Heritage: Romford MP’s frequent, and unsuccessful, battles with government

The Houses of Parliament, where long-standing Romford MP John Parker often raised issues affecting h

The Houses of Parliament, where long-standing Romford MP John Parker often raised issues affecting his constituents (and, unfortunately for him, was routinely ignored). Picture: Tim Ireland/PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

John Parker was a Labour MP for 48 years. Public school and Oxford educated, Parker was not a typical Labour man. But he spoke up for his constituents, raising local issues in House of Commons questions.

In polite replies, the government usually told him to get lost.

Parker was elected for Romford in 1935. The constituency included Hornchurch and Dagenham, with 188,000 voters – almost four times the national average.

Surely the constituency deserved more MPs, Parker pleaded. You can’t deal with Romford by itself, the government retorted.

Would the government receive a deputation from Hornchurch Council, which wanted a labour exchange (Jobcentre)? No point, said the government, we’re going to provide one, we just can’t find a site.

Mr Sharp, of Ravenscourt Drive, Hornchurch, had been waiting over two months for a telephone. Sorry, came the reply. He’ll get his phone in a fortnight.

What would the government do to stop an insurance company forcing Mr Everett, of Squirrels Heath Lane, to pay extra for health cover? Nothing, was the answer. Take up the issue with the company.

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Who was responsible for Lee Gardens Road, off Wingletye Lane? Nobody, said the government, it was private property. (Of course, it’s a public road nowadays).

Parker had better luck pressing for the widening of High Street, Romford. The government would pay, if Romford Council would contribute.

Parker argued for cheap bus and train fares: people had moved out to places like Upminster on tight budgets. Similarly, phone calls to London should be charged at local rates, not long-distance.

In May 1939, Parker raised a sensitive issue. Although unemployment was still a local problem, he claimed Hornchurch men had been sacked from roadworks in Abbs Cross Lane, and replaced by Irishmen. Nowadays, we’d call that a racist attitude.

The government sounded surprised. Nobody had been sacked. If Irishmen were working on Abbs Cross Lane, well, Irish people lived in Hornchurch, didn’t they?

The outbreak of war in 1939 added to overcrowding on the already terrible train service to Liverpool Street. Ministers were horrified when Parker suggested scrapping first-class carriages. Supposing they had to visit Gidea Park one day! (They were scrapped in 1941).

Aircraftsman Phipps, of Hunters Grove, Collier Row, had been in the RAF for seven whole weeks, but Mrs Phipps had not received her married allowance. It had got lost in the post, explained the government.

Parker complained that the closure of Southend Road in Hornchurch hurt the trade of the Good Intent pub. Would there be compensation? Sorry, no, came the reply. Southend Road had been closed as a security measure to protect RAF Hornchurch.

In October 1940, Parker demanded more cement for Hornchurch air raid shelters. The government mildly pointed out that there was “an exceptionally heavy demand” for cement.

Britain faced invasion. Airfields and coastal defences took priority.

Clothing was rationed in wartime, but some Romford Market traders sold goods without coupons. The government promised Parker they’d crack down on the spivs. Another MP commented that “tic-tac men” from racecourses were employed to warn stallholders when inspectors were coming.

The Romford constituency was finally divided in 1945, John Parker opted to represent Dagenham. He remained its MP until 1983.