Tuesday, August 23, 2005

 

Mo Mowlam's Legacy

Much has been written about Mo Mowlam since her death aged 55 last week. I'm always a bit cynical about such effusions of emotion. Mo played a peripheral role in New Labour and indeed Northern Ireland but the tributes suggested she was as crucial to both as Tony Blair, or perhaps more. Maybe it all goes back to the 2002 party conference when Blair referred to 'our Mo' and the audience gave her a genuine standing ovation. It is said that Blair's staff- not Blair himself- were so discomfitted by a display of popularity which rivalled that of their own dear leader, that they began a 'whispering campaign' against her.

Mo had, of course, had a benign tumour operation in 1997 which had ruined her once graceful looks -there were rumours too that her once 'lively social life'(as the obituaries put it) had included perhaps more lovers than is strictly consistent with being a leading politician (though Lloyd George might have disagreed with that). She had been a university lecturer in politics before becoming a politician proper with a doctorate, so she had some intellectual ability. But her chief contribution to the political world seemed to be a propensity to be irreverent and unconventional- to bestow hugs and kisses and- notoriously- to address former terrorist Martin McGuinness as 'babe'.

Indeed, these qualities probably explained why she won such widespread popularity in the country- the 'common touch' is rare enough among politicians and where it genuinely appears- as with Bill Clinton in the USA- it tends to endear the politician to the voter and make everyone feel they somehow know this figure performing on the national stage. So Mo was the beneficiary of her own warmth and tactile personal gifts- though not all those curmudgeonly Ulster Protestants appreciated them quite as much as the rest of us. But as for running a department, that wouls appear to be something apart. I once interviewed a very senior journalist whose understanding of our poolitics is second to none, who told me he had once attended a briefing by Mo after she left the N. Ireland Office and was a Cabinet Office minister.

This man testified that Mo was unable to think or talk coherently about the issues and appeared not up to the job. His take on the 'whispering campaign' was that it was merely the accurate response of those who had heard or observed her at work and were unimpressed. My own sightings of her on chat shows and the like would tend to reinforce this analysis. Maybe it was connected with the illness or the treatment she received but it never detracted from the real ability she had to express warmth and her unaffected feelings on the political stage and for that she will be long remembered and appreciated.

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