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If anyone ever deserved the overworked title “Mr such-and-such-a-place,” it was surely Mr Burnley, Peter Pike.
His time and devotion to the town as trade unionist, shop steward, council leader, Member of Parliament and, very importantly, fan(atic) of Burnley football club earned him the right to that title. Peter was born in the south of England and never lost his accent, but his heart was fashioned in Burnley after he came to love the place from the days when he was evacuated from London in the War years. And he never lost that love. So small wonder Peter’s friends will forever remember him as Burnley’s best-ever advocate.
Peter was rightly proud of the many things he’d done in his varied life, Labour Party member at 19, national service in the Royal Marines, bank clerk, working for the Labour Party in Manchester and the North West. He was of the generation when national service was still compulsory and, advised by his father of “a less risky option than the army,” he asked to join the Navy. The recruiting officer, with an obvious sense of humour, put him forward for the Royal Marines, hardly a soft option. Peter was always very proud of his service and very proud to meet many former marines who worked on the parliamentary estate at that time.
Peter was a bright boy, got good O-levels, and like many a working class kid he went off to work in a bank. Hut his growing interest in politics saw him elected as a young Labour councillor in south London. But the pull of the north caused him and Sheila, his wife, to move in order to work for the Labour Party in the North West region and Peter headed to rejoin his destiny with Burnley.
Peter was Labour throughout his life and he served in many party roles: full-time party worker, parliamentary agent to Dan Jones, the then Burnley MP, and elected councillor on Burnley Council where he quickly became Leader. And he needed a job, so he worked at Mullards, a local factory making TV sets. Again, Peter’s abilities and commitment to trade unionism saw him become first shop steward and then Convenor for the GMW union (now part of the GMB).
When Dan Jones came to retire, Peter was an obvious choice to replace him, and in 1983 he entered Parliament. As a constituency MP he was assiduous. He’d often leave London at six in the morning to attend some local function, meeting or celebration and be back to vote in the Commons at night. In the Commons, Burnley was well represented, especially when challenging the Thatcher era policies which were doing so much damage to the industrial North or where the hardship caused to people or communities was debated. He was instinctively an internationalist, espousing the anti-apartheid cause long before it became fashionable.
Peter probably stood down one Parliament too soon, in 2005
Peter was on Labour’s front-bench and served on select committees and his work ethic was exemplary. Many would think he should have had greater recognition for his intelligent, morally-based, radical whilst pragmatic political values. He, like others, could not support the Iraq war and voted against it. History is on his side.
Peter probably stood down one Parliament too soon, in 2005 but he carried on working in the Labour Party which had been his life for 65 years, and for other causes like the homelessness charity, Emmaus.
His generation of working-class Labour politicians is missing today, but their contribution lives on. It’s been said Peter was a fighter for social justice, and he was, but it was more instinctive, visceral than that; Peter’s Christian, socialist values would not let him rest unless he was there for the underdog, those badly let down or ignored in this world, those who need real change. And he worked for just that change.
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