There have been lots of tears in Croydon this week, and no doubt more to come. The news that Malcolm Wicks had finally lost his battle with cancer was the very worst news possible. Croydon Labour is a close knit family in a town with its own distinct identity.
20 years ago (1992), I was a keen Labour activist in the then neighbouring constituency of Croydon North West. We achieved a swing of 6.2% but next door, in Croydon North West, Malcolm Wicks achieved a swing of 6.9% winning the seat for Labour for the first time. Labour over the past 10 years had learnt the lesson from the Croydon North West 1981 by-election where we had finished in third place to the winning Liberal and second placed Conservatives.
Turn the clock forward to 2010 and I was election Agent for Malcolm where he secured a swing to Labour and a stomping majority of 16,481. That election was testament to the type of straight talking, honest and moral politics that Malcolm always pursued and known for.
As an MP, Malcolm never took his eye off the needs of his constituency. He never treated it as a safe seat, and continued to campaign as if it was the marginal that he won in 1992. He was proud of his professional and committed staff team who have worked tirelessly over those 20 years to provide the dedicated casework and support service that made his ministerial career possible alongside his well deserved reputation as a caring and committed constituency MP.
As our MP, he was never involved in the expenses scandal that engulfed many MPs. Indeed, without complaint, he put his own money into providing a constituency shop front office. Regardless of parliamentary expenses being limited, he wanted the best facilities for his constituents. He opened his second, brand new shop front office in 2009.
A great parliamentarian, Malcolm changed the course of our politics with his Carers Act (1995), the first piece of legislation to recognise the needs and rights of family carers. Everyday, someone’s life has been changed because of this legislation. In 2009, Malcolm was at it again, piloting an Act through parliament to modernise legislation relating to Co-operatives and supporting the practical development of Credit Unions.
As a government minister Malcolm will be best remembered for his work securing our energy supplies for years to come, first as Energy Minister and then as Special Advisor on International Energy Issues to the Prime Minister. However, he also served as minister for other areas: Pensions, Science & Innovation and Education. Always keen to understand and question on issues I remember being very impressed that upon being appointed Education Minister, Malcolm spent a week talking to local councillors, schools and the LEA about education and how to make a practical difference. That summed Malcolm up, quite willing to engage at a practical level alongside high level strategic decision making.
Malcolm formed Labour friends of Bosnia, in his own words “arguing, to the then Conservative Government, and our own over-cautious Frontbench, the need to stand up to Dr Karadzic and the Serbs who were pounding Sarajevo and were later responsible for the Srebrenica genocide. The need to oppose tyranny is a lesson that the Left perhaps needs to re-learn today.” Whatever the issue, Malcolm always stood by the ordinary person and was always a firm, authoritative voice. In the lead up to the 2010 election he was lobbied heavily by the two sides in the Sri Lankan Civil War. Sympathetic, but clear that war crimes, committed by both sides, was unacceptable he trod a difficult line, with integrity and respect across the communities of Croydon.
Over the last year, Malcolm has been standing up for his Constituency, as he has done for 20 years. Speaking plainly, about the riots that hit Croydon so badly. Demanding answers on policing. Demanding that a year on, the government and police compensate those fairly and fully who lost their businesses and homes. This is an ongoing campaign for ordinary constituents who deserve better.
Malcolm was a good friend to me, a great campaigner for social justice and an important ally for his constituents. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.
He will be very sorely missed, we must all continue his work.