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Researching and reporting on the lives of some really interesting people (RIP)

LEO BECKETT, aged 95


Born in Brompton Barracks in Chatham, Kent, in 1926, he was christened Lionel but was always known as ‘Leo’. His father, Arthur, was a soldier and his mother was Marjorie Holland.

Towards the end of the Second World War, aged just 18, he joined the RAF. It opened his eyes to the world. Just talking to other servicemen and women opened his eyes to the world and the inequalities within it. He formed a strong socialist belief.

During the war, the Beckett family had moved to Leadenham in Lincolnshire. Returning there after his military service, Leo got an engineering apprenticeship.

Then he got a job working for the Lincoln based engineering firm Ruston Bucyrus. He joined the Lincoln Labour Party and was soon very active in local politics.

He married Beryl Firth and they were to have two sons, David and Roger.

In 1972, Leo was the local Labour Party Chairman. They deselected their sitting MP Dick Taverne because of his pro-EEC standpoint. Taverne promptly resigned and a by-election was called.

Taverne stood as an independent candidate, but the Labour Party needed a new candidate. They chose Margaret Jackson.

Taverne beat Margaret in the by-election in 1973, but a General Election was called in February 1974 and Margaret was selected by Labour again. Leo became her political agent and this time she was successfully elected as MP for Lincoln (and again in the October 1974 election).

In the Labour government of Harold Wilson, she was made a government whip and in that of James Callaghan she was made an Under Secretary for Education and Science. Therefore, Margaret is currently the last parliamentary link with the Labour governments of the 1970s.

Leo went to Westminster with Margaret – and they fell in love. Leo and his wife divorced and he married Margaret in 1979. That year she lost her seat in the General Election that brought Margaret Thatcher to power.

She was back in Parliament in 1983, winning the Derby South seat (which she holds to this day). She was immediately made a front bencher in the Shadow Cabinet.

As her political career developed, Leo ran her Parliamentary office with great efficiency. A confirmed socialist, he was respected by members of all parties for his wit, charm and incredible organisational skills – “a smart operator.”

Things were not always easy for Margaret both at constituency and national level, but Leo was always at her side.

Margaret and Leo (courtesy BBC News)

The couple were noted for their love of caravanning holidays whenever Parliament was in recess.

Throughout her time as an MP, she has seen 10 changes of leadership of the Labour Party. The most traumatic was the death of John Smith in 1994, and Margaret became temporary leader.

Under Tony Blair’s premiership Margaret became Environment Secretary followed by becoming Britain’s first female Foreign Secretary in 2006, before returning to the back benches.

Leo was her personal assistant for 50 years and was still fulfilling this role into his 90s until ill health and lack of mobility caused him to, reluctantly, step back.

He was very proud when Margaret was made a Dame.

He was a modest man with a genial personality, who had care and concern for everybody.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader said, “Always by her side, Leo was as much a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party as his beloved wife. He will be much missed.”

MP Vernon Coaker said, “Leo Beckett was such a kind man, a loyal Labour supporter and truly ever-present by Margaret’s side through her many triumphs and political achievements.”

RIP – Removed Independent Politician

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