Matthew Maxwell Scott was Chairman of Tooting Conservatives from 2007 to 2011, and a councillor for Earlsfield Ward in the constituency from 2010 to 2014.
Amongst the awful events sweeping the globe, some local sadness too. Richard Tracey, MP for Surbiton from 1983 to 1997 and much more besides, has died suddenly aged 77.
Anyone involved in South West London politics over the better part of the last half century will know what wretched news this is. Dick was deeply respected across the political spectrum and was a tireless activist – but amongst fellow Conservatives he was more than that. He was a wonderful friend.
One of the architects of the famous Tory victory in Wandsworth in 1978, he never stopped campaigning in the borough and at the time of his death remained President of Tooting Association (where I enjoyed four not-uneventful years as chairman).
As the London Assembly member for Merton and Wandsworth from 2008-16 he became Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group and was an enthusiastic spokesman for transport, doing much in particular to secure better services for passengers on the Thames. As Mayor, Boris Johnson appointed him Ambassador for the River, privately (and fondly) referring to him as “Old Man River”.
Yet old is not a word any of us would associate with Dick. Ageless would be better. During a pub supper I enjoyed with him just a few weeks ago – although it feels like a lifetime now – he was as splendid company as ever, the conversation flitting from tales of the BBC in the 1970s, parliament in the 1980s and 1990s, and City Hall more recently.
He said he knew his departure from frontline politics in 2016 came at the right time because “nobody else had suggested it first – or at least not to my face.” He was so pleased to be spending more time with his beloved wife Kathy, herself a leading figure in Wandsworth politics, and his many children and grandchildren, whose achievements and qualities he proudly reeled off. At a time when all of us are so concerned about what lies ahead, for Dick’s loved ones to face the future without him will be devastating.
This is because he was always there. Unlike many former MPs, Dick saw no reason to stop knocking on doors, delivering leaflets, or attending time-thieving committee meetings. Inactivity would have been unthinkable. Understandably, his experience of defeat in the 1997 general election to Ed Davey, by 56 votes, never left him. However, it was a disappointment he wore well, any negative thoughts lost in the positive energy he showed for whoever he was helping at the time. It was this example he showed, as well as his kindness, his conviviality, and his sense of humour, that made him so popular.
When I first ran for council in 2006, it was flat-capped Dick’s relentless pounding of the pavements which did more than anything else to help secure a ten per cent swing and see Tooting Ward, which previously had Sadiq Khan as a councillor, turn blue for the first time since the 1960s.
A devoted sports fan who rose to that most-coveted position of Sports Minister from 1985-87, he would have been frustrated by the current hiatus but no doubt looked forward to enjoying live action even more when it returned.
A (responsible) fan of pubs, not least Youngs’ establishments in Wandsworth, he would have hated the current closures but understood completely their purpose. I know many of us will raise a glass to him when they reopen, happy in the knowledge that it’s what he would have wanted, but so very sad that he isn’t there too.
It was not the coronavirus that took Dick from us, but there is a danger that in its wake we don’t take time to mark his passing. No doubt there will be an adequate opportunity when things return to something resembling normal to get together and remember his exceptional public service as well as his warmth, generosity, and kindness. For now though, the Conservative family, but above all his own family, have lost a great man.