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Hampstead’s first-ever Labour MP Ben Whitaker dies aged 79

Ben Whitaker and his wife on the steps of Hampstead Town Hall after taking Hampstead for Labour from Henry Brooke, a long-serving Tory MP and home secretary. Picture: Roy Bateman. Ben Whitaker and his wife on the steps of Hampstead Town Hall after taking Hampstead for Labour from Henry Brooke, a long-serving Tory MP and home secretary. Picture: Roy Bateman.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
12:04 PM

Hampstead’s first Labour MP, Ben Whitaker – a renowned international anti-poverty campaigner – has died at the age of 79.

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"I can’t think of any other profile that would have fitted Hampstead at the time and won it for Labour. It needed a special type of person and he was it"

Barry Peskin, former Hampstead Labour chairman

Mr Whitaker was elected in the 1966 general election, bringing 81 years of Conservative rule to an end in the now defunct constituency.

The father-of-three, who lived in Adamson Road, Swiss Cottage, died on Sunday.

Gerald Isaaman, who began work at the Ham&High in 1955 and was editor from 1969 to 1994, said: “Ben Whitaker was a man of outstanding talents who served Hampstead well as its first Labour MP.

“Ben was essentially an ideas man, forever seeking new ways in which to help the poor and the oppressed and support social welfare and the arts.

“And he did that with great success in his later career as a progressive reformer on an international scale.”

Born on September 15, 1934, Benjamin Charles George Whitaker was educated at Eton College before gaining a modern history degree from Oxford University’s New College.

He became a barrister before contesting the 1966 general election, at which he defeated former Tory home secretary Henry Brooke.

Mr Isaaman added: “He owed that success partly to the late Jack Cooper, a Times journalist, local Labour councillor and subsequently the Ham&High’s wine correspondent, who had dramatically reduced Brooke’s solid majority at the 1964 election.

“That was when Harold Wilson ended up with a majority of just four.”

Former Hampstead Labour Party chairman Barry Peskin was a member of Mr Whitaker’s election campaign team in 1966.

He said: “He was a lovely man. He was a shy man but one of great integrity and he was perfect for Hampstead at that time.

“I can’t think of any other profile that would have fitted Hampstead at the time and won it for Labour. It needed a special type of person and he was it.”

Mr Whitaker served for a year as a junior minister in the overseas development department of Harold Wilson’s government before losing his seat in the 1970 general election to Tory Geoffrey Finsberg.

Outside of Parliament, Mr Whitaker became the director of a number of global poverty charities.

His wife Baroness Janet Whitaker was made a life peer in 1999 by Tony Blair’s government, in recognition of her work as a civil servant.

Retired businessman Ladislas Rice, of Redington Road, Hampstead, became a close friend of Mr Whitaker’s after he left parliament and was living in Elsworthy Road, Primrose Hill.

Mr Rice said: “He was a socialist, a man enormously dedicated to reducing poverty and suffering on an international scale.”

Baroness Frances D’Souza, Lord Speaker of the House of Lords, added: “The world is a poorer place without him.”

Mr Whitaker is survived by his widow, three children and grandchildren.

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