Describing the Conservative MP as “Mr Southend, Mr Essex” and “a wonderful advocate”, Priti Patel said on Sunday that there would be “work in government” on the prospect of realising his campaign.
Sir David, a father-of-five, was murdered in a suspected terror attack while meeting constituents on Friday at Belfairs Methodist Church.
Amid an outpouring of tributes and warmth towards the “hugely kind and good” MP, who was one of the longest-serving parliamentarians in Westminster, many have recalled his energy and humour in ceaselessly campaigning for the Essex town on the Thames Estuary to be designated a city.
After the most recent Cabinet reshuffle in September, Sir David had joked to the Commons that he was left disappointed not to be made “minister with responsibility for granting city status to Southend”.
Asked by the BBC whether the government was likely to realise his vision, Ms Patel said: “It brings a smile to me and it warms our hearts because I think of his last PMQs, questions to the prime minister, I was in the chamber, it was about Southend.”
Pushed on whether it could become a reality, the Essex MP continued: “All I will say is that when David’s name is mentioned going forward, he will bring great cheers and smiles to everybody because he was Mr Southend, Mr Essex – he would always put Southend front and centre of his work and that was David through and through.”
Asked again about the issue on Times Radio, the home secretary repeated: “I’m smiling at that suggestion because David was just – you know I’ve said this so many times – a wonderful advocate.”
“People will decide about that,” Ms Patel said, adding: “It would be a wonderful tribute to my dear friend David.”
The MP for nearby Ilford North, Labour’s Wes Streeting, told Sky News that he “could think of no more fitting tribute” to the late MP than for the campaign to be at the “top of the agenda”.
Announcing the launch of a bid to secure city status as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022, Sir David said last month: “If there is any justice, and if this is a fair competition, then Southend will be successful in its bid to become a city.
“Why do I say that? Southend is unique and city status would provide long overdue recognition of what we have to offer. The longest pleasure pier in the world, a huge wealth of local talent in the arts and culture industries and a centre of educational excellence, are just a few of the things that make Southend special.”
He appeared to have been optimistic of his chances, telling MPs after securing an adjournment debate on the subject in 2019: “I am not messing around.
“We have got it from the prime minister that Southend is going to become a city – and it will become a city.”
Additional reporting by PA