Labour MP for Croydon North Malcolm Wicks has died aged 65 after a twenty-year career serving his borough.
Politicians of all ranks and parties paid tribute to Wicks, who was diagnosed with cancer in October last year, as a “thoroughly decent” man.
Wicks, who was elected in 1992 and has served the borough ever since, died on Saturday, leaving behind a wife, Margaret, as well as children and grandchildren.
Labour leader Ed Miliband released a statement calling Wicks “thoroughly decent, intelligent and compassionate” and mourning his “untimely death.”
Miliband said: “He was a brilliant energy minister, he was a deep thinker about welfare and pensions, and Labour to his core. Malcolm was also a dedicated constituency MP, always putting the needs of his Croydon constituents first.
Flags were flown at half-mast at Croydon town hall on Sunday as tributes went out from local and national politicians – comrades and opponents alike.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown said Wicks was a “great thinker, writer, campaigner and Parliamentarian” and “a conscientious constituency MP”, while Conservative communities secretary Eric Pickles called him “a man of great wit and humanity.”
Brown said: “I talked to him during his long period of ill-health and I marveled at his courage and tenacity in fighting his illness. He will be sorely missed and our thoughts are with his family.”
Mike Fisher, leader of the Conservative-controlled council, said: “Malcolm Wicks was a dedicated constituency MP, a champion of Croydon and a thoroughly decent man who was always considered in his opinions and polite in delivering them.
“He worked with councils of both political persuasions in the interest of the town and was a pragmatic and responsible politician.”
In a blog post on Saturday, Conservative Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell told how he would often give Wicks a lift home from Parliament in return for a bottle of wine each Christmas, as they were near neighbours in Croydon.”
Barwell wrote: “Sometimes [our talks] would be about what had happened in Parliament that day – how our leaders had done at PMQs for example; sometimes they would be about a particular policy issue, which might mean a heated argument or unexpected agreement.
“Sometimes they would be nothing to do with politics; occasionally he would tease the sometimes naive and over-enthusiastic new member for Croydon Central with his dry but very effective sense of humour.
“The journey home from work will be a lonelier one without him.”
Barwell said Wicks had kept his illness such a secret that he was “wryly amused by people telling him how well he looked as a result of losing weight”.
A post by former local MP Andrew Pelling on Inside Croydon, meanwhile, said: “Malcolm was not among that dreary cadre of career politicians whose backgrounds are only ones in political hackery.
“Initially an academic, he already had a command over social policy issues when he reached the House of Common.”
Wicks supported Tony Blair for leadership of the Labour party in 1994, but did not get a ministerial post when it won the 1997 general election, perhaps because he was staunchly ‘old labour’.
But he went on to serve as a minister for education, pensions, science, and, most prominently, energy, also chairing the education select committee. He stepped down from government in 2008 and was re-elected with an increased majority in the 2010 general election.
As minister of state for pensions between 2003 and 2005, he campaigned for the pension age to be lowered for people from poorer backgrounds, arguing that they had a shorter life expectancy.
Blair told reporters that Wicks had “complete integrity in all that he did”, saying: “He had a very basic principle that guided his life: to do what he could for others, to serve, to be committed and to work hard for causes that were always about helping those who needed it most.”
A book of condolences has been opened for constituents and well-wishers to sign between 11am and 5pm until Friday. It can be signed at the Croydon Labour office at 908 London Road, Thornton Heath, CR7 7PE.