Peter Pike obituary

By Julia Langdon
Peter Pike in 1994: ‘his somewhat dishevelled appearance disguised a hard-working, well-informed and reliable MP’.
Peter Pike in 1994: ‘his somewhat dishevelled appearance disguised a hard-working, well-informed and reliable MP’. Photograph: Allstar Picture Library Ltd/Alamy

Peter Pike, the former Labour MP for Burnley, who has died aged 84, always believed in putting the interests of his constituents before the pursuit of any ambition to achieve personal distinction at Westminster. Such unfashionable altruism for a politician, coupled with diligence and evident decency, won him respect among his parliamentary colleagues and was also duly rewarded by a corresponding 20-fold increase in his majority during more than two decades in the House of Commons.

When first elected by a narrow 770 majority in 1983, Pike did realise a personal ambition: to become the Labour MP for the town, an idea that he first articulated as a boy. Born and raised in the Home Counties, he had been evacuated to live with his maternal grandmother in Burnley during the second world war and promised himself that he would return and make it his home in adulthood. When he did so in 1963, he was already politically active in the Labour party and took a job as a full-time party official, first as agent for Burnley’s then Labour MP, Dan Jones, and then, from 1967 to 1973, as a regional organiser in nearby Manchester.

He was born at Ware, Hertfordshire, the eldest of three children of Gladys (nee Cunliffe), who worked as a cleaner, and Leslie Pike, a heating engineer and an active trade unionist. The family lived in Surrey and Peter started his education at Morden Farm school, before transferring to Abel Street school in Burnley. He returned to Surrey and Morden Farm, where he attended the secondary school and then also Hinchley Wood county secondary (now Hinchley Wood school).

At the age of 17 he started work as a clerk in the Midland Bank and studied for banking qualifications at evening school at Kingston-upon-Thames Technical College (now Kingston University). After two years’ national service in the Royal Marines (1956-58), he went back to the bank until 1962. Then he spent a year as a clerk with Twining’s Tea before moving to Burnley.

Pike had joined the Labour party in 1956 and stood for election to Merton and Morden council in 1960 and 1961, before winning his first council seat in 1962, the year that he married Sheila Bull, who worked as a secretary. He resigned the following year when the couple moved to Burnley, and they swiftly became immersed in local politics there.

He consolidated his claim as the eventual successor to Jones by taking a job at Mullards, the local glass factory, where in 1976 he became a trade union shop steward for the GMBATU (General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union; now GMB) and in the same year securing election to Burnley borough council at his third attempt. He was a councillor for the Coal Clough area until 1984 and led the Labour group from 1980 until his election to parliament.

There he proved an assiduous committee member. He was appointed first to the environment select committee (1984–90) and subsequently served on committees dealing with procedure (1995-97), modernisation (1997-2005), regulatory reform (1995–2005, of which he was chair from 1997 onwards); and ecclesiastical affairs (2002–05). He was a member of the Commons liaison committee (1997-2005) and the Speaker’s panel of chairmen and chairwomen.

On the opposition frontbench he was a spokesman on rural affairs (1990-92) and thereafter on environment and housing, until Tony Blair’s election as leader in 1994. Pike was a Christian Socialist and was in the running for the prestigious post of Second Church Estates Commissioner; in the event, he was deemed too “Old Labour” and out of tune with the dashing modernism of the Blairite vision.

Pike’s somewhat dishevelled appearance disguised a hard-working, well-informed and reliable MP. When MPs’ expenses began to be released in 2004 – ahead of the Freedom of Information Act coming into force the following year, and the scandal of 2009 – he was unabashed at being revealed to be the fourth-highest claimant on the list, with expenses of £153,989. He retorted that he worked 70 hours a week, had 1,000 constituency cases in hand and had no problem defending his expenditure.

His particular interests, reflecting the concerns of his electorate, lay in housing, environmental protection, road safety and education. He was considerably ahead of his time in expressing anxiety about the need to protect water quality and the damage that he envisaged was threatened by the privatisation of the industry.

In his maiden speech he proudly proclaimed himself a socialist, something that, he said, made it difficult for him to conform to the convention of not being controversial, given that the debate he was speaking in concerned the parliamentary programme of Margaret Thatcher’s government. He joined the leftwing Tribune group at Westminster and was a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Anti-Apartheid movement, an issue about which he felt particularly strongly.

In his first decade as an MP Pike was an active participant in debates about the changes in Sunday trading laws, which led to the Sunday Trading Act 1994, primarily because of his worries about the impact on the community in towns like Burnley with a culture of corner-shop trading.

A hugely enthusiastic supporter of Burnley Football Club, he chaired the supporters’ Clarets Trust when he stood down as an MP. He also helped to found the Emmaus Burnley charity for homeless people and was involved in a wide range of local enterprise, church and civic organisations. After just four years as an MP his majority increased tenfold and, at its highest point, when Tony Blair won the 1997 election, it stood at more than 17,000.

Pike was succeeded as Labour MP in 2005 by Kitty Ussher. She held the seat for a single term with a majority of 5,778 over the Liberal Democrats, whose candidate then won in 2010. The seat reverted to Labour in 2015 and 2017 but in 2019 was won by Antony Higginbotham for the Conservatives, with a majority of 1,352.

Sheila died in 2017, and he is survived by his two daughters, Carol and Jane.

• Peter Leslie Pike, politician, born 26 June 1937; died 27 December 2021

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