David Cairns 1966 – 2011: A Tribute from a Colleague and Friend

A guest post:

David Cairns, Labour MP for Inverclyde, died at 11.00 pm yesterday after a short illness. He was 44 years old.  I have had the honour of knowing David most of my life and certainly all of the adult part. This is a short tribute to him, penned from a friend, who will miss him terribly.

Back in 1987, David was a student to the Priesthood.  It was around this time that I first met him, and indeed a few years later, had the honour of serving at the Mass of his Ordination to the Priesthood at St Mary’s, Perth. Later I would follow him into the Redemptorist Order in 1994, just around the time he was leaving. During his stints at the Redemptorist house in Clapham, London, his spare time was spent at the old Labour HQ in Walworth Road. Given David’s sharp wit, great oratory and keen mind, it became clear to many, including David, that his future lay outside the Catholic Priesthood. From his time at the Christian Socialist Movement, to Councillor in Morden, it was obvious that David would make it to Parliament eventually. And he did, but not before the law barring former Catholic Priests from sitting in the House of Commons was removed from the statute books by his Parliamentary colleagues, notably Charles Kennedy MP.

Of course, a junior ministerial career followed. An indiscreet tale from his time as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office involved a meeting with Messrs Ian Paisley- Senior and Junior. A trunk road upgrade through their constituency had been blocked by previous ministers. David however, could see no good reason to halt the works. ‘Praise God, at last a Minister with his feet on the ground. Your predecessors sat in that chair like the Pope of…’ Remembering that David was himself, a former Catholic Priest, the conversation was tactfully diverted. Indeed, the following year, David walked with the same Rev Ian Paisley into the Hall at Labour Party Conference, taking the elderly First Minister right down to the front to a mixture of applause and astonishment.  How politics had changed!

From the day I joined the Labour Party after I too had left the Priesthood, no one has been more helpful, more insightful, or funnier than David. It was with shock that I learnt of his resignation as Minister of State, which showed far more principle than the then Number 10 machine ever could. Even political opponents found the brutality that forced David out of office particularly distasteful. That he was soon followed out by his great friend Tom Harris MP who had blogged his support for David, shows that not all politicians deserve the public’s ire.

A couple of years on the backbenches and David was reinvigorated. I saw him fairly regularly both in Scotland and at Westminster, and always made a point of having dinner with him and his partner Dermot whenever I could. I can safely say David was the most splendid company and for this I am truly thankful. We kept in touch regularly and had wonderful X Factor debates on Twitter!

He made no secret of where his politics lay. He believed in the Union and the role of the Labour Party within it, whilst working outrageous hours on behalf of his constituents in Inverclyde. He also believed that the current Labour Party was set on a dangerous course. The first person I spoke to on leaving the Conference that elected Ed Milliband as leader was David Cairns, who claimed, “Those cheers you hear are the cheers of the Tories for another term in office.” I hope he was wrong on that score.

Tom Harris has already spoken of David’s love of David Bowie. But he also had an encyclopaedic knowledge of American Politics and history, notably Abraham Lincoln. He travelled to every state in the US as well as many other places round the world. Sometimes alone, but usually with Dermot by his side. (On one occasion with George Osbourne!) He knew every famous and infamous corner of the Palace of Westminsterand delighted in telling people all the salacious detail of days gone by.

David was one of the musketeers for Labour, consisting of him, me and Gerry McGarvey, all former Redemptorists who had found a home in Labour politics rather than the Church. Through many late night G&T’s over many years, we solved a lot of problems together. I know I speak on behalf of all of his former confreres, and his friends, in saying that our lives have been enriched for knowing David Cairns.

Goodbye David. Till the next time we charge a glass.

God Rest,

Jamie Glackin


2 thoughts on “David Cairns 1966 – 2011: A Tribute from a Colleague and Friend

  1. I don’t know of him, or anything about him but it’s terribly sad when someone who is only 44 leaves us.

    Your memorium paints a life worth living.


  2. I had occasion to write to David Cairns to thank him for the dignified and respectful way he had dealt on television with matters after some election or other. If I remeber it was John Mason’s shock by-election victory in Glasgow East
    His behaviour had been in stark contrast to the sometimes appalling performances exhibited by a succession of Labour spokespersons over the years when confronted with increased support for the SNP.
    As someone who started his political career close to Labour and was in fact asked to contest for Labour in Lanarkshire in the mid ninteen-sixtees I have despaired of the deterioration of relationships between two parties which held each other in a degree of respect and even affection until the SNP started to take away Labour’s power.
    David replied very kindly to me and reassured that it was entirely possible to respect honest political opponents and will not forget that.

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