Neil Stonelake, a prominent member of the Socialist Party in Rhondda Cynon Taff (RCT), passed away on Friday 12 August after a long illness.

Neil grew up one of those extremely clever working-class kids that the grammar school system was designed to poach away to the middle class. Only Neil wasn’t having that. He was too sceptical, too imbued with Labour movement traditions, too determined to change society.

Neil was from Ynyshir. Having done his first degree in PPE at Aberystwyth, he went on to study law. He used to tell how he was called to the bar at Inner Temple, but never finished his pupillage, because he’d decided he didn’t much fancy the environment. In later years, his legal knowledge was a real asset to comrades locally.

Neil knew and was friendly with Militant (later Socialist Party) members from an early age, but his political path led him first through the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (for which he worked as a full timer in London) and the Labour Party. He served a term as Labour councillor for Porth. Eventually, he joined the Socialist Party in 2012.

The range and scope of Neil’s circle of acquaintance was enormous – shop stewards from all sectors whom he’d taught trade union studies, as well as people in the Labour Party and the broader Labour movement, especially in RCT.

Over the years, he worked as a probation officer, as a sociology lecturer at the University of South Wales – and as a lecturer in Trade Union Studies for the Workers’ Education Association and Gwent College. He also did stints working abroad in East Germany before the fall of the wall and in Greece. Those were ways to make a living, but his real work was always political activism.

Neil used to say, quoting Orwell, that books were the furniture of his mind. Neil’s stories were scandalous – even scurrilous – in the extreme, but they were hilarious and endlessly entertaining. Any memoir would have provoked a shower of writs, but he was always promising to write a series of short stories based on Rhondda life. They could have been a best seller – maybe even a series on Netflix.

Neil was a very funny man, but he was also a deeply serious one. He was completely committed to the fight to change society. Over the last few years, when Neil was in progressively poorer health and could not get out on stalls and to demos – or even, latterly, to meetings – he showed his commitment in his financial contributions to the party.

All of us will miss Neil – his wit, his humour, his encyclopaedic knowledge of Labour history – but most of all his friendship. Neil, you went too soon – we will not forget you.

Mariam Kamish