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Milton A tribute to Sir Simon Milton by Cllr Melvyn Caplan, leader of Westminster Council (1995 to 2000) and Cllr Colin Barrow, leader of Westminster Council (2008 to present day)

Sir Simon Milton may never have been such a successful Conservative had the party avoided the mistakes of the 1990's.

He had proved his mettle as Deputy Leader of Westminster Council under Shirley Porter and helped steer the Westminster flagship through the danger years of Labour domination at the 1990 and 1994 elections.

After that he looked to Parliament and contested East Leicester in 1997. But the prospects for the party and his Leukemia meant that parliamentary ambition was curtailed.

However, Parliament's loss was Westminster Council's gain. He took on the leadership in May 2000 when the council was still recovering from the legacy of Porter and the impact of a partisan and hostile Labour Government that had targeted Westminster and cut its funding.


Porter’s "homes for votes" saga was probably a defining experience for him. He was an ardent Thatcherite, but saw the crash of the Porter administration under legal challenge and drew lessons about politics, including a determination to govern by building the widest coalition and a determination to demonstrate the highest standards of personal probity.

Simon always had a very clear view of what leadership required. His "10 rules for managing a group" became required reading in local government leadership courses. With fellow Westminster councillor Robert Davis, his partner, he developed a sophisticated system for managing members and officers that got the best out of both groups.

But for Simon effective political management was only a means to an end. He retained a genuine passion for local people, for local government and for ways that he could improve the quality of life of the urban environment. Early initiatives under the banner of 'Civic Renewal' saw the council implement policies that delivered cleaner streets and a better environment. He also saw earlier than most the negative impact that licensing liberalisation would bring. He warned and campaigned against it and won concessions from the government which allowed Westminster to preserve a balanced economy and residential amenity in the heart of London.

As the noughties wore on Simon also sensed that the agenda was changing. He focused on improving the way that communities lived with one another after seeing the evidence that different groups were moving apart, from latent hostility between Arab and Jew on the Edgware Road to the problems between black and white and Bangladeshi youth in Paddington.

Many councils talk about 'cohesion', but Simon developed a plan of action under the banner of "One City" which bridged communities and built trust. In this sense, Simon was a Cameroon before David and detoxified the Conservative brand, in Westminster at least, much earlier than other places. So frustrated, however, were the Labour group at this inclusive approach which combined strong community politics with low tax and great delivery, that they ran out of insults and resorted, in their old Labour way to calling him "more new Labour than Blair".

Simon’s numerous other achievements at Westminster ranged from targeted intervention on problem families to a drive to deliver a greener city. All contributed to record public satisfaction and thumping election victories in 2002 and 2006. But his legacy may be best found in education. Westminster had found itself near the foot of the education league tables when he became council leader and progress was slow in improving performance.

But Simon saw that radical action was necessary to break the consensus by introducing academy schools to Westminster. This involved significant opposition – the break-up of the massive old North Westminster Comprehensive – now three Academy schools – and the closure of the old Pimlico Comprehensive and subsequent re-opening as Pimlico Academy. All these schools now have an ethos, strong exam results and most importantly demand for places which is transforming the life chances of inner-city children. It is social mobility in practice.

Simon became leader of the Local Government Association in 2007 and pioneered the work with the then government of the central-local partnership and "Total Place", which pioneered the localist agenda championed by our current government. At the same time he stood down from leading Westminster Council.

In 2009 he was approached and accepted the role of Deputy Mayor under Boris Johnson. This was not an easy choice. Running the LGA was a significant role. But he wanted a fresh start. He told friends that he wanted to do a job at the GLA which would allow him to do things, rather than just talk about them, and he missed the cut and thrust of politics.

Throughout all of this Robert Davis, his civil partner from 2007, was at his side.  Robert is a leading councillor in his own right, but always made sure that Simon was where he needed to be and looked after, at times when the effects of the Leukemia and bone marrow transplant he received in 1998 made him unwell.

Simon had a wide and varied life outside politics. After Cambridge University he helped run his family bakery but politics beckoned and he combined that with a successful career in public relations, rising to become the first managing director of consultancy APCO Worldwide.

He was honoured to serve Boris Johnson and believed that the Mayor was accomplishing many things that would have changed London for the better. He was determined to see the job at the GLA through, though would probably have stood down after the next election, to seek fresh challenges.

Probably the defining thing about Simon's character was his grace and treatment of people. He hardly ever raised his voice, was never rude and was quick to thank and praise. There was possibly only one time during his tenure at Westminster when he was genuinely angry, after the planning committee had banned the flying of the Rainbow flag in Soho. He saw the decision as bigotry and quickly got it reversed.

Within Westminster Simon will leave a legacy of respected local government and opportunity for families who struggle and kids who need a great education. For the political community he will remain simply the model council leader. Someone who grasped strategy, delivery and politics, and inspired people to be the best they can be.

We will miss him and so will the Party.

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