THERE will be better placed, more eloquent people to pay tribute to Martin Davies than me, but the shock at Camden Town Hall yesterday at the uncomputable news that he had suddenly died aged 45 will resonate far further afield than his loved ones may at first imagine. The leader of Camden’s Conservatives probably inspired more people than even he realised.
He did so partly by seeing past the pettiest political rivalries that too often cause obstruction in local authorities. Members of other parties clearly admired him and they felt comfortable he was capable of compromise through sensible debate. Others should see the benefit of that style.
In four years as the council’s social services chief just gone, it is hard to think of a time he slipped up. The potentially thorny issue of building new care homes for the elderly – and shutting down the old ones – was managed adeptly, negative headlines avoided at every turn. The more I spoke to him over the years, the more astute I realised he was. He was high calibre. His experience as chief executive of Age Concern Westminster made him the perfect candidate for the role he took on, but you got the impression he would have been strong even without his day job know-how. His successor, Labour’s Pat Callaghan, has already said she has a hard act to follow.
But away from politics and policies, he was, put simply, a nice guy. You could share a joke with him, share a bit of gossip. There was never malice. I was aware he had a good relationship with local politicians whose politics were poles apart from his.
And going back a few years now, I remember his compassion when the Camden Town Neighbourhood Advice Centre, a service with more than 700 desperate clients, was being evicted from its council-owned buildings in Camden Town. He was one of the few councillors who publicly supported the volunteers trying to keep that bohemian but effective service afloat. When pensioners barricaded themselves inside, he could see the dangers of the protest and tried to positively intervene from the opposition benches.
Most of all, Martin clearly saw the value in people, whatever their age. He believed in hearing their ideas, not just dictating policies to them. In the post-election changearound, he had just become leader of the Conservatives. His efforts were often unsung in the past, and there was so much more to come from him. Colleagues from all parties will have good reason to miss him. He certainly will be in the press quarters.