On this day in history : 18th September 1949 – The birth of Labour MP and former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam, who was seen as one of the most popular of the New Labour politicians….

Mo Mowlam – Fair use

Born Majorie Mowlam in Watford, Mo was to grow up in Coventry, West Midlands…. She was the second of the three children of Frank and Tina Mowlam; her father was Coventry’s assistant postmaster and her mother worked as a telephonist to help make ends meet….

Mo passed her 11 Plus examination and attended Coundon Court Comprehensive School in Coventry…. She considered becoming a doctor but also developed an interest in politics at an early age…. She went on to Trevelyan College, Durham, where she studied Sociology and Anthropology…. It was whilst at college that she joined the Labour Party, working as a research centre for Tony Benn….

Following her graduation in 1973 Mo travelled to the United States – here she studied at the University of Iowa and gained a PhD in Political Science…. For a short while she lectured in Politics in Wisconsin and then Florida, before returning to the UK to lecture at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne….

Mo was elected Labour MP for Redcar, North Yorkshire in 1987 and remained in this seat until 2001…. In 1992 she joined the Shadow Cabinet under John Smith, the then opposition leader…. In 1994 she helped with Tony Blair’s campaign to become Prime Minister, who made her Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland….

In 1995, at the age of 46, Mo married artist Jon Norton, an ex-merchant banker; she became step-mother to his two children…. It was just before the general election of May 1997 that Mo was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour…. After undergoing extensive radio therapy and steroid treatment she lost her hair and gained weight – but she refused to let this interfere with her work – she became known to many as ‘Brave Mo’….

Mo Mowlam (centre) October 1997 – Image credit : plainsense CC BY-SA 3.0

After Labour had won the election Mo was appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – her task being to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing troubles in Northern Ireland…. She even took the unprecedented step of talking to Loyalist prisoners in the Maze Prison, a potentially dangerous risk – but one that paid off – she was instrumental in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998….

After a government reshuffle in October 1999 she became Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster…. She was later to turn down the job of Health Secretary and became a cabinet office minister instead – this lower position may have been as a result of her deteriorating health…. She headed the government’s anti-drugs campaign but not without causing controversy after admitting having used cannabis in her student days….

On the 4th of September 2000 Mo announced her plans to retire and she relinquished her seat at the 2001 general election…. She was to become critical of the government’s policies on a number of issues afterwards but especially on the invasion of Iraq…. She took part in anti-war protests alongside Ken Livingstone, Tony Benn, Tariq Ali, Vanessa Redgrave and Bianca Jagger….

Her retirement from politics did not see her idle…. She set up a charity – ‘MoMo Helps’ – supporting the parents and carers of disabled children – and those completing rehab after drug addiction…. She also became an agony aunt for men’s publication ‘Zoo’…. In January 2003 she was the subject of TV show ‘This is Your Life’….

On the 3rd of August 2005 the announcement came that Mo was seriously ill in King’s College Hospital…. According to her husband she had fallen on the 30th of July and received head injuries and had not regained consciousness…. Mo had stipulated in her Will that she did not wish to be resuscitated…. On the 12th of August she was moved to Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury, where she died on the 19th of August…. In January 2010 it was revealed by the doctor who had treated her that the tumour she had was in fact malignant – and this had been the cause of her death…. She had not wanted it to become common knowledge and had kept it even from her work colleagues….

Image credit : morebyless via Flickr

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