Four funerals and an election

Politically 2010 was the most momentous year for some decades here in the UK.

To near universal surprise (save to those of us who took opinion polls at face value) May’s General Election ended as a stalemate, requiring the Conservatives to put together a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to secure office.

Only with the result of the next election will we know if 2010’s outcome is of groundbreaking importance. Meanwhile there is plenty of water to flow under the proverbial political bridge before 2015. In particular the next two calendar years promise to be a tough time economically.

However, my reflections on 2010 are a little more sombre. In my own life it was a year of untimely deaths and I attended four poignant and sad funerals.

Lance Corporal Tom Keogh was only 24 years old when he was killed on active service in March. He had been brought up on the Hallfield Estate, Bayswater, and was the first constituent of mine to die in Afghanistan.

At his moving military funeral I was privileged to meet members of his family, who displayed no anger or bitterness, but only deepest sorrow and immense pride for his regiment, the British Army and what he and his colleagues were trying to achieve halfway around the world.

As I am now in my mid-forties the death of contemporaries should perhaps no longer be regarded as entirely unexpected. However, when within a few weeks of each other I attended the funerals of two good friends, John Antcliffe and Sally Goodliffe, there was a terrible sense of shock, not least given the relative youth of most mourners. John was a contemporary political friend of twenty years standing, whose wisdom and advice I sadly miss. Sally was a close Oxford friend of my wife, Victoria. Sally died aged only forty-two after a long battle with cancer. The funeral took place at St Bride’s in Fleet Street, a wonderful setting for a desperately sad event – where there was scarcely a dry eye as a vibrant young life was celebrated.

Then on 24 September came the death of my mother, Ulrike. She may well have fulfilled precisely her biblical entitlement of three score years and ten. For sure she had been in ill health for much of the past decade and housebound since a four month stint in hospital during 2008. Naturally for my brother, sister and me our dearest mother will be forever missed and the one blessing is that her passing was peaceful.

My mother was the centre of our family and provided us with stability, happiness and love as we all grew up. Her early life was also the inspiration for my entering public life. For so long as I can remember we discussed politics avidly at home – my mother had been a refugee twice from Eastern Europe by the age of fifteen and it was always instilled in me that ‘politics is too important to be left to someone else’. However, I recall well her almost ambiguous reaction to my first election as an MP almost a decade ago, a response I suspect to the upheaval that scarred a generation or more of Germans to political involvement. My mother was proud and supportive of my motivation but feared that one should not take for granted that political life might not also be personally turbulent.

Yet even at its saddest times life never ceases to be full of surprises. As 2011 dawns Victoria and I celebrate the confirmation that we are expecting a second child in June. The hope and anticipation of new life lies ahead after some of the sadness that has beset the year gone by. May I wish all my constituents and those who follow the work I carry out locally a happy, healthy and personally prosperous New Year.