Today ex-Preston North MP Ron Atkins becomes the oldest ever former Parliamentarian in the kingdom. The politician told the Post about his long life, ongoing love of politics and why he is backing Jeremy Corbyn.
What does it feel like to be 102? For Ron Atkins the answer is simple : “It feels like Ron Atkins”.
His longevity is remarkable but he is keen to stress he doesn’t go in for celebrating birthdays much these days: “I’ve got used to birthdays,” he says with a smile.
Ron, who has taken the mantle of the longest lived ex-MP from Theodore Taylor, who died in 1952, has packed numerous careers into his busy life. He remains most well known for his two stints as a city MP - representing Preston North from 1966 to 1970 and again from 1974 to 1979. He also served as a Preston councillor until the age of 93.
The Welshman from Glamorgan made Preston his home and has remained loyal to the city. Ron campaigned for the creation of a Polytechnic in Preston and for the creation of the Central Lancashire New Town and saw both get the go-ahead.
Decades on he can rejoice in the success of UCLan and the ongoing fulfilment of Preston’s expansion plans.
His commitment to politics is undiminished as is his determination to speak out if he sees something be disagrees with.
As Honorary President of Momentum for Central Lancashire he is an enthusiastic supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for the Labour party and is dismissive of recent talk of a new central Left party, fuelled by discontent with Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum, being created from the existing Labour ranks.
Asked to what he attributes his long life he gives credit to his lifestyle and genes. He smiled: “I joke and say the devil looks after his own - or more seriously I haven’t smoked since I was 12, I don’t drink. I think genes come into it - in general my family live to be about 80 odd.”
He has also, he says, been a diet reformer since he was a teenager and added: “I’m practically a teetotaller, except I don’t drink tea. I’m a bit of an addict for coffee. I used to go dancing. All my life I have looked younger than my age. Most of all I have an active brain.”
A daily diet of the Financial Times, Lancashire Post, and copies of the Guardian or Times help keep him up to date with local, national and international news. At the age of 100 he had a brief flirtation with writing a blog. As he reads the press he takes notes.
In August 2015 Ron gave the warm-up speech for a rallying meeting when Jeremy Corbyn came to Preston during his leadership campaign. Ron was unambiguous in his support as he declared: “We love you” and told those assembled: “Jeremy Corbyn is not New Labour he is Real Labour.”
He complained that people had been “fed on watered down Toryism for so long they can’t see the socialism at all.”
Ron saw the socialism at an early age. He recalls conversations with miners, who conversed with him as with an adult .
Reared in a chapel household his early memories are of Christian teaching and chapel : “As a very young boy up to the scholarship age of 11 I was very religious. I was brought up in a nonconformist family. The Atkins tribe was prolific and used to run a chapel. My aunt made sure I knew everything about the Bible and I followed its instructions and that I had a keen sense of what was good and what was bad.”
He won a scholarship to Barry Grammar School and here discovered the joy of debating, becoming President of the Literary Debating Society. He recalls his initiation into public speaking: “I froze. I couldn’t say a word. Afterwards I said to myself if you’ve got something to say that’s important say it. It it’s not important shut up - but don’t be put off by wondering what people will think of you. If it has to be said say it, whatever embarrassment it causes you.”
As a teenager he lost his faith: “I was a socialist and by this time I was losing faith.”
Ron joined the Labour party in the 1930s as the country was gripped by recession. He has never wavered in his convictions and support for the Left in politics. His motivation he says is clear: “It’s my duty to deal in the problems of the world.”
*A life in politics
Ron, who worked in industry and as a teacher, remains passionate about politics. The father of two voted Leave in the Euro Referendum and said: “It wasn’t because of immigrants. The most important thing is our sovereignty.”
An animal lover, Ron, who lives in Preston with his second wife Elizabeth, a Preston city councillor, set up an animal charity in Lancashire. He supported CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) and joined the Aldermaston marches and protested against the American war in Vietnam.
* Theodore Taylor previously held the record as the longest living ex-MP who served in Parliament after surviving to the age of 102 years and 77 days. He was the Liberal MP for the Lancashire constituency of Radcliffe cum Farnworth from 1900 - 1917 and died in 1952. Another elected MP was barred for corrupt practices and, survived to the age of 102 and 135 days, and died in 1924.