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Britain pauses to mourn lawmaker's young son

Ivan Cameron, 6-year-old son of Conservative leader David Cameron, had fought a lifelong battle with Ohtahara syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy.

February 26, 2009|Henry Chu

LONDON — At 10 Downing Street, a rare appearance by ailing former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was postponed.

And at the House of Commons, even the weekly heckling session was canceled.

On Wednesday, Britain came together in mourning over the death of a 6-year-old, the son of opposition leader David Cameron who died suddenly after a lifelong struggle with cerebral palsy and a rare epileptic disorder.

Ivan Cameron was the eldest of the three children of the affable Cameron and his wife, Samantha. The death produced an outpouring of public condolence and led to a suspension of politics-as-usual out of respect for the Conservative Party head, who opinion polls show is likely to be Britain's next prime minister.

The death resonated with the man he is trying to replace, Gordon Brown, whose daughter died of a brain hemorrhage just 10 days after her birth in 2001.

The prime minister and his wife, Sarah, also have a son suffering from cystic fibrosis.

The Cameron family tragedy prompted Brown to take the unusual step of canceling his weekly grilling session in the House of Commons, normally a rollicking half-hour of criticism and rejoinders between the prime minister and his opposite number. Instead, a somber-looking Labor leader expressed his sympathies for the Camerons to a hushed Parliament.

"I know that in an all-too-brief young life, he brought joy to all those around him, and I know also that for all the days of his life, he was surrounded by his family's love," Brown said. "Every child is precious and irreplaceable, and the death of a child is an unbearable sorrow that no parent should ever have to endure."

Ivan Cameron's illness has not been without influence on his father's politics. The Tory leader has spoken movingly on several occasions about caring for his disabled son and how it had increased his appreciation of publicly funded Britain's national health system. His willingness to address Ivan's health added a softer element to a Tory agenda grounded in staples such as law and order and immigration.

His theme of a "broken Britain" is partly built on a need to put family life at the heart of public policy.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper last year, Cameron explained how Ivan's illness had a "significant impact in terms of just bringing you into contact with a whole world -- not just the NHS but also social services, community nurses, social workers, special schools, therapists, speech and language, hydrotherapy. . . .

"You know, you become quite an expert in some of these things," he said.

Through a spokesman, Cameron on Wednesday asked that his family be given time and space to grieve privately.

Ivan suffered from Ohtahara syndrome, a severe and rare form of epilepsy that left him unable to walk, speak, or feed himself and subject to daily seizures. In a radio interview in 2006, Cameron said that his son's diagnosis came as a "complete shock."

"He's a wonderful boy, and he's got the most lovely eyes. He definitely interacts with us," Cameron said. "He often is in a lot of pain. . . . We're determined to give him all we can and make sure he's part of a happy family."

Ivan fell ill Tuesday night and was taken to a London hospital, where he died hours later.

"Ivan's six years of life were not easy ones," William Hague, a senior Conservative Party leader, said in Parliament. "His parents lived with the knowledge for a long time that he could die young, but this has made their loss no less heartbreaking."

Hague also expressed Cameron's gratitude to the workers of Britain's national health service, who "not only did their utmost for their son this morning but who helped him every day from the moment he was born."

In addition to canceling the prime minister's question time in Parliament, Brown's office canceled a dinner at 10 Downing Street, the official residence, at which a new portrait of former Prime Minister Thatcher, herself a leader of the Conservative Party, was to be unveiled. Cameron had been expected to attend, along with Thatcher.

--

henry.chu@latimes.com

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