I am sorry to see that Sir Eric Pickles has announced he is standing down as the MP for Brentwood and Ongar.
In a letter to his local Conservative association, Sir Eric says:
“It has been an enormous honour to represent the constituency for 25 years; Brentwood and Ongar is a wonderful place to live.
“Throughout that quarter of a century, I have enjoyed success and some setbacks, but have always been sustained by the friendship back home in the patch.”
But Sir Eric added that after “much heart searching” he had concluded it was the “right time for Brentwood and Ongar to have a new representative in Westminster”.
As the Communities and Local Government Secretary from 2010-2015 Sir Eric completely changed the culture in town halls with the localism revolution. It brought in an era of innovation where services were improved while Council Tax was kept down. Sir Eric’s reformist agenda did not get the same recognition in the media as those of Michael Gove with schools or Iain Duncan Smith with welfare. But it was similarly bold and fundamental. Those of us who were councillors could feel the change.
Not that council leaders and chief executives were always entirely grateful to the man who liberated them. The “tyranny of sameness” imposed by the Audit Commission was lifted. But accountability was strengthened in other ways. Localism has also meant handing power down to the Council Taxpayers. Spending transparency was required. If the Council Tax was to be raised above a certain level than approval must be gained in a referendum. This has concentrated minds wonderfully.
More recently Sir Eric has served as Parliamentary Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel. Lord Polak CBE and CFI Executive Director, James Gurd, said:
“Sir Eric’s long and distinguished political career speaks for itself. From a young councillor in Bradford and National Young Conservative Chairman to Chairman of the Conservative Party and Cabinet Minister, Sir Eric has been at the forefront of British politics for a remarkable four decades.
“Throughout, Sir Eric has been a steadfast advocate for Israel and the UK’s Jewish community. Simply, there is no greater friend.
“As CFI’s Parliamentary Chairman for the past two years, Sir Eric has taken the organisation to a whole new level.
“The whole CFI family would like to thank Eric for his invaluable support and leadership, and we wish him the very best in his future endeavours”.
Sir Eric has also, as the Government’s Anti Corruption Champion, offered detailed proposals to prevent the sort of electoral fraud witnessed in Tower Hamlets.
Last year Sir Eric also had a prominent role in the Remain campaign for the EU referendum. (Well nobody is perfect.)
Some Ministers measure their success by the extent to which they are regarded as a “friend of the sector” – the extent that vested interests are appeased. At the DCLG that was not Sir Eric’s approach. Instead of lobbying for local government in Whitehall the department became the champion of council taxpayers in town halls.
Sir Eric says of the House of Commons that he will “miss it dreadfully”. It will also miss him with his good humour and plain speaking that reflects his Yorkshire origins. His departure leaves our politics more bland. But I have a sneaking suspicion that we haven’t heard the last of him.