Jack Ashley, Lord Ashley of Stoke, a parliamentarian and disabled rights campaigner is dead at age 89 after a short illness, his family said.
Ashley was the first deaf parliamentarian. He lost his hearing two years after taking his seat in the House of Commons but regained at least some of his hearing decades later. Ashley was a champion for disabled people and the underdog. He voted against his own Labour government when he felt disabled people were being unfairly treated.
Labour leader Ed Miliband called him "an outstanding servant of the Labour party and an extraordinary campaigner for equal rights."
Prime Minister David Cameron said Ashley made a significant contribution to public life as a "tireless campaigner for disabled people, while former Labour leader Gordon Brown said he was "compassionate, direct, forceful and radical".
Ashley transformed campaigns into crusades and was the scourge of those who cause disability and unnecessary deaths. Drug companies (relating to the thalidomide tragedy, for instance), the armed forces (bullying and nuclear testing), hospital and prison authorities ("filthy" kitchens) and legal eminences (battered wives) felt the searing impact of Lord Ashley's relentless zeal to put right what he considered to be injustice.
Life as a coal heaver
His campaigning was highly effective. He started working as a crane driver, a furnace stoker and a coal heaver before turning his attention to politics. His father was a Lancashire labourer who died when he was five, leaving his mother, an office cleaner, with four children.
He left St Patrick's School, Widnes to become a coal heaver and managed to persuade his landlord to knock 40 per cent off the rent because their family home had a leaky roof. He later attended Ruskin College, Oxford and Gonville and Caius, Cambridge and was elected to Widnes Council at the age of 22, the youngest borough councillor in Great Britain.
Ashley served for a year as a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps on the outbreak of war but was discharged on health grounds. In 1946 he was on the national executive of the Chemical Workers' Union and signed up 400 new members as well as organising unofficial strikes.
28 March 2012
21 April 2012
11 May 2011