Leeds MPs

GUNNELL, William John (1933–2008) Labour. Lecturer.

After graduating from the University of Leeds, because he was a conscientious objector, he served his national service as a hospital porter at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. After a period teaching in New York, he returned to Leeds University to teach science and mathematics. He became Labour group leader on the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council in 1979 and took on the leadership of the council in 1981. It was not an easy task as comparisons were repeatedly being made between the new authority and the old West Riding County Council. He was a seen as a dogged rather than dynamic speaker, a fixer rather than a coaxer. His commitment to local government was such that when Margaret Thatcher's government set about abolishing the six metropolitan county councils, they appointed him their spokesman in the struggle. When the councils were finally abolished in 1986, Gunnell was then elected to Leeds City Council for Hunslet ward. On the retirement of Merlyn Rees in 1992, he stood successfully for Leeds South & Morley. At Westminster, he found he was happiest working on standing and select committees. When his constituency was abolished, he was elected for the newly created Morley & Rothwell in 1997. Ill health forced his retirement in 2001. For further reading see The Guardian, 12 February 2008.