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Sunday 22 April 2012

Let Us Remember A Really Famous Man

Among all the rest of today’s stories has come the sad news that former Labour MP Jack Ashley, made a peer after he retired from the Commons in 1992, has died at the age of 89. Ashley was the first deaf MP: he became profoundly so at the age of 45, and remembered that the last voice he had heard had been that of rugby league commentator Eddie Waring.

Jack Ashley campaigned for those who had no voice, who often had no hope: the disabled, sufferers of domestic violence, victims of the drug Thalidomide, those suffering bullying as part of their army service. And of course he became President of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. He did think he might have to give up politics, but soon learnt to lip read.

And he worked on his speaking voice, even though he could not hear it. His fellow MPs would turn towards him as they addressed him to ensure that he could see their mouth movements and therefore understand what they were saying. And even though he had lost his hearing, he remained combative, as well as caring. The measure of the man was that he was well regarded by all.

Being so well regarded is, in today’s politics, unique. Jack Ashley is one of those politicians for whom there could be no cynicism, no tribal hostility, and no thought that they were in it for themselves. For those reasons alone, we should remember him well. His kind will not pass this way again.

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