Frank Dobson

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This article is about the British politician. For other people, see Frank Dobson (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
Frank Dobson
Frank Dobson MP.jpg
Secretary of State for Health
In office
2 May 1997 – 11 October 1999
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Stephen Dorrell
Succeeded by Alan Milburn
Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment
In office
20 October 1994 – 2 May 1997
Leader Tony Blair
Preceded by Jack Straw
Succeeded by John Gummer
Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
In office
21 October 1993 – 20 October 1994
Leader John Smith
Margaret Beckett
Preceded by Michael Meacher
Succeeded by John Prescott
Shadow Secretary of State for Employment
In office
18 July 1992 – 21 October 1993
Leader John Smith
Preceded by Tony Blair
Succeeded by John Prescott
Shadow Secretary of State for Energy
In office
2 November 1989 – 18 July 1992
Leader Neil Kinnock
Preceded by John Prescott
Succeeded by Robin Cook
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons
In office
13 July 1987 – 2 November 1989
Leader Neil Kinnock
Preceded by Peter Shore
Succeeded by Jack Cunningham
Member of Parliament
for Holborn and St. Pancras
Holborn and St Pancras South (1979–1983)
Assumed office
3 May 1979
Preceded by Lena Jeger
Majority 9,942 (17.9%)
Personal details
Born (1940-03-15) 15 March 1940 (age 75)
Dunnington, East Riding of Yorkshire, England
Political party Labour
Alma mater London School of Economics

Frank Gordon Dobson (born 15 March 1940) is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Holborn and St. Pancras since 1979. He served in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Health from 1997 to 1999, and was the official Labour Party candidate for Mayor of London in 2000, ultimately finishing third in the election, behind Conservative Steven Norris and the winner, Labour-turned-Independent Ken Livingstone.

Dobson will not defend his seat at the United Kingdom general election, 2015.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Dobson was born in York in 1940. His father, a railwayman, died when Dobson was 16.[2] Dobson attended Dunnington County Church of England Primary School and the Archbishop Holgate Grammar School (now Archbishop Holgate's School). He then studied Economics at the London School of Economics, gaining a BSc in 1962. He worked at the headquarters of the Central Electricity Generating Board from 1962 to 1970 and for the Electricity Council from 1970 to 1975.

After contesting a seat on Camden London Borough Council in 1964, he was elected in 1971 and was chosen virtually unopposed as Labour Group Leader and therefore Leader of the Council, after the resignation of Millie Miller in 1973.[2] He stood down as Leader and resigned from the Council in 1975 on taking up a non-partisan job as Assistant Secretary of the Office of the Local Ombudsman, which he held until 1979.

Member of Parliament[edit]

In 1979 he was elected as MP for Holborn and St Pancras South (later Holborn and St. Pancras). He voted for Tony Benn for Labour deputy leader in 1981 but thereafter became disillusioned and chose to align with what he called the "sane left".[2]

His naturally pugnacious style of politics earned him rapid promotion to the front bench where he served in several important posts from 1982; his liking for dirty jokes and conviviality won him many friends. He once remarked about Hazel Blears, who is 4'10" in height, "The good thing about global warming is that Hazel Blears will be the first to go when the water rises." After the privatisation of Rover Group in 1988 he quipped, "The price charged for Rover was so low that there is some suspicion that Lord Young thought it was a dog."[2] As Spokesman on Environment and London from 1994 he led the national Labour response to the series of scandals over City of Westminster council and its former leader Shirley Porter.

