Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to former Labour colleague Frank Dobson after it was announced the former health secretary has died.
Mr Dobson passed away on Monday evening at the age of 79 following a “longstanding illness”, his family confirmed.
The Labour Party leader praised Frank Dobson’s political achievements, referring to him as “brilliant” when in charge of health and praised his “great wit”.
In an interview in Blackpool, the Islington North MP said: “He was also a great raconteur, a great purveyor of stories, a great source of gossip around the House of Commons and a great wit in many ways, and would always remember the good and the bad in just about everybody he met.
“As a parliamentary neighbour of mine we got on absolutely famously … we just got along extremely well.”
Sir Keir Starmer, who succeeded Mr Dobson as MP for Holborn and St Pancras, said he will “remember a close friend” who “never stopped giving me advice and support”.
Mr Dobson entered the Commons the same year Margaret Thatcher became prime minister.
Former prime minister Tony Blair appointed Mr Dobson to the position of health secretary after Labour’s landslide election victory in 1997.
Tony Blair described Frank Dobson as a “politician of the highest calibre.”
The Yorkshireman also served the constituency of Holborn and St Pancras MP for 36 years, stepping down at the 2015 election.
Tony Blair praised the former Camden Council leader’s “many important improvements to the NHS” during his two years in the Cabinet.
“Frank Dobson was an exemplary public servant and politician of the highest calibre,” said the former Prime Minister.
“He was a great colleague with an often pugnacious style, but always loyal to the Labour Party and to changing the lives of people for the better.”
Accolades for Mr Dobson’s achievements came in from across the political spectrum, with current Health Secretary Matthew Hancock thanking him for “years of service and devotion to our health service”.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, former prime minister Gordon Brown and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth also expressed their condolences.
Ex-chancellor and PM Gordon Brown said his former colleague “represented all that was good about Labour values”.
Jonathan Ashworth said: “I’m devastated. Since I became Labour’s shadow health secretary Frank was an ongoing source of tremendous encouragement, advice and friendship.
“Many of his reforms have stood the test of time in the NHS. I will miss Frank immensely, as will staff across the NHS and wider Labour movement. All our thoughts are with his family.”
In a touching interview, Joe McCrea, a former adviser to Frank Dobson while shadow health secretary and later secretary of state, praised his former boss for his vision in modernising both his party and the NHS.
Mr McCrea, speaking to PA news agency, explained how Mr Dobson “invented rapid rebuttal” – the fast media communications machine later adopted by New Labour spin doctors Alastair Campbell and Lord Peter Mandelson.
He also established the National Institute or Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the body responsible for approving new drugs for use in the NHS, and the Commission for Health Improvement a “forerunner” of what is now known as the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
“During that 1997-99 period, there were some fairly fundamental things that Frank put in place that have stood the test of time and are the bedrock of the NHS now,” said Mr McCrea, who started working for Mr Dobson in 1992 and knew him for 30 years.
Mr McCrea called him “utterly hilarious” – a reputation that had him known as the teller of some of the dirtiest jokes heard in the Commons.
The former Downing Street staffer added: “He was really passionate. He was a really decent human being. If there was a more decent and truer socialist, then I’ve never met them and I don’t think I ever will.
“The interesting thing about Frank is that he came over as all ‘old Labour’ but in actual fact some of the campaigning techniques he invented made him as much as a Labour moderniser as anybody.”
Following his decision to step down as an MP in 2015, West Ham supporter Frank Dobson said at the time: “It has been an honour to represent the people of Holborn and St Pancras for all these years and to have made at least some contribution to making it a better place to live.
“I am proud of the people I represent. They get on together and help one another.
“It has been hard work keeping up with the needs and aspirations of local people and helping resolve their problems. My constituents have been slow to chide and swift to bless.”
Mr Dobson leaves his wife Janet and their three children.