I first became a friend of James when he joined the shadow Home Office team about a decade and a half ago. It was a time of huge controversy and, as Members can imagine, it was a heavy-duty team. My right hon. Friend Damian Green and Dominic Grieve were members. There were four future Cabinet members in that team.
I thought that this incredibly self-effacing and amazingly modest man—certainly given our profession—would take a bit of time to get up to speed, but not a bit of it. In no time at all, he had a reputation as a safe pair of hands. That may sound terribly mundane, but it is not; it is a curse, because it attracts every hospital pass there is. You have seen how it works. I get in for the morning meeting and say, “Right, this is difficult. Give it to James.” “Oh, this one’s a nightmare. James will manage it.” “This one’s impossible, but James can do it.” That is how it worked.
Of course it became leitmotif of James’s career. Every job that he was given was both impossible and thankless: Minister of State for Security and Immigration under my right hon. Friend Mrs May—what the hell?; Northern Ireland Minister dealing with Ian Paisley and co. and getting on with all of them; and, more seriously, taking on the Department of Communities and Local Government after Grenfell Tower. These he took and did. He did the impossible: he went into the ruck and came out the other side without a hair out of place—that is of course allowing for his haircut.
That was the James that we knew and loved. Our nation needs people like James. My right hon. Friend, the former Prime Minister, was right: we need people like James. When the unimportant flash and crackle of politics is gone, the nation depends on those like James who do their jobs brilliantly but quietly. James served this nation with great honour, total integrity and enormous skill and he will be sorely missed by all.