Brokenshire: A man of integrity

By Peter Cardwell | 12 October 2021

Landing the first actual uplift for local government in nearly a decade in the 2018 Budget.  Persuading the Treasury to take seriously the issue of cladding and putting hundreds of millions of pounds into private sector remediation after the strong private objections of then-Chancellor Philip Hammond. 

Arresting the increase in rough sleeping, leading to the first fall in the figures for nine years.  Maintaining the upward housing supply in the face of huge Brexit uncertainty for the market.  Supporting and encouraging his team of junior ministers, three of whom -- Rishi Sunak, Dominic Raab and Kit Malthouse -- now sit around the Cabinet table.

These are just some of James Brokenshire’s numerous achievements as secretary of state for housing, communities and local government over his 15 months in the ministry’s Marsham Street offices. 

They led Sir Peter Bottomley MP, not a member of Parliament known to be gushing, to tell the House: 'My right hon. friend and his team have, over the past year or so, made more progress than was made in the previous 20 years, which is greatly to be welcomed.'

It’s rare that the sequel is better than the original, but even James Brokenshire’s most cynical opponent (and there were not very many, cynical or otherwise) could not fail to acknowledge that James’s stint at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) had a significant impact.  

Forced to resign from his first Cabinet role as Northern Ireland Secretary in early 2018 after his initial cancer diagnosis, James spent four months on the backbenches recovering from a major operation which extracted a third of his right lung. 

When Amber Rudd’s resignation over the Windrush affair involved Communities Secretary Sajid Javid being promoted to Home Secretary, Theresa May brought James back into Cabinet at the helm at MHCLG.

His successful team involved many people, but both Liam Booth-Smith, James’s special adviser for policy who is now Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s chief of staff, and his principal private secretary Jamie Cowling, a brilliant civil servant, deserve much credit.  

But I will leave the final tribute to James’s work as Secretary of State to the anonymous civil servant who donated on the page James’s family and friends have set up in his memory, which in recent days has raised over £25,000 for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

The civil servant wrote: 'I have not worked with anyone finer. A man of true integrity, always entirely across his brief, fiercely intelligent and incredibly kind. He was respectful to his officials, as well as rigorous in his questioning of and the testing of policy and legal positions presented to him. He was fantastic at distilling complex information into articulate and clear responses in Parliament. I had nothing but respect and admiration for how he did his job and his dedication to public service.'

Peter Cardwell was James Brokenshire’s special adviser for media at both the Northern Ireland Office and MHCLG.  The fee for this article has been donated to the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.  The page in memory of James Brokenshire is at https://jamesbrokenshire.muchloved.com/

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