MPs pay tribute to Dame Tessa Jowell after former minister dies aged 70

Sienna Rodgers

Labour peer and former cabinet minister Dame Tessa Jowell has died aged 70 after being diagnosed with brain cancer last year.

This morning party members, journalists and politicians paid tribute to the former MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, remembering her achievements and sharing stories of their memories together.

Tessa Jowell first entered politics as a Camden councillor in 1971. The 23-year-old had expected to lose in the new Swiss Cottage ward, but unexpectedly topped the ballot and at just 25, she became Camden’s Chair of Social Services.

She went on to stand in the 1978 by-election and 1979 general in Ilford North, but lost both times to the Conservatives. The constituency is now represented by Labour’s Wes Streeting.

In the early 1990s, Dame Tessa was selected to fight Dulwich as a parliamentary candidate. She won the seat from the Tories at the 1992 general election with a slim majority of just over 2,000 votes.

She was appointed as an Opposition Whip and Shadow Minister for Women while Labour was in opposition, then became Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in 2001. In this role, she was responsible for setting up media regulator OFCOM.

A strong supporter of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, Dame Tessa was reported to have said she would “jump under a bus” for him.

When Gordon Brown took over, she was demoted from her cabinet role but retained her Olympics portfolio. London’s successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics would become one of Dame Tessa’s most notable achievements.

On her birthday in September 2017, she revealed her battle with cancer and pledged to campaign for improved cancer treatment.

Dame Tessa gave a moving speech in the House of Lords in January, in which she expressed her hope that “we can live well with cancer, not just die of it”. It received a rare and emotional standing ovation.

In a statement released today, her family said: “Tessa, who was 70, was diagnosed with a gliobastoma multiforme brain tumour in May last year, suffered a haemorrhage on Friday, and had been in a coma since then.

“In addition to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, in recent months doctors tried innovative new treatments, which Tessa gladly embraced, but sadly the tumour recently progressed very quickly.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn marked her death on Twitter:

Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, former Labour director of communications and godfather to Dame Tessa’s children Alastair Campbell said: “She really is the best of politics, the best of humanity, and as Tony Blair said this morning, there really aren’t many like her.”

He described her as a “positive life force who never stopped smiling”.

Former acting leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman, who lived in Dame Tessa’s constituency and represents neighbouring seat Camberwell and Peckham, celebrated Dame Tessa’s politics of “smiling not shouting”.

Labour MPs and others recognised her warm personality, strong sense of compassion and dry sense of humour.

Colleagues on the red benches also paid homage to her legacies, including her work in the House of Lords.

Journalists joined parliamentarians on Twitter in sharing fond impressions and memories.

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