Long-serving Great Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell dies at 86

Morgan Jones
© David Fowler/Shutterstock.com

Austin Mitchell, the former journalist who served as Labour MP for Great Grimsby between 1977 and 2015, has passed away today at the age of 86.

Keir Starmer has led tributes to the long-serving MP, saying: “Austin served his constituency of Great Grimsby with remarkable commitment for 38 years.

“There are few MPs whose dedication to their constituents would translate into changing their surname to ‘Haddock’ to promote local industry.

“His big sense of humour was matched by his deep Labour values. My thoughts are with his wife Linda and his children.”

Mitchell was born and raised in West Yorkshire. He read History at the University of Manchester before completing a doctorate at the University of Oxford and working in New Zealand as a lecturer in political science.

In the late 1960s, he made the jump to journalism, working for Yorkshire Television between 1969 and 1977, in which time he also presented ITV’s Calendar.

It was in this role that in 1974 he chaired an infamous interview between Don Revie, the former manager of Leeds United, and Brian Clough, Revie’s recently sacked replacement.

In 1977, Mitchell was selected as Labour’s candidate in Great Grimbsy, to contest a by-election prompted by the death of then-Foreign Secretary Anthony Crosland.

Mitchell won a narrow victory over Conservative Robert Blair and represented Great Grimsby for the next 38 years, retiring in 2015. He was succeeded by Melanie Onn, who lost the seat to the Tories in 2019.

News of the long-serving MP’s passing has prompted tributes from across the House, with Barking MP Margaret Hodge remembering Mitchell as a “clever, principled, straightforward, a dedicated parliamentarian and lifelong socialist”.

Michael Fabricant, the Conservative MP for Lichfield, has commented that Mitchell was “a super guy” who “made his independently-minded views known”.

His Labour successor as MP for Grimsby, Melanie Onn, described Mitchell as a “larger than life character” and, even in his retirement, a “bruising advocate for the Labour Party”.

“Austin will be greatly missed by many in Grimsby’s Labour family and across the town where he was taken from the TV screen into the hearts of local people, always ready with a camera and amusing anecdote.

“It was a pleasure to get to know him and I send my heartfelt condolences to Linda, his family and close friends for their loss,” the ex-MP said.

In the 1980s, Mitchell served as opposition whip and shadow spokesperson at the Department of Trade, but was not afraid to criticise his own party. In 2007, he criticised the Labour government for its treatment of asylum seekers in his constituency.

In 2014, shortly before his retirement, he courted controversy with an article on what he termed Labour’s increasing “feminisation“, commenting that “women MPs are more amenable and leadable and less objectionable”.

Mitchell was a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of left-wing parliamentarians. He was a supporter of the Better Off Out campaign as a Eurosceptic and backed a Leave vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

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