Nearly two decades ago, Labour councillors David Bookbinder and Martin Doughty fought eachother for control of Derbyshire County Council. David had been leader for 11 often controversial years, but Martin thought there needed to be a change of direction. Eventually in 1992, David stepped down, and Martin went on to lead the council for nine years. I chronicled the absorbing struggle between these two genuinely gifted men in the Derby Evening Telegraph, of which I was then the political correspondent.
More recently, David and Martin have found themselves fighting battles of a different nature - against cancer. Sadly Martin, who had gone on to become a national figure as chair of the environment quango Natural England, and a knight of the realm to boot, succumbed to the disease in March at the tragically young age of 59. Most of his obituarists have understandably highlighted his passion for the environment, but back in the early 1990s I knew Martin on a more personal level. I can genuinely say that he was one of kindest men I have ever encountered in public life.
David meanwhile has suffered more than most from the ravages of the Big C, having lost both his wife and son to it before himself being diagnosed with the disease in 2004. In a recent interview with the Evening Telegraph, he tells how at one point he came close to taking his own life, but ultimately overcame the disease by dint of a bizarre mixture of remedies, his sheer will to live, and his unwavering belief in Manchester City Football Club.
I had many battles with David - he did not brook criticism as council leader and my approach to political journalism and his approach to politics were always likely to end in conflict - but I am genuinely pleased to hear that he has beaten the disease like the fighter he always was. I am incredibly sorry that Martin Doughty is no longer with us, but I wish David Bookbinder many more happy years on this earth. And I bet you thought you'd never hear me say that, Harry Barnes.