Posts Tagged ‘The Rolling Stones’

“I’m part of the union, till the day I die.” Harry Harpham’s tub-thumping socialist send-off

17/02/2016, 02:40:44 PM

by Lucy Ashton

“I’m part of the union, till the day I die.”

The rousing anthem by The Strawbs began yesterday’s funeral service for Sheffield Brightside Labour MP Harry Harpham, who was struck down by a fast-paced cancer just months after entering Parliament last May.

Despite the reserved surroundings of Sheffield Cathedral, this was a tub-thumping, socialist send-off for a former deputy council leader with 20 years local government service under his belt and a passionate trade unionist.

Before the service, members of the National Union of Mineworkers erected large NUM banners at the front of the altar and every mourner was asked to wear a 1980s-style Coal Not Dole yellow sticker.

Labour stalwart and South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings led the service, in his role as an Anglican priest, explaining that the Cathedral had been chosen because it was big enough for the hundreds of mourners.

Any suggestions that this was a religious service were dismissed when the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil was played.

Yet there was a spiritual element as the congregation shared their socialist views, ethics and memories.

Harry, whose real first name was Robert, was the eldest of seven children and leaves two brothers and four sisters.

His brother Rick fondly recalled their loving family but said Harry also had another family – NUM colleagues who had become lifelong friends after Harry spent 15 years down the pit and fought alongside them during the miners’ strike.

And the ghost of the 1980s hung over proceedings as Rick urged mourners to punch the air and yell: “Miners united, will never be defeated.”

Harry, 61, was a gregarious and incredibly friendly man and his service also remembered his role as a loving and beloved father and grandfather.

His daughter Annie – who brought her wedding forward last December so Harry could walk her down the aisle – spontaneously abandoned her planned speech and instead sang a beautiful cappella of Blooming Heather to her father.

It wouldn’t have been an authentic Labour party occasion without the Red Flag, played by the Cathedral organist who also happened to be a party member and wanted to pay a final tribute to Harry.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attended but the final words were left to David Blunkett, who Harry was agent to for many years before succeeding in the Sheffield Brightside seat.

“Harry was my friend. He would always greet me by saying ‘hello comrade’ and that’s how I’ll always remember him.”

Harry’s final journey, in a casket covered with red roses and a flag from his beloved Manchester United FC, was to John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, a truly appropriate song.

Donations in memory of Harry Harpham can be made to Cancer Research UK online via his funeral director at

Lucy Ashton is former political editor of the Sheffield Star

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon