Labour backbencher Frank Dobson, who has represented Holborn and St Pancras since 1979, is set to announce his retirement
Published: 17 July, 2014
by RICHARD OSLEY
FRANK Dobson is expected to end his spell as Camden’s longest-serving MP next week by finally telling Labour Party colleagues of his intention to retire.
One of the country’s best-known backbenchers, he has represented Holborn and St Pancras since 1979, winning every time he has asked the constituency for its vote.
His decision to step down has been one of the worst-kept secrets in Camden’s political circles, although, while so many have speculated on what he would decide to do, Mr Dobson, 74, has not spoken publicly on his future.
Sources inside the party, however, now say he will make what promises to be an emotional speech in front of members on Tuesday evening.
By doing so, he will be following the time-honoured political custom of making an official statement to supporters first.
It will come as little surprise to those in the room, although some of his most staunch supporters had held out hope that he might be dissuaded from stepping down and was “just stringing along all of the vultures”.
But the announcement would be a milestone moment for the borough.
“This is a legend making a big decision,” said one member last night. “He has earned respect across Holborn and St Pancras. He is loved because he says what he thinks – not what people tell him to think. Some will feel that very special quality is irreplaceable.”
One of the reasons that Mr Dobson’s decision will lack the element of surprise is the scarcely-veiled interest in the selection contest that would be triggered by his retirement.
As a safe London constituency, there will be no shortage of possible candidates who will come forward.
As the New Journal revealed first in February, former chief prosecutor Sir Keir Starmer has been heavily linked with a tilt at the seat, having decided to swap law for politics. Other names that are repeatedly mentioned are council leader Sarah Hayward, former council leader Raj Chada and the London Assembly member Tom Copley.
Likely candidates have spent the summer so far checking to see whether they have enough support to win, while at the same time trying not to appear like ruthless predators waiting to pounce as soon as the popular veteran stands down.
Others names to have cropped up in a mass of speculation have been current councillor Angela Pober, as well as former Home Office minister Tony McNulty, the former Blur drummer Dave Rowntree and Patrick French, an HIV consultant at UCLH.
Those close to the developing situation say these possible names may only represent a drop in an ocean of applications, compounded by the fact central office is almost certain to shun an all-woman shortlist.
It all represents a complete shake-up of Labour’s parliamentary assignments, with Glenda Jackson in the north of the borough also retiring and former councillor Tulip Siddiq already installed as a replacement candidate.
Mr Dobson was also a former Camden councillor, but took over in Holborn and St Pancras in 1979 after Lena Jeger’s retirement.
A combative and well-known backbencher during the Thatcher years, his loyalty saw him become Health Secretary in Tony Blair’s government before later becoming a critic of some of the tenets of New Labour policy. He was hailed for his work on campaigns to save the UCLH from closure and keep council homes under Town Hall control.
Another source said: “He’s just been around so long, you can’t imagine our politics without him. He will be severely missed.”