A liberal to the core, she had had her misgivings about the merger of the two Alliance parties, but once she had decided to join, she threw herself into the new party with the vigour and passion that was her trademark.
Nikki had joined the Young Liberals at 15 in her home town of Congleton and soon became active on the national and international student politics stage, serving as National Chair of the Young Liberal Democrats 1990-91. After the Youth and Student wings of the party merged in 1993, she was elected as a Vice President of the new organisation. Taking on the role of elder stateswoman in her mid-twenties, she was the main force in establishing the ‘Activate’ residential training programme for new young activists, a programme which saw a young Jo Swinson amongst its first participants. Many nervous young Lib Dems owed their first political forays to Nikki’s encouragement and mentoring and others were supported through difficult times in their personal lives as Nikki put her own life on hold to support her friends.
Nikki had an overwhelming sense of social justice and a desire to support the underdog. She campaigned against injustice wherever she found it, despite the fact that it might sometimes make her temporarily unpopular. Her support of the Baby Milk Action campaign against Nestle saw some unforgettable scenes, as she and comedian activist Mark Thomas, together with other party activists, took on the Swiss conglomerate at their own conference fringe meeting – and won.
Over a decade ago Nikki relocated from London to Edinburgh. She took a back seat in party politics for a while, throwing herself into a new career and many community activities. She joined the organisers of the annual Meadows Festival and found a vocation working for the Edinburgh Tenants’ Federation, skilling tenants to be able to speak up and take control of their own lives and homes.
Outside politics, Nikki’s main love was music. She had an appreciation of music across the classical and popular spectrums and a fantastic voice, which she exercised in all possible arenas, from student karaoke to formal choral settings. In recent years she sang with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and was delighted to sing with them as part of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall last year.
During the past year Nikki had complained of constant tiredness and lethargy – something that was so unlike her – and a number of medical issues. So strong in supporting others, she seemed unable to get the medical profession to take her seriously. Less than three weeks ago, unable to eat or drink, she was admitted to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Within a few days a diagnosis of cervical, bladder and kidney cancer was made. Once she had identified the enemy, Nikki’s fighting spirit reappeared and was only partly deflected when a week ago she was informed that she could only be offered palliative care.
Told that her only hope of extending her life was to get her kidneys working again, she urged her friends to send prayers and positive thoughts to get her ‘peeing again’. This led to visitors to her Facebook page being exhorted to ‘visit the smallest room, assume a seated or standing position as desired and pray as you wee for Nikki’. It seemed to amuse her and briefly her kidneys stuttered back into action. But sadly it was not to be and she slipped into unconsciousness on Tuesday evening, before death took away the pain that had plagued her for many months.
A tremendously positive person, one of Nikki’s few sadnesses was that she never found her life partner with whom to settle and have a family. Marriage to fellow youth activist Jon Ball sadly broke down, but they were able to re-establish a friendship – Nikki was not the sort of person that you could fall out with forever. Jon was able to fly up to Edinburgh last week and spend a few hours with Nikki, something which touched her immensely.
On hearing of Nikki’s death, another of our youth and student peers, Lib Dem Party President left this tribute to Nikki: “Very, very sad news. In the days when young Lib Dems and Lib Dem students were separate entities she was an enthusiastic and effective link. I was very fond of her. A proper radical. The party is poorer without her.”
I won’t tell you to rest in peace Nikki, because wherever you are you’ll have found a cause to take up. Watch out St. Peter, you’ve got a new shop steward to deal with now!
Nikki Thomson 30th December 1967 – 28th June 2012
* Sara Bedford is a local councillor on Three Rivers District Council and a member of the Lib Dem Voice editorial team.