Kevin McNamara (1934 -2017)

Hull alumnus and veteran Hull MP Kevin McNamara has died aged 82. Born in Liverpool in 1934, his association with Hull began in 1953 when he attended the university to study law. Following his graduation he chose to remain in Hull and, in 1960, married Nora Jones whom he had met at the university. He served as Head of History at St Mary’s College from 1958 before joining Hull College of Commerce in 1964 as a law lecturer.

Seeking a point-of-entry into politics he stood, unsuccessfully, as Labour candidate for Bridlington in the General Election of 1964 before gaining the nomination to stand for Hull North in a by-election of 1966. Not only was this a key turning point in Kevin’s professional life, it was also a pivotal moment in Hull’s economic and social development and in the broader context of British political history.

Confronted by economic turbulence in the domestic market and a developing tension surrounding the Vietnam war, the Labour government feared an electoral backlash that would propel Richard Gott, the Guardian journalist and anti-war radical, to power in Hull North. Seeking to brace their candidate, then transport minister Barbara Castle announced that the government would guarantee finance for the construction of a bridge over the Humber, effectively sealing a proposal that had been at least a century in gestation.

In background and outlook, McNamara also spoke to the identity and concerns of the electorate; from a large family, and of maritime stock, he could legitimately claim to understand the people that he hoped to represent and, in his public appearances, passionately demonstrated his commitment to justice, equality and family life. All of this resonated in the Hull of the mid-1960s and McNamara won with a fivefold increase in the Labour majority. Greatly encouraged by such a decisive victory in (what was then) a marginal seat, Harold Wilson went back to the electorate within 2 months of the result, increasing his majority from 4 to 98 seats.

Committed throughout his political life to achieving Irish reunification by consent, McNamara went on to a series of high-profile shadow cabinet roles both in defence and on Northern Ireland, the latter of which he held from 1987 to 1994. Significantly, he never achieved ministerial office – he was overlooked by both Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, the latter of whom was rumoured to have regarded him “an Irish Politician who had nothing to do with the British Labour Party”. Despite his long tenure as Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, Kevin was replaced in the role by Mo Mowlam following the election of Tony Blair as Labour Leader in 1994. Diverging sharply from the Blairites (he once  accused Tony Blair of  “continuous drift” and predicted “future disaster”), McNamara continued to campaign passionately on the causes that he believed in including animal rights, republicanism, trade unionism and abolition of the Act of Succession, until his retirement in 2005.

In later life, he returned to academia, completing a PhD in Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool.

He is survived by Nora and their children Edwin, Brigid, Brendan and Julian. Another son, Kieran, died in 2013.

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