Toby Eckersley, Conservative candidate for London Bridge and West Bermondsey ward, and long-standing former Southwark Councillor, has died unexpectedly, prompting an outpouring of tributes from political colleagues and forcing the suspension of a ward election.
Seventy-six-year-old Mr Eckersley, who passed away over the weekend, was a long-standing local politician and Alderman of the borough.
In recent years he was well-known for his support of the Aylesbury Estate leaseholders, whom he helped mount a legal challenge and take their case to public inquiry.
Mr Eckersley served as a Conservative Councillor in Dulwich’s Village ward from 1977 to 1986, and in 1983 unsuccessfully stood for election as a Conservative MP for Camberwell and Peckham.
He was elected for a further tenure at Southwark Council from 1990 to 2014, and had chosen to stand again as a Tory candidate for London Bridge and West Bermondsey in today’s election.
Tributes poured in from across the political spectrum from colleagues and friends who admired Mr Eckersley’s commitment to public service, and forensic knowledge of Southwark Council and its planning and regeneration projects.
Michael Mitchell, Conservative Group Leader and friend of Mr Eckersley’s for 35 years, said: “Toby’s political career took him from being a young firebrand who gave no quarter during the heady days of the mid-1980s, to be the revered elder statesmen to whom councillors from all political parties, and officers from many parts of the council, would turn to for advice.
“He was always happy to draw on his experience and point people in the right direction.
“For someone who was part of a group which never exceeded eight of Southwark’s 63 Councillors, his influence on the making of modern Southwark should never be underestimated.
“He was truly a politician who punched above his weight. He will be sadly missed by all who knew him.”
Kim Humphreys, former deputy leader of Southwark Council, and a colleague of Mr Eckersley’s for sixteen years, said: “Southwark has lost a true servant with Toby’s passing.
“He was universally respected for his dedication and hard work by all across the political divide within Southwark and he will be greatly missed by everyone.”
Former Bermondsey and Old Southwark Liberal Democrat MP, Simon Hughes, said: “Real sadness and shock today after announcement of sudden weekend death of Alderman Toby Eckersley MBE, for decades the most doughty and effective Tory Southwark campaigner, but always a kind-hearted and charming gentleman.
“I disagreed with him often, but like many others, I always respected him.”
Anood Al-Samerai, Southwark Liberal Democrat leader, told the News: “We are all saddened and shocked to hear this news.
“Toby and I were on a hustings panel together just last week and he was on fine form.
“He was an exemplary public servant and all his commitment to the people of our borough will not be forgotten.
“Our heartfelt condolences to his family who we are all thinking of.”
MP Neil Coyle added: MP Neil Coyle added: “Toby served as a councillor for three decades and was renowned for his attention to detail.
“I may not have agreed with his political views, but his commitment to our community was unquestionable.
“He was an old-school Tory with impeccable manners and will be remembered fondly by all those he helped locally.”
Helen Hayes described him as a “deeply committed councillor”, and Harriet Harman said he was “steadfast in his dedication to representing local people.”
I am sorry to hear of the sudden death of former Village ward councillor Toby Eckersley; we didn’t share the same politics, but Toby was a deeply committed local councillor who served his constituents for 37 years. My condolences to his family.
— Helen Hayes (@helenhayes_) May 1, 2018
Sorry to hear this & my thoughts with his family. Toby Eckerskley was passionate in his commitment to Southwark & steadfast in his dedication to representing local people. RIP https://t.co/LKMXiIQnE9
— Harriet Harman (@HarrietHarman) May 1, 2018
Current Southwark Council leader, Peter John, told the News: “I am very sorry to hear of the death of Toby Eckersley.
“Toby served his community and the council tirelessly for many years.
“He stood up for what he thought was right and was relentless in the causes he championed.
“He was a true Thatcherite and argued for Thatcherite policies across the council, but his devotion to the people of the borough – and the causes that were close to his heart in the borough – were utterly genuine.
“Just last week I was debating him in hustings at Southwark Cathedral.
“As ever he made the case for his party’s values, even when it was not the popular thing to do.
“And while we disagreed about many things politically, he was someone who would always argue his case fairly, with eloquence and with total conviction.
“Southwark is the poorer for his passing and I personally I will miss him.”
Eleanor Kelly, Chief Executive of Southwark Council, said: “I was saddened to hear today that Toby Eckersley, former Southwark councillor and cabinet member, has passed away at the age of 76.
“We will all remember Toby as a kind and charming man – the quintessential Englishman who served his local constituents with commitment and drive.
“In his three decades as a local councillor, Toby served the council in various roles including Executive Member for Finance, and Chair of the Audit and Governance Committee, and even after standing down as a councillor in 2014 he continued to get involved in local politics and support local people.
“Toby will be sorely missed in Southwark and our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family at this sad time.”
Tobias William Hammersley Eckersley, MBE, was born on July 22, 1941, and educated at Charterhouse School, before studying at St John’s College, Oxford.
He never married and did not have children, he took early retirement to focus on local politics after a career in finance, working for ICI, as well as caring for his elderly mother.
Mr Eckersley had a long-standing interest in planning and spent much of his time campaigning to protect historic buildings, having taken a legal fight all the way to the Court of Appeal to stop his own home on Berryfield Road, Walworth, from being demolished.
He later became an active member of the Walworth Society, which lobbies to protect the area’s historic buildings, who also paid tribute, describing him as “an invaluable mentor and guide”.
After the news, Southwark’s Returning Officer, Duncan Whitfield, issued a note on Tuesday evening countermanding the election in London Bridge and West Bermondsey ward, confirming that a new election in that ward will be held within 35 days of the notice, with a date announced in due course.
The planned election in all other wards in Southwark will go ahead today.