A Labour MP and former Merton councillor has died aged 44 after a serious illness.

David Cairns MP, a former Labour government minister who represented Inverclyde in Scotland, died in hospital at 11pm last night after being taken ill with acute pancreatitis in March.

A Catholic priest by vocation, Mr Cairns served as a Merton councillor for Longthornton ward between 1998 and 2002, and as a research assistant to Mitcham and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh.

Ms Mcdonagh said: “David was my friend. He was great fun and very clever. He was a popular Chair of Mitcham and Morden Labour Party, and an exemplary Merton Councillor for the Longthornton ward.

"He had an unusually perceptive understanding of people’s aspirations, and achieved his: to become a priest and to be an outstanding MP and Minister. Not bad for the boy from a ninth floor Council flat in Glasgow!

“We need more people like David in public life... He was my friend in good times and bad and I will miss him terribly.”

He remained a close ally of Ms McDonagh after being elected to Parliament himself in 2001 and achieving a high-ranking post as Minister of State for Scotland in 2007 in Gordon Brown's Government.

Indeed he would not have been an MP if were not for Ms McDonagh introducing a bill in 1999 to overturn a 200-year law which banned Catholic priests being elected to Parliament - leading to the House of Commons Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001.

In 2008, he joined Ms McDonagh in calling for Mr Brown to resign as Labour leader and resigned from the Government, saying the time had come to "allow a leadership debate to run its course".

Tributes paid to "able, serious and conscientious politician" who "did not allow councillors to mess about"

Councillor Philip Jones, who served as the leader of the council during Mr Cairns' time at Merton said: "He was a very able, serious and conscientious politician and it's very sad news.

"I remember him getting heavily involved in a planning application to build a new supermarket in Rowan Road which was initially turned down but won on appeal. It has now become a Lidl."

Councillor Edith MacCauley, who was elected to Merton in the same year as Mr Cairns, said she was "devastated" at the news.

She said: "During the years together he helped me such a lot to understand local politics.

"David has been such a wonderful friend to me all those years even after he left to become an MP, we were all still friendly.

"The Labour Party has lost someone who is brilliant and understands local and national politics, he was a decent man who had no enemies whatsoever and treated everyone fairly.

"David was such an inspiration to me, he gave me sound advice, explained committee papers to me and that gave me great confidence in my work as a Councillor. He was a very strict Chief Whip and did not allow Councillors to mess about.

He will be sorely miss and may his soul rest in perfect peace. My sincere sympathy to his family and to Siobhain and Margaret McDonagh who have been such wonderful and loyal friends to him."

Did you know Mr Cairns and would like to leave a tribute? Were you one of his constituents in Mitcham? Leave a comment below, call 020 8722 6335 or email: ooakes@london.newsquest.co.uk.

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