I've just been informed by a mutual friend that Ray Ferguson, of Bedfont, sadly passed away on Friday. He had been suffering with lung cancer.
I first met Ray back in 1996. Having fairly much established itself in the south of Isleworth the ICG had had a letter published in a local newspaper inviting other independently minded individuals from around the borough to get in touch with us with a view to working together.
Ray was one of those who responded. Although a right-of-centre Conservative by disposition, Ray was a man of his own mind and was not completely happy with the direction his own party was taking. ICG founder Tom Reader (himself a Conservative) and myself visited Ray at his modest Staines Road home and we agreed to pool some ideas and resources. Ray and a couple of his associates attended an ICG meeting held at the old Jolly Gardeners pub in Twickenham Road, Isleworth and I even hand-delivered a few thousand leaflets for his newly-formed Hounslow Residents' Group (HRG). Ray lent us a PC, then a rare commodity, and a printing press but in the event I couldn't get either of them to work.
The HRG concentrated heavily on opposing the then rather substantial package of grants issued by the London Borough of Hounslow, then as now under Labour control, and it was indeed the case that many of these seemed to serve no purpose other than to sustain organisations that had delivered electoral and political support for the Labour Party. Indeed in one case it seemed likely that Labour was actually diverting public money to a group of activists in an unsuccessful attempt to arrest the growth of the ICG in Isleworth under the completely fictitious guise of an "anti-fascist" operation.
However the HRG's emphasis on opposing more or less all grants, and in particular its focus on single issue organisations, left some of us feeling uncomfortable and fairly soon the two groups effectively agreed to differ and to function separately. The goodwill between us remained but, in the view of many of us, there was no real common ground between the HRG's conservative ethos and the ICG's progressive communitarianism.
But whatever similarities or differences Ray and I may have had at certain times, one thing that always stood out for me was Ray's absolute honesty. In disagreement he was civil, but Ray was never two-faced or duplicitous. He was clear and open about the things in which he believed, and always took the trouble to call and offer his congratulations when I and my colleagues had experienced triumph, and his commiserations when we had experienced defeat. He called me on the telephone only a couple of months ago to express his displeasure both at the outcome of the recent local elections, and at some of the elementary political miscalculations by others, some of whom he considered friends, that had brought it about.
For those who knew Ray it was not possible to dislike the man. It was easy to disagree with him, but that is what honest discourse is about. He always demonstrated respect regardless of whether one agreed with him or not.
My sincere condolences go out to his family, friends and all who knew him.