The tribute made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 2 February 2022.
On a point or order, Mr Speaker. Since the sudden passing of our friend Jack, tributes from every walk of life have captured the essence of the man we knew and loved: larger than life, bursting with enthusiasm and ideas, and tireless in the pursuit of justice and fairness. Jack channelled all those attributes into representing the people of Erdington, into a lifetime of campaigning for working people, and into his greatest love, his family.
The loss felt on the Labour Benches is great. The loss to public life is greater still. But the greatest loss is felt by another of our own, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). She and Jack were married the best part of 40 years ago. The annual general meeting of the Fulham Legal Advice Centre may not sound like the place to find romance, but that is where Jack and Harriet met, with Jack addressing the meeting, and Harriet inspired to blaze a new trail—one that eventually led her to the place she holds today, as an icon of the Labour party and of this Parliament.
When we hear Harriet talk about Jack, one word comes through time and again: “encouraged”. It was Jack who encouraged her to join Brent Law Centre. It was Jack who encouraged her to stand as an MP—the first pregnant by-election candidate. It was Jack who encouraged her to run to be the Labour party deputy leader. When Harriet became the first woman in 18 years to answer at Prime Minister’s questions, Jack sat in the visitors’ gallery with their children, beaming down with love and admiration. I am so glad to see Jack’s family here today, beaming down with the same love, affection and pride.
The sense that Jack was always on your side is felt across this party and across the trade union movement. You can always get a measure of someone by how they treat their staff or those who rely on them. One of Jack’s former employees has said that whenever they met new people, he would always say that she was the real brains of the operation and he was merely the bag-carrier. His humility and sense of humour were legendary.
Shortly after Harriet’s book came out, a staffer had a copy of it on their desk. Jack roared with laughter as he saw a photo of himself in his 20s, barely recognisable with the prodigious thick beard. “Good grief!” he exclaimed, “What was Harriet thinking?” “What? Putting the picture in the book?” replied the staffer. “No,” Jack said, “marrying me!”
I was fortunate enough to work alongside Jack when I was a new MP in 2015. Our friendship endured, and as I gave a speech in Birmingham just a few weeks ago, it was Jack’s face that I saw in the audience, beaming up at me. He texted me the next day saying how much he had enjoyed it. That was two days before he died, which brings home the shock of his sudden, tragic passing.
Jack cut his teeth as a campaigner who spoke truth to power. He picked battles on behalf of working people, then he won them. It would be impossible to list all those victories today. He led the first equal pay strike after the Equal Pay Act 1970 was brought into law; he supported Asian women to unionise against a hostile management at Grunwick; and, even this year, he campaigned for a public inquiry on behalf of covid bereaved families.
Jack was a doughty campaigner, dubbed “Jack of all disputes”, who was feared by his opponents, but he was also deeply respected and liked across the political divide. Each and every one of us is richer for having known him. We will all miss him terribly.
The funeral service on Monday was beautiful and moving. Today, our hearts go out to Harriet, Joe, Amy, Harry and Jack’s grandchildren. The loss and grief they will be feeling cannot be measured or properly described. It cannot be wished away or pushed down and ignored, because great grief is the price we pay for having had love. We all love Jack and, even though he may no longer be with us here, that love will always live on.