Bill Michie, former Sheffield MP

0
Have your say

Bill Michie, who has died aged 81, was for 18 years MP for the Heeley constituency of Sheffield, during which time he was named by his Conservative opponents as Labour’s most Left-wing politician.

Indeed, it was his involvement with the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, his closeness to Arthur Scargill and his outspokenness against the monarchy that helped gain the region the sobriquet, People’s Republic of South Yorkshire.

Michie had served as a councillor for Sheffield’s Brightside ward from 1970, before going to Westminster in 1983, doubling Labour’s majority from that of the ousted Frank Hooley (slogan: “Hooley for Heeley”) at a time when the party nationally was in the doldrums.

However, the party leader, Michael Foot, was reportedly horrified at what he saw as a coup against Hooley, and fellow Sheffielder Roy Hattersley accused the local party of a witch hunt.

Michie’s politics had been fuelled by his redundancy, after 20 years as a lab technician, from British Steel. There, as a shop steward and branch activist with the Amalgamated Engineering Union, he had sharpened his teeth.

He chaired Sheffield’s and South Yorkshire’s planning committees, and when the Conservative Chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Howe, announced the creation of enterprise zones to revitalise the inner cities, Michie said: “We don’t want to go back to the 1900s when we built lousy housing developments and lousy factories, then spent 50 years trying to clear up the mess.”

In his maiden speech, he attacked the “criminal” damage he said Margaret Thatcher had inflicted upon Sheffield’s industries. When in 1992 the Government contributed to the cost of restoring Windsor Castle after the fire there, he demanded similar aid for housing repairs in Sheffield. “Everyone’s home is their castle,” he said.

At the same time, he helped broker Arthur Scargill’s move of the miners’ union headquarters from London to Yorkshire, and defended Scargill’s right to accept assistance from Colonel Gaddafi. He also opposed the unveiling of a mural of the actor John Wayne by local Sheffield artists because he disapproved of Wayne’s politics.

Born in Heeley, the son of Arthur Michie, a turner, and his wife Violet, Michie was educated at Abbeydale Secondary School and, later, Sheffield Polytechnic. He became a steelworks apprentice at 17 and did his National Service with the RAF.

His contemporary, the former Labour MP Richard Caborn, described him as a “very dear friend” who displayed “strong values and great integrity”

“He was always on the left of the party, always on the side of the minorities,” Mr Caborn said.

“He was a strong Methodist, a preacher in his early years, and he was driven as much by his moral convictions from his religious beliefs as by his ideological ones as a member of the Labour Party.

“He genuinely tried to change the city and the country for the better for ordinary people and he told me many times what an honour it was to represent Heeley in the House of Commons.”

Bill Michie retired from the Commons in 2001. He was married to Judith, who died last year, and had two sons from a previous marriage.