Tribute to Baroness Couttie by Nickie Aiken
4 min read
25 September 1962 - 12 December 2022
Former leader of Westminster Council who did not let cancer stop her making a full contribution in the Lords.
“Throughout my life I have tried to be a kind and decent person, using my position in the latter stages of my career to work for a better life for those for who life has dealt some blows;” the words of Baroness Philippa Couttie of Downe (nee Roe) who died on 12 December aged 60 following a heroic battle with cancer.
I first met Philippa when we were elected together to Westminster City Council in May 2006, she as Knightsbridge and Belgravia ward councillor. Within 12 months she became deputy cabinet member for children’s services; in 2008 cabinet member for housing; and in 2011 appointed as finance cabinet member.
She was focussed with a razor-sharp mind, and always showed such humility and kindness
As cabinet member for housing and subsequently leader of Westminster City Council (2012 to 2016), Philippa developed an innovative housing strategy using the value of the housing assets the council owned to regenerate the poorest wards in the borough. The Roe Regeneration Strategy also encompassed economic regeneration as well as renewing the housing stock to create new jobs and better housing for the local community. As leader her goal was to reduce the number of long-term unemployed in the borough by a third and was on the way to achieving this when she stood down to enter the Lords following her nomination for a life peerage in David Cameron’s resignation honours list in 2016.
During her period as Westminster Council leader Philippa was also deputy leader of the Local Government Association and London Councils’ lead on reform and devolution. Peter John, former leader of Southwark council and chairman of London Councils, recalls her contribution: “Philippa was a force of nature at London Councils. Although she was initially sceptical of a cross-party body with a Labour majority, she quickly realised that she could use her voice to improve Westminster and London’s position. And she became a complete team player.”
Bexley council leader and Conservative group leader on London Councils Teresa O’Neil described Philippa as “a great champion for young people, trying to create opportunities for them and their futures. She made a difference.”
Phillippa worked closely with Boris Johnson when the latter was London mayor; he appointed her to several committees including the London Enterprise Partnership, London Crime Reduction Board and the Royal Parks. On recollecting her contribution Johnson described her as “a doer not a waffler. She was friendly and approachable – but also highly effective in running one of the economic powerhouses of the country”.
Having overcome cancer in her 30s, Philippa was diagnosed a second time in 2015 when leader of Westminster. She was given a year to live but was determined to survive for as long as possible for her children’s sake, then aged 10. She underwent extensive treatment which proved successful in extending her life expectancy but she knew she was living with a terminal diagnosis. That did not stop her from contributing in the Lords.
On entering the Lords, Philippa was made a government whip and served on the prestigious European Union Committee from 2019 to 2022. She also sat on a select committee on Political Polling and Digital Media in 2017 to 18. Leader of the House of Lords Lord True described her as “a very effective party whip and all her flock, indeed everyone, remarked on her kindness, gentleness and good sense.”
Philippa said her time in the Lords was the most enjoyable time of her career and she felt extremely fortunate for having been given the opportunity.
I will always be grateful for the support Philippa showed me personally. She was adamant that I should replace her as Westminster council leader and advised me a year before she stood down to prepare. She refused to counter my self-doubt. She was focussed with a razor-sharp mind, and always showed such humility and kindness. She will be missed but her legacy lives on in Westminster, across London and in the two children she adored.
I end as I began with Philippa’s own words: “The meaning of life lies not in power, money or status but in the relationships you have with other people. The legacy you leave is not in monuments and roads named after you but in the memories you create in the minds of those you care about and whose lives you have touched.”
Nickie Aiken is Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster
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