The tribute made by Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, in the House of Commons on 2 February 2022.
It is a privilege and an honour to speak today about Jack, who I am proud to call my friend and colleague in this place. He was my parliamentary neighbour, as his constituency inside Birmingham city ran alongside the royal town of Sutton Coldfield, and there were many mutual issues affecting our constituents, on which we worked seamlessly, constructively and enjoyably together.
Jack’s arrival in Birmingham was somewhat unexpected, not least because those of us keenly watching the outcome of the selection contest had been advised that this was an all-women shortlist, but we quickly established a rapport. The thing I learnt early on about Jack was that he was a brilliant negotiator. Faced with a brick wall, his instinct was not to pound his way through it, but to skilfully manoeuvre around it wherever possible. And he was ineffably charming and patient. He had a considerable knack locally of bringing people of different persuasions to common positions. He did it at times of great anxiety in the automotive industry in the west midlands with Caroline Spelman, our former colleague from Meriden, with West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and, most recently, with me working on Afghans coming to Birmingham from Kabul.
All of which leads me, finally, to a story about Jack’s negotiating powers and—forgive me for name dropping, Mr Speaker—about his relationship with the Marquis of Salisbury, a former colleague in this place, Conservative Minister and Member for South Dorset, Robert Cranbourne. When his lordship was a Defence Minister, he held regular meetings with the unions in Whitehall. These meetings sometimes ran for four hours and meaningful results were slow in being achieved, but during particularly drawn-out moments the Marquis, as he is now, would catch the eye of the then senior trade union negotiator, as he then was, Jack Dromey. After one such meeting, his lordship rang up Jack to suggest that it would perhaps be better if they sorted out the business beforehand, possibly over lunch, and, to Robert’s relief, Jack willingly agreed. “Where should we go?” asked Jack, to which the Marquis replied, “I wonder if you might like to come to White’s, my club in St. James’s,” to which Jack replied, “Ah, I’ve always wanted to go there.”
And so affairs of state and the Ministry of Defence were congenially sorted out by these two distinguished public servants. On the first occasion, as various chiselled-featured members of the British establishment walked through the club’s hallowed portals, Jack drank orange juice, but on the final occasion, after a particularly successful negotiation had been concluded, glasses of vintage port were consumed. As he stepped out on to the street, Jack thanked his lordship for his kind hospitality, and as he left said over his shoulder, “By the way, please don’t tell Harriet where we’ve been. And especially do not mention the vintage port!” [Laughter.] For the avoidance of doubt, Mr Speaker, I can of course confirm that this was a workplace event. [Laughter.]
As we remember an adopted son of Birmingham taken from us far, far too soon, let us remember the words of Harry, Jack and Harriet’s son, who with both sadness and pride spoke of the quality, but not alas the quantity, of the years they all had together.