POPULAR: Derek Foster was widely respected
POPULAR: Derek Foster was widely respected

LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn has led tributes to former Teesdale MP Derek Foster, Baron of Bishop Auckland, who has died aged 81 after losing his battle with cancer.

Lord Foster was born in Sunderland, the son of a shipyard worker, something he said strongly influenced his politics and what he considered to be key issues. He graduated from Oxford University in the 1960s.

He was employed as a youth and community worker for Durham County Council before he was made assistant director of education for Sunderland Borough Council.

In 1979 Lord Foster took over as Labour candidate for the Bishop Auckland constituency and won the seat with a resounding 27,000 majority. He retained the seat for 26 years and served under leaders Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Margaret Beckett and Tony Blair.

He was famously the first minister to resign from Mr Blair’s cabinet in 1997 following a “broken promise”. Lord Foster left after just two days, reportedly at the junior role he had been given in the Cabinet Office. He was the longest serving chief whip to the Parliamentary Labour Party in modern times, serving ten years.

Lord Foster was heavily involved in helping save Woodland School, which was threatened with closure in the mid-1980s. He retired from parliament in 2005 aged 67 saying it was time “for somebody else to have a chance”.

After his retirement he was made a life peer and was gazetted as Baron Foster of Bishop Auckland.

Labour leader Mr Corbyn said: “I am saddened to learn of the death today of our former colleague Derek Foster. On behalf of the Labour Party, I send our condolences to his family, friends and loved ones.

“As chief whip in the 1980s and 1990s he was always kind to me and supportive of new MPs. As someone obviously quite well known to the chief whip, I liked Derek very much. He served our party with distinction.”

Billy Neilson, agent for Lord Foster during his tenure as MP, said: “Derek was highly regarded in Teesdale and respected. He was not only a man of the people, but a man for the people.

“He was a committed socialist but most of all a salvationist. He had a great affinity with the faming community and appreciated that many of the farmers in Teesdale were tenants. He was a statesman-like figure and it was a great pleasure to work alongside him. In all the years we worked together we never had a cross word.”

Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, said: “Derek was very successful at attracting business investment, creating jobs and building relationships which was of great benefit to his constituents.

“I don’t think some people realise how much work he did and how good he was at it. The most obvious monument to his success is the Locomotion museum in Shildon.

“He represented Bishop Auckland constituency for 26 years, and will be very much missed. My thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”

County councillor Richard Bell, who contested the Bishop Auckland seat for the Conservatives in the 2005 election, said: “Derek commanded great respect within the dale because he worked hard for all of his constituents, regardless of politics. Look at his majorities in elections.

“I met him on several occasions and I considered him to be a highly principled man and a real gentleman – the sort of person who gives politics a good name.”

Nick Brown, Labour chief whip, said: “His shrewd judgement and fair-mindedness won the respect of his colleagues.

“He was passionate about the North East and in particular jobs, pay and life chances of those living in the region.

“He was a lifelong campaigner for social justice. His wife, Ann, family, friends are in our thoughts at this most sad time.”

Lord Foster died in hospital in Sunderland after suffering secondary cancer.