sent through WriteToThem.com, putting him in 605th place out of 638 MPs for which data was available.

Personal life and death

Dobson's brother Geoff, a schoolteacher, died of liver cancer on the eve of Labour's landslide general election victory in 1997. Dobson married Janet Mary Alker; they had three children. With his "portly frame, jovial expression and bright white beard", Dobson was sometimes compared jokingly to Father Christmas. He supported West Ham United. Frank Dobson's death on 11 November 2019, aged 79, was announced by his family the following day. The news drew tributes from former Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, his constituency successor Keir Starmer, and Labour's current London mayor, Sadiq Khan.


External links

Frank Dobson MP
official constituency site
Camden Labour Party
official party site * |- |- |- |- |- |- |- {{DEFAULTSORT:Dobson, Frank Category:1940 births Category:2019 deaths Category:Alumni of the London School of Economics Category:British Secretaries of State Category:Councillors in the London Borough of Camden Category:Labour Party (UK) MPs for English constituencies Category:Members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom Category:National Union of Railwaymen-sponsored MPs Category:People educated at Archbishop Holgate's School Category:Politicians from York Category:Secretaries of State for Health (UK) Category:UK MPs 1983–1987 Category:UK MPs 1979–1983 Category:UK MPs 1987–1992 Category:UK MPs 1992–1997 Category:UK MPs 1997–2001 Category:UK MPs 2001–2005 Category:UK MPs 2005–2010 Category:UK MPs 2010–2015