On September 29th 2012 my friend and colleague Malcolm Wicks, MP for Croydon North, lost his year long battle with cancer. On Friday 19th October over 800 people packed into Croydon Minister for a service of thanksgiving. I was honoured to deliver the following euology:
The tributes to Malcolm have been rich and numerous. And so they should be. Malcolm was remarkable, very remarkable, and remarkable on many fronts. So, despite its huge sadness, today is in reality an occasion of celebration. The reason why we are gathered together is not only to remember, but also to give public affirmation to our friendship, our affection, and our love for Malcolm.
But what kind of friendship is each of us celebrating? Looking over all the comments that have been made about Malcolm, it quickly becomes apparent that there was not one, but many Malcolms – such were his talents, interests, and the range of activities in which he was involved.
You, and assuredly, he, will be relieved to hear that I have no intention of trying to catalogue his 65 years. Malcolm’s son Roger hopes to publish soon Malcolm’s autobiography, together with a number of his essays. So today I will dwell simply on those five faces of Malcolm that I enjoyed and cared about most. I know that they are the faces which most attracted you.
The first face that I knew and loved of Malcolm was that of his gentle friendship. He was gentle, yes assuredly he was gentle, but most of us knew he was much more than that. Malcolm’s gentleness was not assumed, or falsely acquired. Malcolm’s humility and gentleness were part of his very being.
He found it easy to put himself in the place of others – he did so, for example, in planning this celebration. What would his family most like, and what would be most pleasing to you? This natural courtesy was rooted in so much of what he did.
For Malcolm, life without comradeship, without charity, without friendship, was a life that was barely worth living.
Malcolm believed in no God, yet he was one of the most moral people I have known. Here is the second face that I loved. Malcolm was principled, and these principles were determined, not by calculation, and certainly not as a form of indulgence, but by deliberate choice. His political style was not one that just came from his temperament. It was also made by choice. Politics was for Malcolm an ethical vocation.
In this sense Malcolm was very traditional. So much of the early Labour party was made up of those ethical socialists who, like Clement Attlee, couldn’t abide all the mumbo jumbo of Christianity, but adopted the best of Christian ethics. To this choice Malcolm brought a high intelligence that insured that he was never simply tribal, although for the whole of his life his political loyalties were ever with the Labour Party.
Another face of Malcolm that I so liked and loved came from his stewardship. His role as servant or steward was not assumed by any false modesty. Nor was it assumed by any false humility. Nor was it through design. It was by choice. His role as servant, or as steward, is perhaps best seen in his relationship with his constituents.
Malcolm loved being an MP, not because this changed his status, or elevated him in any way. It fed no empty vanity. Far less did it increase his pocket. He wanted and loved the role of MP, because it allowed him better to serve his constituents, especially the most vulnerable. He brought their voice to the floor of the House of Commons as no one else could.
That commitment to the people that sent him to Westminster as their representative remained to the very end, although, by then, he was gravely ill. Malcolm became Member of Parliament for Croydon in 1992. Over the whole of that period he missed only one surgery.
Malcolm loved being a minister: and why not? Here was another face of Malcolm that I so admired; making the most of one’s talents. There were few ministers who could present the government’s case better, and even fewer whose beautiful sentences would be laced with humour – often a humour that mocked himself, and a humour that was invariably gentle with his opponents.
At our last meeting Malcolm talked about being a Minister.
He talked about being Minister for Life Long learning. This was possibly the role he loved most. It allowed him to open doors for those who had found them all too securely barred against them.
Malcolm recalled his time at the DWP. He knew as much about social policy as any minister for the whole of the post war period. But here, again, it wasn’t about knowing, but also doing. As Pension Minister, for example, he took through the House legislation protecting pension funds.
He talked about being Minister for Energy and his work in warning the country over the long terms security of its energy supplies. He was also active in drawing attention to the shortfall that we now face in our energy needs, and in trying to rectify this.
As in science, Malcolm loved being a minister, simply because it allowed him to get things done.
It was therefore no surprise that in each of these areas he left a legacy. But then, he did so, well before he became a minister. It was Malcolm, let us remember, that was the first to register onto the statute book the role and needs of carers.
Another face of Malcolm’s that I knew and loved was that of a visionary. He never gave up thinking, not random thinking, but thinking focused on policy, our policy.
Malcolm believed, as few others did, that ideas matter, and that ideas can and do shape our world. And it was a particular shape he wished that world to have that ever drove him forward.
How might we make our society more equal, not in some dreary ration book sense of the term. But more equal in the sense that the barriers dividing people dissolved, bringing them closer together.
Right up until the end Malcolm was thinking about the future. How could his vision for a Labour party help reshape our country to which he was so patriotically joined? Some of us saw Malcolm at his best as he gave us a seminar in April setting out his vision for a welfare state which had a clear vision of the future, but a future that took full account of the past. That lecture was one of his many parting gifts.
The last face I wish to touch upon is Malcolm’s courage. There is still much for us to learn about Malcolm’s courage. This courage was shown in many ways, both physically and morally.
In the early 1990s, for example, when the horrors of the Bosnian war were building to their height, Malcolm, and two colleagues, paid an unofficial visit. Let me remind you that the stance Malcolm then took was very unfashionable in the then Labour party.
He was advised not to travel. It would be unsafe. But he went because he believed in the cause, not in the belief that this act would in any way rebound favourably upon himself. Far from it.
His physical courage was matched by a moral courage that ran like a golden thread through the whole of Malcolm’s life. It was there in abundance when Malcolm was told about his last things. Has anyone met another couple, who, like Malcolm and Maggie, faced the inevitable with such extraordinary dignity and resolution?
A year almost to the day before he died Malcolm was told what the prognosis was. Has anyone faced death as he did? And that so important characteristic, his humour, found new heights. On being told by his consultant that he had a year to live, Malcolm observed: so we can have a normal size turkey this year. Next year it will be smaller. Or, being asked what was his success in losing weight, Malcolm would reply, it was easy on the Marsden Diet.
No address would be complete without recalling that bedrock of Malcolm’s life which gave him certainty and security, and from which he strode forth to undertake his many roles. Sydney Smith, that one time Canon of St Pauls Cathedral noted; that life is to be fortified by many friendships. To love and to be loved is the greatest happiness of existence.
Maggie, together with Roger and Caroline and Sarah, and their families, returned in abundance that love which Malcolm gave to them. They beautifully fortified him and he, in turn, basked in the pleasure and the security that comes from being loved unconditionally.
Gore Vidal commented that with each friend’s success a part of him died. The truth is very different. When a friend dies so, too, does a part of ourselves. Part of each of us died when we first heard the news of Malcolm’s death – but that, as each of us knows, is a very small price to pay for such a rich friendship.