With 31 years of continuous service, my friend Colin Aherne, who has died aged 77 after a heart attack, was probably Britain’s longest serving Labour council whip. He was one of the last of a generation of working-class post-war Labour politicians who had known real poverty.
A key member of the Hammersmith & Fulham team that in 2014 shocked the political establishment by turning “Cameron’s favourite council” Labour, Colin represented the people of Wormholt and White City with care for 35 years.
Colin was born in Tredegar, Wales, son of a miner, Patrick Aherne, and his wife, Iris (nee Emmanuel), a factory worker. The family had no electricity or gas and used an outside toilet and a tin bath in front of the fire, often struggling to buy food, clothes, coal to heat the home, or pay for a doctor. This genuine hardship gave him a burning passion for the NHS and for fighting social injustice.
Aged 15, after leaving St Gregory’s school in Stoke-on-Trent, where the family had moved for work, Colin opted to join the army. He saw action during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation and spent his 18th birthday being shot at in Borneo. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
After leaving the army in 1968, he lived in Nottingham and Bedford and worked at a Levi Strauss factory. In 1974 Colin joined the Transport and General Workers’ Union, becoming a shop steward at Premier Foods in west London, a branch secretary and vice chair of the union’s food, drink and tobacco regional trade group. He was also an active member of CND.
In 1984, he was arrested and fined for collecting money (without a permit) to pay for food parcels for striking miners.
Colin was elected as a councillor to represent Wormholt ward in 1986, and remained a full-time councillor until his death.
He was a school governor for nearly 40 years and chair of governors for 35 years at Wormholt primary school. He also chaired the council’s adoptions board.
He was kind, caring, optimistic and funny. During his long life in politics, Colin achieved many things, including being an important part of the campaign team, from 2011 to 2019, that helped to save Charing Cross hospital from closure. For that, some of the last words he heard came from doctors and nurses who wanted to thank him.
Colin is survived by his sister, Mary, brother, Terry, five nieces and a nephew.