Peter Pike, Labour MP for Burnley who worked hard behind the scenes – obituary

Despite his birth in Hertfordshire, Pike’s roots were in the town he came to represent. Evacuated to his grandmother’s in Burnley after his seventh birthday was disrupted by a V1 cutting out overhead, he became a lifelong Burnley supporter, and from 2005 chaired the Clarets Trust.

Peter Leslie Pike was born at Ware on June 26 1937, the son of Leslie Pike, a heating engineer, and the former Gladys Cunliffe . His mother was an active Conservative, but his father was a trade unionist and Peter delivered Labour leaflets as a teenager.

Peter was mainly brought up in Morden, then in Surrey. Leaving Hinchley Wood county secondary school in 1954, he joined the Midland Bank as a clerk, studying for his banking exams at Kingston Technical College.

Called up in 1956, Pike would be one of the last national servicemen in the Commons. The Suez operation came early in his service with the Royal Marines; he was not sent, but never forgot that a marksman in his squad was killed by an Egyptian sniper as he left his helicopter.

Pike joined the Labour Party in 1957, fought his first council election in 1960 and in 1962 was elected to Merton & Morden council at the third attempt. He stayed with the Midland until 1962, after which he spent a year with Twinings Tea before heading north.

In 1963 Pike became Burnley’s full-time Labour agent. He moved on to be secretary of the Manchester party in 1967, but continued as agent to Burnley’s MP Dan Jones, in four of the seven elections Jones won.

Pike left Labour’s employ in 1973 to become a final inspector at Mullard’s Simonstone glass factory. For seven of his 10 years there, he was also a General & Municipal Workers’ Union shop steward.

He first stood for Burnley council in 1966, but was not elected to it until 1976. He became leader of the council in 1980. During his three years in charge, it spent more than £1 million buying the derelict Burnley Mechanics’ Institute for conversion into a theatre opened by the Queen in 1986, and began converting Queen Street Mill – the last surviving 19th-century steam powered cotton weaving mill – into a textile museum.

When Dan Jones retired at the 1983 election, Pike was selected to take his place. In a disastrous election nationally for Labour, he held the traditionally safe seat by just 787 votes.

In his maiden speech, he condemned “Fortress Falklands” as a waste of money, and called for a non-nuclear defence policy. In 1985 he began a five-year stint on the Environment Select Committee.

Increasing his majority in 1987 to 7,757, he chaired Labour’s environment committee, then in June 1990 Kinnock appointed him a front-bench food and agriculture spokesman.

After the 1992 election, Pike was elected vice-chairman of the Left-wing Tribune Group of MPs. Smith, succeeding Kinnock, moved him to housing spokesman in Jack Straw’s environment team.

After Smith’s sudden death in May 1994, Pike backed Margaret Beckett for the leadership. The victorious Blair did not keep him on the front bench; instead Pike joined the select committees on procedure and regulatory reform – chairing the latter from 1997 until his retirement.

Pike’s majority peaked at 17,062 in the 1997 election. Having missed out on becoming Second Church Estates Commissioner, he stepped up his select committee work. He also chaired the all-party groups on Romania, Southern Africa, Mongolia (as its founder), road passenger transport, and kidney disorders.

Comfortably re-elected in 2001, Pike was one of many Labour MPs uneasy at the prospect of Britain joining the US to invade Iraq. In January 2003 he asked Blair how the RAF could bomb Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction – the pretext for intervening – if they did not know where they were.

He reckoned Saddam an evil tyrant, but felt the UN inspectors should be given longer to do their job. With conflict imminent that March, he insisted: We haven’t reached the stage where we need to go to war”.

Yet he saw no alternative to Blair’s leadership, and attacked its critics as motivated by sour grapes.

Pike retired from Parliament at the 2005 General Election. He chaired Burnley Labour Party in 2015-16. He also chaired the East Lancashire Learning Difficulties Partnership and South West Burnley Enterprise. He was president of Burnley WEA and Burnley Municipal Choir and Orchestra.

Peter Pike married Sheila Bull in 1962; she died in 2017 and he is survived by their two daughters.

Peter Pike, born June 26 1937, died December 27 2021

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