A tribute to Mo Mowlam
19 Aug 2005
After hearing that Mo had been moved to a hospice a few days ago, it was clear that she was close to death. Nonetheless, the news this morning that she had died came as a blow to me, as I am sure it did to MP's on all sides who got to know Mo when she was an MP.
She was elected to Parliament in 1987, and I got to know her when we were both members of the Standing Committee that introduced the Community Charge. David Blunkett also made his debut on that committee.
It met interminably, often sitting late, and - as the discussions on the Clauses were not always rivetting - members would chat outside the committee room. I got to know Mo, who could not be described as a career politician. She was not obsessed with personal advancement; she had a healthy disregard for the advice of the Whips, if it was at variance with her own views; and she said what she thought. That girl is going nowhere, I thought to myself. I could not have been more wrong.
Her popularity in Parliament and, crucially, with Labour supporters and the general public made her a key component of the Blairite project to make Labour electable. She was a good communicator and someone who inspired trust and confidence - her talents were too good to be wasted.
Although I kept in touch, I didn't see a lot of Mo until we both appeared on Question Time in Southampton shortly before the 1997 General Election. I hardly recognised her - I had no idea she was seriously ill and getting treatment. I admired her courage in appearing on the programme and indeed in campaigning so vigorously in the General Election campaign. A few days later, I was surprised when she popped her head round the door of my room on the Cabinet corridor in the House of Commons. She had a cigarette in her hand "Got a light George?" She was next door with Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Ireland Secretary, who kept Mo in the picture on Northern Ireland as part of the All-party approach to the vexed affairs of the province. I explained I was a militant non-smoker and directed her to my chain-smoking colleague Tony Newton.
She joined the Cabinet in 1997 and took a number of risks in Northern Ireland in her dealings with the republican movement. I was not close enough to assess the rights and wrongs of her tactics, but I am sure her approach was crucial to bringing the two sides together for the Good Friday Agreement and hopefully building a lasting peace settlement.
Her strength to me lay not in her grasp of detail but in her instinctive approach to issues. She knew what the right and sensible thing to do was and so she did it. People liked and trusted her. The strain of that job is tremendous - even for someone who is fit. I am sure that her health took the strain, which is why the Prime Minister moved her to a less exposed position. Unfortunately, it was one that required an enormous grasp of detail and one for which her talents were not suited. So she stopped - which again was a typical Mowlam decision. She was not one to hang around if her talents were not wanted.
Every Party needs some Mo Mowlams in it - but that one was special.
 
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Copyright Sir George Young Bt. 2015