TRIBUTES have been paid to former Easington MP John Cummings who has died following a long illness.

He had been diagnosed with lung cancer and died in St Margaret’s Care Home, Durham, on Wednesday night.

Mr Cummings’ interest in politics started at an early age when he became a Young Socialist.

While working as an electrician at Murton Colliery, he became branch secretary of Murton Mechanics which was part of the Durham Colliery Mechanics Association.

The Northern Echo:

John Cummings pictured in 2003 with foreign students Manami Murakoshi and Kesaara Ayre on an English language course at Peterlee's East Durham College

He was one of the youngest councillors to be elected to District of Easington Council in 1970 - rising to council chairman in 1974 and  leader in 1979.

He first entered the Commons as Labour MP for Easington in 1987 and was a staunch defender of miners’ rights, fighting for those left in ill health. 

He and his dog Grit were a familiar sight on the east Durham picket lines during the Miners’ Strike.

Mr Cummings spent 23 years as MP before stepping down in 2010, when his agent Grahame Morris was elected in his place.

Paying tribute, Mr Morris said: “I have known John Cummings all my life. 

"He was my father’s apprentice at Murton Colliery, where they worked together.

“He was a proud colliery mechanic, with a deeply felt affection for the mining communities he represented with tremendous grit and determination in his union, in local government and in Parliament for over half a century.

“He showed great courage at the end having fought all of his life for the oppressed and disadvantaged and against injustice.

“He was an old school solid trades unionist and Labour loyalist. He never craved for material things. He didn’t want to live in a big house and always lived in Murton.”

Mr Morris added: “He was kind and generous to a fault and a good friend and mentor to me personally. 

“He fired my interest in politics and in justice for Palestine - always on the side of the vulnerable and those who needed support and help.

“John Cummings will be sadly missed by all who knew him, his family and many friends in the mining communities and labour movement whose finest traditions he personified.”

Durham Miners’ Association also paid tribute to the former MP who went on to serve the constituency through some of its most turbulent times.

Mr Cumming’s was an NUM-sponsored MP and was well known for always being available to help union members and the people of Easington.

He also served as a trustee of the National Union of Mineworkers from 1986 until 2000.

DMA secretary Alan Cummings said: “John will be remembered above all else for being someone who was connected to his community. He was always on hand to deal with complaints or issues for his constituents.”

Alan Napier, deputy leader of Durham County Council, who knew Mr Cummings since a 15-year-old lad, followed in his footsteps as union official and leader of District of Easington Council.

“He said to me always speak to people with the essence of kindness and the man I remember aways had the knack of speaking to people, never down to them.

“He always worked to the best of his ability and he did a lot to improve the quality of life for people, particularly the people of Murton.”