No father of young children should have to die at the age of 53. To say the death of James Brokenshire is a tragedy is an understatement. All I have been able to think about over the last few hours, after I learned of James's death, is the sense of utter desolation that Cathy and their kids must be feeling. Cancer is an utter bastard of a disease.
I first got to know James when we were candidates before the 2005 general election. At that time he was about to become the MP for Hornchurch, a seat which would soon disappear in a boundary change. In 2010 he was elected for Ted Heath's seat of Old Bexley & Sidcup. Since then I've interviewed him countless times on LBC, a station he was a devoted listener of. Even when I gave him a particularly hard time he was still all smiles. I remember one interview when he was Secretary of State at the DCLG when I gave him a bit of a beating up after he admitted he didn't know how many council houses had been built. A lesser politician would have held it against me. "You're just doing your job," he would say.
There are very few people in politics without enemies in their own party, or in others, but James was one of them. Calling someone 'nice' is often seen as a backhanded compliment, but in James's case it was just a compliment. Indeed, he was the nicest of the nice. He never had a bad word to say about anyone, or if he did, I never heard him do it. Yes, he was always interested in the ups and downs and vicissitudes of political life, but he was never unkind - a rarity in the snakes and ladders of our modern day politics.
Above all, James was loyal. He was loyal to David Cameron, Theresa May (who adored him) and also to Boris Johnson. In the latter's case that loyalty must have been stretched when James supported him in 2019 leadership campaign, but was overlooked when Boris formed his government. That was rectified in 2020 when James returned to be Security Minister, the same role he had held in the Home Office between 2014 and 2016. But if James was bitter about being overlooked by Boris, he never showed it, and that was the mark of the man.
As Secretary of State for Northern Ireland he was a conciliator and made it his business to get on with and understand both sides. From what I know he was highly respected by both unionists and nationalists and it was only a shame he never got to conclude all the hard work he had put in.
A good friend of mine Simon Jones was the one who first introduced me to James, and he has remained one of James's closest friends. We exchanged messages tonight and I asked his permission to reproduce one part of that conversation...
He was basically one of the nicest human beings. Having been a friend for 30 plus years, he still remains the one that I failed to have a row with. He is possible the only one. Every time we have spoken you end up smiling. Even when he was busy running Ireland, security matters or his own family. There is a large demand for MPs like him. There are very few candidates that come along like that. Genuinely had time for everyone. And loved people. He knew the small people were the most important and the political people were a process - and one he could deal with. He has been a rock for so long. Will miss him always.
James's family and close friends have started a fundraising effort in aid of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. The page declares...
Great people leave a huge and lasting legacy. James Brokenshire MP wanted to make a permanent difference to other peoples’ battles against lung cancer.
This page has been established for family, friends, colleagues and wellwishers to pay tribute to James, who has died from lung cancer at the age of 53. James’s family have asked for you to share your memories and photographs of him on here, as well as contributing in his memory to the excellent work of the Roy Castle Lung Foundation in lieu of flowers.
As well as his lifetime of public service, in the last few years of his life James’s passion was to help others with lung cancer, preventing others going through what he did and raising awareness of lung cancer as one of the less common variants.
From his initial diagnosis in 2017 until his death on Thursday 7th October 2021, James was an indefatigable campaigner for better lung cancer screening, becoming the first MP to host a debate on the floor of the House of Commons on this important matter. He was clear that the stigma of lung cancer should be removed.
James’s family would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the NHS staff who cared for James so well over the past years.
I hope everyone reading this will make a donation HERE.
It's almost unbelievable to think that I will never see him again. Such a lovely man.