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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Remembering Sir Simon Milton

The governance of London is a poorer place this morning after the sad news of the death of Sir Simon Milton, the Mayor's deputy and chief of staff.

Sir Simon was only 49 but had a long and distinguished career in local government in the capital, both as leader of Westminster City Council and later as Boris's right hand man.

Indeed, he was credited with effectively "running" City Hall after the Mayor realised he needed a hands-on deputy to whom he could delegate key decisions.

At one stage, before Boris decided to run, Sir Simon was among the contenders for the Mayoralty himself. David Cameron had long been impressed with him, a fact underlined by his knighthood in 2006.

In his own way, Sir Simon also struck a small blow for equal rights too. He effectively came out publicly when he held a party in the Lord Mayor's parlour at Westminster to mark his knighthood in 2006. As the Tory leader, Cameron Mackintosh and others looked on, he made a short speech that ended with him paying tribute to his partner Robert Davis for his years of "support and devotion". "I think he's just come out," one guest whispered to another. Within months, Simon and Robert had their civil partnership in The Ritz.

As a reporter on local papers and then the Evening Standard, I monitored his progress closely over the past 20 years. For all the personal tributes, it's worth noting that ultimately Simon was a formidable politician, having risen rapidly to power in Westminster in the wake of the Dame Shirley era. His hard-nosed reputation as a fixer also ensured the swift demise of Tim Parker as Boris realised his appointment as deputy wasn't working out. When the Mayor appointed the experienced Milton as his chief of staff, there was a sigh of relief in many Tory circles. It's fair to say that the Mayor campaigned in poetry while Simon governed in prose.

Sir Simon also spent more than 15 years coping with leukaemia but rarely let his condition get in the way of a punishing work schedule. He would have had a wry smile at the fact that even his old political foe Ken Livingstone paid tribute to him this morning.

Here's the email Boris sent round to staff last night:

 

It is with great sadness and regret that I have to inform you that Sir Simon Milton died last night aged 49.

He was a wonderful colleague and friend, and will be much missed by everyone who was involved in public life in this city. He was kind, he was decent, and he was universally acknowledged to be brilliant at his job. He was a widely admired leader of Westminster Council, who played a key role in launching the first academy schools. He brought the same calm, logic and warmth to his role at City Hall. It is a great shock that Simon has been taken from us when he had so much still to offer.

Boris Johnson
Mayor of London

 

UPDATE: I understand the PM himself rang City Hall last night to offer his condolences. I'd expect a statement from Number 10 at some point.

1050 UPDATE: Downing St have just sent me these words from the Prime Minister:

"I was shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden death of Sir Simon Milton.

"Simon was an extraordinarily talented leader of local government in London. He was a pioneering leader of Westminster City Council, and in recent years a tower of strength to the Mayor and his administration at City Hall, as Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff. He was a much loved and much admired member of the Conservative family, and a familiar presence at Party Conferences and Party gatherings. In all the years I have known him he was always kind, reliable, trustworthy and incredibly hard-working. He was in public life and public service for all the right reasons. He still had a huge amount to give and a great future ahead of him. He will be greatly missed.

"My sympathy goes to his partner Robert, and to his family and friends."

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