Former Sheffield councillor and long-serving Bassetlaw MP dies

Joe Ashton, who served Sheffield as a councillor and represented Bassetlaw as an MP for 33 years, has died at the age of 86.

By Lucy Ashton, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 2nd April 2020, 10:11 am

Joe grew up in the slums of Attercliffe but went on to become an MP, award-winning national newspaper columnist, author, playwright and director of Sheffield Wednesday football club.

He won Bassetlaw in a by-election in 1968 with a 740 majority. In his last election, four years before retiring in 1997, his majority was 17,460.

His childhood was tough and poverty-stricken, but he passed his 11-plus and gained a place at High Storrs Grammar school. After national service with the RAF, he became an engineer with Sheffield firm Davy United.

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Joe Ashton relaxing at home in Ranmoor

In 1962 he became a Sheffield councillor before moving on to the national political stage.

In the late 1970s, he served as a junior minister in the government of James Callaghan and was lifelong friends with Tony Benn after becoming his aide - or "minder" as Joe called it.

Along with Parliament, he wrote three books. His first, Grass Roots, was published in 1977 and two years later he joined the Daily Star as a coloumnist.

There, he won Columnist of the Year in the What the Paper's Say Awards. The title of his twice-weekly column, Voice of the People, stuck with him through his career and he was well known for his northern straight talking and ability to explain politics in an engaging and concise way.

Former Sheffield councillor and Bassetlaw MP Joe Ashton

His play A Majority of One premiered at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1980 and was recently an inspiration for the stage play This House.

In the 1980s he was a regular on breakfast television programme TV-AM and was happy to take the early 6.30am slot as he said that's when a lot of his constituents were getting ready to leave for work and would be watching.

His lifelong passion for Sheffield Wednesday saw him become a director at the club for nine years.

On his 30th anniversary in Parliament he was given the honour of speaking in the Commons after the Queen's Speech.

1992 NACODS Rally in London agaiinst the pit closure programme Bassetlaw MP Joe Ashton

He referenced The Full Monty's opening scene in a canal, saying: "That scene was shot at Bacon lane bridge in Attercliffe, 200 yards from where I was born and 300 yards from where I started work at the age of 15."

In 2007 he received an OBE for setting up the Association for Former MPs with Parliamentary backing.

Joe had been suffering from dementia and his death was unrelated to coronavirus. He was married to his late wife Maggie for 57 years and they leave a daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.

There will be no public funeral due to Covid-19 but a memorial service will take place later in the year.

Veteran former Labour MP Joe Ashton

You can read an article written by Joe in 2014 about life as a member of the ‘bread and dripping generation’ in Sheffield here.

Sheffield Wednesday AGM at the Cutlers Hall.....former director Joe Ashton