I was very sad to hear of the death of Dr Ashok Kumar MP today at the tragically young age of just 53.
I remember Ashok when he was a local councillor when I lived in Middlesbrough in the late 1980s. He was a passionate campaigner and a genuine, gentle man, who always had time for people and was willing to discuss political ideas. I recall him being particularly keen to encourage young people and I’m sure that he influenced many on Teesside to get involved with politics and to campaign to change things for the better.
He was one of the few engineers in Parliament and I also remember him attending various industry-related functions in the House when I worked in the construction industry as communications director with the Association for Consultancy and Engineering. Ashok helped the association make contacts with supportive MPs and was always willing to fight the corner of engineering in the Commons.
I also think that Ashok may have been one of the first Indian men ever to win a by-election in the UK when he won the Langbaurgh seat in 1991. Although he lost the seat to the Conservative candidate in the 1992 election, he returned to Parliament when he won Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland at the 1997 election and held it until his untimely death today.
Ashok was also a great supporter of the British Humanist Association, an active member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group and a self-described life-long “liberal humanist”. He campaigned prominently in Parliament for a national holiday on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, to honour one of the fathers of modern science. As a chemical engineer, science was one of Ashok’s great passions and he took every opportunity to promote it during his time in the House.
When I knew him, he always had time to talk to people and even when he did not agree with you he was still willing to debate and argue in a friendly and fraternal manner. His death at such a young age is truly a tragedy, for his family and for all who knew him.