Lady Farrington of Ribbleton obituary

Labour peer with a lifetime’s experience of local government who commanded great respect and affection in the Lords

Josie Farrington, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, who has died of cancer aged 77, possessed the important defining characteristic that, above others, wins admiration across all the red leather benches in the House of Lords: she knew what she was talking about. When she was appointed to the upper house in 1994 she brought with her a lifetime’s hands-on experience of local government and her authority and expertise thus ensured that she was heard with considerable respect. Despite being a Labour whip for 15 years, a post not normally renowned as a means of making friends, she also had the unusual distinction of being universally popular.

She was liked because she was knowledgeable, considerate and down to earth. She put in the hours herself and she was assiduous as a whip at ensuring that others did, too, and were there to vote when they were needed. She was a disciplinarian, but her personality meant that she could muster people in the lobbies without alienating them, a task at which she succeeded throughout the duration of the Blair and Brown governments. And she was famed for organising regular curry evenings for Labour members of the Lords.

During the same period she also spoke for the government in the Lords on a variety of subjects at different times, including local government, Northern Ireland, the environment and women’s issues. Latterly, in opposition, she did not much care for making lengthy speeches but was on her feet in a flash to intervene at question time. Her last contribution, in November last year, shortly before her illness was diagnosed, was to point out that the government’s proclaimed aim of improving educational standards was hampered by the shortage of affordable housing, forcing many young families to live in temporary accommodation.

She had gone into politics, initially as a town councillor in Preston, Lancashire, where she was an elected member from 1973 to 1976, because she was aware of those who lived in difficult social circumstances and, as a Labour party member, wanted to do what she could to help. In 1977 she was elected to Lancashire county council, and when her party took control in 1981, she chaired the education committee for 10 years. She also chaired the council for a year from 1992. In the meantime, she chaired the Labour group on the Association of County Councils (1987–94) and the policy committee of the ACC (1993–94). The Labour party mattered to her and she never forgot why she had joined. “It meant everything to her,” one of her close friends said. Despite her many achievements, however, she was never personally ambitious.

Her political activities moved into Europe in 1989. She became president of the Council of Europe’s committee for culture, education and the media for five years and became closely involved in trying to help improve educational opportunities in Albania. She was the British winner of a European political award for women presented to her in 1994 in Vienna, and the same year she was appointed the UK’s representative on the EU’s committee of the regions and chaired the group responsible for education and training. This led to work with the new democracies in eastern Europe and she was an international observer at elections in the 1990s in Poland, Ukraine and Albania. One of her projects was setting up a local radio station in Croatia.

Farrington made two attempts to become an MP, but was only prepared to seek selection in Lancashire, where she lived with her husband, Michael, and their three sons. She came closest in the general election in 1983 in West Lancashire, where she won 33% of the vote against the successful Conservative’s 46%, losing by just under 7,000 votes. She stood in the Ribble Valley byelection in 1991, where she came a distant third.

Born Josephine Cayless in Loughborough, she was the eldest of six children of Ernest, a master plumber, and his wife, Dorothy, who had been a nurse. She went to Loughborough Girls’ high school and worked as an unqualified teacher. In 1960 she married Michael Farrington and in 1968 they moved to Lancashire, where he worked in education. He survives her along with their sons, Benjamin, Dominic and Daniel, and five grandchildren.

• Josie Farrington, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, politician, born 29 June 1940; died 30 March 2018


Julia Langdon

The GuardianTramp

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