This is the week when I must pay tribute to my predecessor as Ashford’s MP, Sir Keith Speed, who died recently. Keith’s funeral took place in his home village of Rolvenden at the end of last week, and I was pleased to see that along with many friends from the Ashford area, a number of former colleagues from Parliament came to pay tribute.
Keith was the MP for Ashford from 1974 to 1997, and I suppose his biggest local memorial is the International Station. When the high speed link was first proposed, he saw the potential for an intermediate station and was determined not only that it would be in Ashford, but that it would be part of the existing domestic station and not a “Parkway” station stuck in the middle of the countryside.
This was a hugely controversial stance, which caused him a degree of local difficulty. The current strong growth of Ashford is his ultimate justification. The fact that the Borough adopted the slogan “Best Placed in Britain” shows how vital the rail links became, not only by providing international services but by making Ashford the hub of the domestic high-speed services. Thousands of jobs derive from this decision, and Keith plated a key role in bringing it about.
Apart from his many triumphs in the Ashford area, he was also a Minister in several Governments. His time as a transport minister saw the introduction of compulsory helmet wearing for motorcyclists, a move which must have saved thousands of lives over the ensuing decades. This was particularly appropriate as, to the surprise of many, he was a keen biker himself.
Later, in Margaret Thatcher’s Government, he would serve as Navy Minister, which was particularly satisfying given his long service in the Navy, joining Dartmouth College at the age of thirteen. His resignation over Navy cuts came just before the Falklands War, which many saw as justifying his principled stance.
I should also pay tribute to his widow Peggy, who was incredibly helpful during the handover period to me in 1997, after working for years as Keith’s secretary. Peggy has always played an active role in the Ashford Conservatives, so I have been able to see her considerable organisational skills at first hand.
Keith and Peggy had lived in Rolvenden for over 40 years, so it is right that he is buried in the grounds of the beautiful St Mary’s Church. He was a great public servant, and a great friend.