It is devastating to have to write this in the past tense, but a tragic accident has taken the lives of the Cousins family, including eldest son Will, who was a driving force behind the Remain campaign. He had his whole future ahead of him and was loved by everyone he worked with. Here are just a few of my memories.
Will was a great big warm hug of a man. A gentle giant with incredible wit and good humour. He first came to work with me as an intern at Business for New Europe, the pro-EU business campaign, several years before the referendum. His overwhelming talent was obvious from the off.
A beautiful writer who could charm the birds off the trees and argue a case passionately. At the time, we were collecting signatories for our manifesto for EU reform and the relentless task was to call round company bosses to ask them to lend their support. When senior colleagues like me had started to wane, Will was ever-enthusiastic and in just an afternoon managed to sign up more FTSE CEOs than any of the rest of us combined had managed in days. That persistence and good nature made him a vital part of the press team when Stronger In was formed. In a relentless and gruelling campaign, Cuzza - as he was affectionately known - always had a smile, took everything in his stride and kept the rest of us calm and upbeat.
It was particularly ironic that when I went to debate in front of a mostly Ukip audience in Hampshire, it was the ever-calm Will who volunteered to come with me for moral support. He was the most peaceful young man I have known, but served as an excellent deterrent for anyone getting too close or too nasty after the somewhat heated discussion.
Some of the best memories are of his wonderful knack of overlooking any party differences for the cause. Despite being a Labour member and activist, it was the Tory grandee Nicholas Soames with whom Will struck up an unlikely and endearing friendship. Whenever we needed a well-known elder statesman to slam the latest Leave claims, Will would shout: “I’m onto Soamsey!”
His gentleness also hid a wicked sense of humour, writing one campaign speech for Peter Mandelson that had the whole team in stitches. It also contained a very funny joke at my expense. While I didn’t mind at all, Will made the point of coming over to apologise if he had overstepped the mark. He hadn’t in any way, but that was the kind of person he was: even in playful campaign jest, always wanting to do the decent, proper thing.
Will could also write the pants off anything, nailing any style or tone in a flash. I’ve never known someone able to turn around an op-ed or press release with such speed or elegance. That led all of us to think he’d go on to have a hugely successful career as a writer, journalist – or frankly whatever he wanted. That he hadn’t yet, and kept up the fight with the Open Britain campaign, showed just how passionate he was about preventing a damaging Brexit and making sure the future of the country was as good as it could be.
Today is an incredibly sad day and Cuzza will be sorely missed, with his exceptionally bright future cut far too short. (He would also undoubtedly have written a far better version of this piece!) But we can be thankful for his wonderful humour, enduring enthusiasm and decency. Let’s hope politics in 2018 can be a little more like him.