In government[edit]

When Labour won power in 1997, Dobson was appointed as Secretary of State for Health. This was a high-profile post but Dobson found it hard to make a big impact. He faced interference from civil servants, who would claim that Blair raised the issue of further private sector involvement in meetings with Dobson, which Dobson said to them "just wasn't true".[2] He also had his hands tied by the decision to stick within spending limits set by the previous Conservative government. Dobson wrote a memo to Blair, saying "If you want a first-class service, you have to pay a first-class fare – and we're not doing it." When money was finally diverted to the NHS, Blair credited Dobson for kickstarting it.[2] Dobson's abolition of the internal market in the NHS was reversed by his successor, Alan Milburn, who Dobson has said was "carried away with the idea that the private sector could make a big contribution".[2]

Candidate for Mayor of London[edit]

Dobson was manoeuvred by the Labour Party leadership into announcing his resignation as an MP in order to stand as Mayor of London in the inaugural elections.[citation needed] He beat Ken Livingstone in the Labour Party's internal selection, helped by its electoral college system and the absence of any requirement for affiliated trade unions to ballot their members. In May 2000, Livingstone won the Mayoral election as an independent candidate. Dobson finished third behind the Conservative candidate Steven Norris, and just ahead of the Liberal Democrat candidate Susan Kramer. Dobson was subsequently re-elected as an MP, albeit with reduced majorities, in the June 2001 and May 2005 general elections.

Criticism and controversy[edit]

In 2000, Dobson was named "Beard 2000" by the Beard Liberation Front, amid controversy over his claim that Labour spin doctors had told him to shave off his prize-winning beard for the upcoming elections for Mayor of London. Dobson said that he had told them to "Stick it up their wickit".[3]

Frank Dobson has been the subject of controversy for living in a council flat whilst on a six figure ministerial salary.[4] He continues to live in it, despite owning a large property in Yorkshire. In an interview in July 2014, he responded to this criticism, saying: "I first lived there when we were subtenants of a subtenant of a private landlord. We were then sold to Camden council. What should I have done? Exercised the right to buy, which I voted against?"[2]

In the Labour leadership controversy following Tony Blair's declaration he would step down within a year of September 2006, Dobson called for Blair to step down right away and end uncertainty.

He also attacked Alan Milburn for making a 'terrible mess' of the NHS. Milburn had some hours earlier been mentioned by Charles Clarke as a possible future Labour leader.[5]

Dobson has been criticised for hypocrisy for saying he was against Post Office closures, then voting for them in Parliament.[6]

In the expenses scandal, he strongly supported the Speaker of the House in his attempts to block exposure of expenses – arguing he was merely being scapegoated (for instance on Radio 4, 10am, 16 May 2009). He also supported the Speaker in allowing a warrant-less search of the offices of a member of parliament, Damian Green.[7]

A survey of his constituents showed that, in 2008, Dobson responded to 69 letters out of 269 sent through, putting him in 605th place out of 638 MPs for which data were available.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Dobson's brother, Geoff, was a state school teacher who died of liver cancer on the eve of Labour's 1997 general election victory.[2]

Dobson married Janet Mary Alker in 1967. They have three children.[9]

Noted for his "portly frame, jovial expression, and bright white beard", he is sometimes compared humorously to Father Christmas.[2] He is a supporter of West Ham United.

In late 2006 he underwent a quadruple cardiac arterial bypass and was absent from Parliament for a period.


  1. ^ Camden New Journal,Labour's Frank Dobson 'set to tell party he will step down as MP after 35 years', 5 June 2014
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Frank Dobson: Labour needs to be 'knocking lumps off' this government". The Guardian. 30 July 2014. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Groom, Brian (13 March 2000). "Dobson rejects 'clean-shaven' image". Financial Times. 
  4. ^ "". 
  5. ^ Guardian[dead link]
  6. ^ Ham & High[dead link]
  7. ^ Frank Dobson (December 2008). "Daily Hansard – Debate". Hansard. Archived from the original on 29 August 2012. 
  8. ^ " Zeitgeist 2008". WriteToThem. Archived from the original on 1 October 2011. 
  9. ^ "Westminster Parliamentary Record: Frank Dobson MP". Retrieved 27 March 2015. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Lena Jeger
Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras South
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras
Political offices
Preceded by
Stephen Dorrell
Secretary of State for Health
Succeeded by
Alan Milburn