I have included an obituary of Jim Reddell for a number of reasons, he was a dying breed in the British Labour Party, working class, trade unionist, absolutely loyal to the Party and Country through thick and thin, conservative with a small c, yet well to the left of most of todays Labour MPs. The likes of Jim were to be found in almost every Constituency LP in the land, up until Tony Blair became leader that is. Hard working, first rate local councillors who new the people they represented like the back of their hand, in their time they sorted out more personal problems than the average CAB advisor of today. Yet Blair and his ilk had no use for them and moved them aside to make way for middle class New Labour wide-boys/girls who were passing through and had no interest in the people that Labour had been founded to represent. Indeed alongside the demise of the likes of Jim Reddell came the demise of the British Labour Party as a vehicle for progressive change
I will also admit to a personal connection with Jim in that he lived in a village not far from where I now live and he was a member of the AEU which was the for-runner of my own Trade Union. For many years he was the only LP member of Brentwood Council, which in those days was a bastion of bourgeois snobbishness, and when he was named a Freeman of Brentwood, the first since 1040, we can only imagine the delight this brought to Brother Reddell when he accepted this offer, as he was working class, a trade unionist and proud of it.
Seaman, soldier, local councillor, trade unionist and community activist Jim Reddell, who has died aged 97, made a difference to many people’s lives. Born north of Oxford Street, London, he was placed in a children’s home when he was 10 because his mother could not afford to keep him. At 12, he was apprenticed at a car factory, leaving to go to sea and qualifying as a ship’s cook. A brief period of civilian employment followed before he joined the Essex regiment in 1932, going with them to the Saar region on the borders of France and Germany to help police the 1935 plebiscite. The following year, he married Edith McMurchie, who supported him in all his activities.
Earning stripes through his ability – and regularly losing them through his rebellious streak – Jim remained in Britain until D-day, when he went ashore with his regiment. After demobilisation, he got a fitter’s job with Howard Rotovators in West Horndon, and joined the AEU.
Then began his activism. He became involved in the British Legion campaign to persuade local councils to rehouse returning soldiers. His love of sport saw him play cricket and football for the works teams, and he became a local councillor in Brentwood, Essex, often its only Labour representative. He was also a governor at Hedley Walter school, all the time assisting people with their problems.
Brentwood made him an honorary freeman in 1999, an honour, he was delighted to tell everyone, that had not been awarded since 1040. He became a Chelsea pensioner, proudly wearing the scarlet, and a visit to Hedley Walter school was a pleasure when they named a new technology block after him. Seeing the old republican squirm with delight in his wheelchair, when meeting the Queen at a Remembrance Day event, was almost embarrassing.
Jim died quickly and quietly, alert to the last. Edith predeceased him, in 1998, as did their daughter Evelyn, in 1997. He is survived by me, his son, six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and countless friends.