Former Waveney MP Bob Blizzard dies aged 71
- Credit: Nick Butcher
A former MP has been hailed as a "staunch advocate" for Waveney after his death aged 71.
Tributes have poured in for Bob Blizzard, who served as Waveney’s MP between 1997 and 2010 and worked tirelessly in the interests of his constituents.
Prior to his time in Westminster, Mr Blizzard served as leader of Waveney District Council for six years, having been elected to the authority in 1987.
His 13-year reign over the Westminster seat included notable successes, including getting the Tom Crisp Way relief road open to alleviate one of the major traffic bottlenecks in Lowestoft, and obtaining funding for the Orbis Energy Centre.
While the most sought-after prize eluded him during his time in office, his role in its eventual arrival cannot be overlooked.
He fought for a third crossing to be built over Lake Lothing, including commissioning a feasibility report to be carried out for a bridge connecting Waveney Drive and Peto Way, and attracting more than 10,000 signatures to a petition calling for the crossing.
The Gull Wing bridge is currently under construction and is set to open next year.
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Craig Rivett, deputy leader of East Suffolk Council and former Waveney cabinet member, said: "Bob was a hugely important figure in both local and national politics and we are saddened to learn of his passing.
"He was a dedicated public servant who worked hard for the people of Waveney both during his time as the council's leader and as a constituency MP.
"The thoughts of everyone at East Suffolk Council are with his family and those close to him."
Peter Byatt, Labour group leader at East Suffolk Council and also a former Waveney District Councillor, praised Mr Blizzard for inspiring him to enter politics.
He said: "On behalf of the Labour Group, I extend our sincere condolences to Bob’s family on their sad loss.
"Bob was an inspiration to all who knew him – many of us were encouraged to take up politics because of his influence, myself included.
"His commitment to the Lowestoft and the Waveney area as our MP was outstanding – he never lost the common touch, always remembering names and faces and taking a genuine interest in people.
"It was a privilege to know him."
In parliament, he was made assistant treasury whip in 2007, before being promoted to Lord Commissioner to the Treasury after a cabinet reshuffle the following year.
War policy would prove another significant moment for Mr Blizzard nationally as he voted against the Iraq war and, as a result, resigned from his position as Parliamentary Private Secretary.
It would be the only time he voted against the government.
Speaking to the Lowestoft Journal in 2011, he said: “I could not support them. It was a big moment and took a lot to stand up to Tony Blair and not vote for him, but I was right and history has proved it was right to vote against it."
The Labour politician was one of several gains for Tony Blair’s government in their historic 1997 landslide across the country, becoming the first, and still only, non-Conservative MP to hold the Waveney seat since its creation in 1983.
He successfully held onto the seat through two more general elections, in 2001 and 2005.
The latter saw him win by a majority of almost 6,000 ahead of Conservative challenger Peter Aldous, who would go on to win the seat from Mr Blizzard by just 769 votes in 2010, despite a campaign trail that saw comedian Eddie Izzard hit the streets of Lowestoft to support the Labour candidate.
Paying tribute to his political opponent this week, Mr Aldous said: “It is terribly sad to learn of Bob’s passing.
“He was a formidable political opponent who held passionate and strong beliefs and was a staunch advocate for Waveney.
“My condolences are with his family at this time.”
Mr Blizzard returned to the ballot card five years later but was unable to unseat his Conservative counterpart, who extended his majority.
He retired from parliamentary politics following the defeat, and did not contest either of the following general elections in 2017 or 2019, with Sonia Barker taking his place for Labour.
His voluntary positions over the years included being a member of the board of governors of Lowestoft College, a board member of the Sentinel Leisure Trust, and honorary president of Lowestoft and District Mencap Society.
His love of jazz saw him involved with the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group (APPJAG) and founder of the Parliamentary Jazz Awards, as well as becoming chairman of the national organisation Jazz Services, following his departure from politics. He also set up the Lowestoft Jazz Weekend.
Speaking to the Lowestoft Journal in 2011, he said: “I have been in love with jazz since I was a student, and my personal music collection is nearly all jazz.”
Outside of politics, he was also a patron of Lowestoft Town Football Club.
Former Lowestoft mayor and deputy leader of Waveney District Council Terry Kelly said: "Bob was a great friend of mine as we both served as members for Pakefield.
"He was an exceptional leader of Waveney DC garnering respect from all political sides.
"He was a stalwart MP, always fighting for the fishing industry and local businesses endeavouring together more work into the town.
"It was his determination in getting a third crossing that culminated in the Lowestoft relief road being built.
"Bob was very proud of the Blue Flag beaches that Lowestoft gained, as well as England’s beach of the year at one period.
"I know he will be greatly missed by his friends both in politics and the Jazz community."
Former Labour MEP Alex Mayer said: “I’m very sad to hear the news.
"Bob was a leading figure in the Labour Party across Suffolk.
"I know from many a windswept day when we were out talking to local residents how hard he worked for the people of Lowestoft, Beccles, Bungay and beyond.
"He was a relentless campaigner, especially for the third crossing, and an advocate for animal welfare.
"Outside of politics I know how much he loved attending the Seagull Theatre and his great passion for Jazz.
“He will be very much missed.”
Speaking on behalf of East Suffolk Liberal Democrats, Adam Robertson said: "Bob was a tireless campaigner for Waveney, and never ceased to campaign for issues, which were close to Waveney’s residents hearts.
"I myself grew up in the era of Bob Blizzard, who was unmistakably a big political character who defined politics for us now within the political landscape.
"On behalf of East Suffolk Liberal Democrats, our condolences and thoughts go out to Bob’s family, friends and the Labour Party on their sad loss."