Dennis Turner’s death on 25th February brought to an end a life devoted to fighting for the people of Bilston and Wolverhampton. He died in the area where he had been born and raised: Bradley in Bilston. It was his home and where he found comfort, strength and friendship.
In a political career spanning decades, first as a councillor, then as the local MP, Dennis saw all the traumatic industrial change which happened to his home town. Through his union position at Stewarts and Lloyds, the Bilston steelworks, he fought the closure which happened over thirty years ago and saw not only that name but also Sankey’s, John Thomson’s and others pass into history. Each of these workplaces employed thousands. Today they are gone and much of the modern history of Bilston has been about trying to adapt to their loss.
Few MPs know their constituents and community like Dennis did. A walk down Bilston High Street with him could take hours because he knew so many people and he would inquire after their husbands, wives and children, all of whom it seemed he knew by name.
Dennis was a very popular figure in parliament, acting first as a Labour whip and later as PPS to Clare Short. His philosophy in life was always to make friends not enemies. And he will be fondly remembered in both the Commons and the Lords. There were certainly decisions which Labour took in Government that he didn’t like, but he never went into opposition mode against his own side. He knew what the alternative was and was a loyal supporter of the Labour Government.
In recent years he took up the cause of Fair Trade, chairing the city’s Fair Trade partnership and taking pride that Wolverhampton was one of the earliest Fair Trade cities in Britain. He believed strongly that the food we consume should not come at the price of the exploitation of those who produce it.
When the Government sought to carve up the political representation of Bilston into four pieces through boundary changes Dennis backed the “Keep Bilston United” campaign. He did not want to see his home town cast asunder in terms of its political voice.
Dennis faced his final struggle in recent months with great bravery and strength of spirit. I saw him a number of times over that period and he always wanted to catch up on the latest political news, locally or nationally and hear what was happening. He was cared for with great love and tenderness by his wife Pat, his son Brendan and daughter Jenny. My thoughts are with them, his brother Bert and his whole wider family.
Our city has lost a great son. Dennis Turner will be hugely missed.