Nostalgia: Barnardo’s boy elected as Romford MP

Ron Ledger, Labour MP for Romford, Essex (l) talking to singer Kathy Kirby and BBC Producer Ernest M

Ron Ledger, Labour MP for Romford, Essex (l) talking to singer Kathy Kirby and BBC Producer Ernest Maxim (r) during a visit to the BBC Television Theatre in Shepherd's Bush, London. The occasion was a rehearsal for 'The Kathy Kirby Show'. Ron Ledger was invited to the BBC by Ernest Maxim. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

So why, in June 1955, did it feature the MP for Romford?

Some cottages and the green at Barnardo's Village, as it is today

Some cottages and the green at Barnardo's Village, as it is today - Credit: Archant

Ron Ledger was making his maiden speech after being elected to the House of Commons.

Speaking about pressures on working parents, he told the story of a family deserted by their father in 1923.

The mother was pregnant with her fourth child.

In desperation, she handed the other three to the charity Barnardo’s, which raised them in orphanages.

The three youngsters, he related, were split up – adding that one of them was now an MP.

Then came the electrifying words: “But I have not the slightest idea where my brother, my sister, my mother, my father or any other relative might be.”

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Ron had been born in 1920. After the orphanage, he served in the RAF and studied at Nottingham University, where he founded the student Labour Club.

Later, he worked for the Co-op.

As Labour candidate for Romford, he had a stroke of luck. The Conservatives won the 1955 election – but Labour gained Romford.

A boundary change had removed Tory Brentwood, while the Harold Hill estate was filling with Labour voters.

Ron was the first Barnardo’s boy to become an MP.

His majority was small and he worked hard for the constituency.

Did the government know that the Drill roundabout in Heath Park was dangerous?

Why must the new outpatient department at Oldchurch Hospital deprive medical staff of their tennis court?

How many people passed at the Gidea Park driving test centre?

In the 1959 Tory landslide, he just held on to his seat. Ron was a rising figure.

It all turned sour in a debate that December.

We grumble that MPs just tow the party line and never think for themselves.

But, in British politics, an original idea can be dangerous – especially if the details are not thought through.

Parliament was discussing congestion on the roads. Accidents and traffic jams cost the country £600million a year.

Ron had a suggestion. Why not make rail travel free?

“This is not as funny as it sounds,” he told laughing MPs.

When Harold Wilson formed the next Labour government in 1964, there was no job for Romford’s MP.

Co-operative movement

Ron was now involved with a ginger group within the Co-operative movement, trying to smarten up the fuddy-duddy Co-op for the new affluent Britain.

He now saw his future in business. In 1969, he bought a hotel on the Isle of Wight.

A row followed in Romford’s Labour Party, with accusations that their MP was not doing his job.

Ron replied that he had told his supporters “that I would gradually move out of the limelight.”

He did not contest the 1970 election and later ran a casino and restaurant in Shanklin, a seaside resort on the Isle of Wight.

Ron died in 2004.

If he did not scale the heights of public life, he should be admired for overcoming obstacles and entering Parliament.

And politics brought him one unexpected reward.

Publicity about the election of the Barnardo’s boy as Romford’s MP led to an emotional reunion with a long-lost sister.