Flags fly at half-mast as show of respect for Dame Tessa Jowell

Admin (14 May, 2018) Politics

'She didn’t follow the political rules of the day; she followed her personal instinct'

21807Dame Tessa Jowell, former MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, has died from brain cancer aged 70 (Alexandra Coyle)

The council’s flags will fly at half-mast as a mark of respect for former Dulwich and West Norwood MP Dame Tessa Jowell following her death at the age of 70 from brain cancer.

Books of condolence have also been opened in both Southwark’s and Lambeth’s town halls in memory of the former Labour cabinet minister, whose constituency straddled both boroughs.

Tributes have poured in for Dame Tessa, who died peacefully at her home surrounded by family on Saturday after suffering a brain haemorrhage and falling into a coma on Friday.

Dame Tessa dedicated herself to campaigning for more cancer treatments to be available on the NHS after being diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumour in May 2017.

The former Southwark MP, who was much-respected and well-liked across the political divide, received a standing ovation in the House of Lords in January after delivering a moving speech about her campaign and her battle with the illness.

In a bittersweet announcement today, Monday, Number 10 revealed it would double government funding for brain cancer research to £40million and roll out gold standard tumour diagnosis tests across all NHS hospitals in tribute to Dame Tessa.

Prime minister Theresa May and the opposition led tributes to the former Labour MP, whose achievements included helping to secure the 2012 London Olympics as culture secretary, and setting up the Sure Start programme to support families in the early years of their children’s development as public health minister.

Tributes also flooded in locally, with Southwark Council leader Peter John saying Dame Tessa left “a void in our hearts but a great legacy of achievement”.

After news of Dame Tessa’s death broke, he tweeted: “A genuinely sad day – we have lost the optimism, warmth, practical politics, care, determination, friendship, inspiration, smile, laughter, and love that Tessa Jowell represented.”

Harriet Harman, MP for Camberwell and Peckham, paid tribute to her former constituency neighbour of 23 years.

The pair first met in the early 1980s when Dame Tessa was a councillor in Camden and chair of their social services committee.

“We were both young mothers determined to do the best for our children at the same time as getting Labour into government and changing the world for the better,” said Ms Harman.

“From then on, until her death, we worked closely together.

“’The personal is political’ – that old Women’s Movement saying – was what Tessa was all about.

“Her focus on her children and step-children was the impetus for her putting parenting support at the heart of the Labour Government’s Sure Start Children’s Centres.

“Her way of judging eldercare services when she worked in Birmingham social services was simple: ‘either it’s good enough for my mother or it’s not good enough for anyone’.

“She didn’t follow the political rules of the day; she followed her personal instinct.

“But she was no softie – she was clever and tough.

“She was a champion of the Dulwich and West Norwood she represented.

“People will always remember her in Southwark but, also, when people remember the big figures in Labour 1997-2010 Tessa will be one of them.”

Helen Hayes MP, who succeeded Dame Tessa in Dulwich and West Norwood in 2015, tweeted: “So very sad at the passing of my friend & predecessor Tessa Jowell who served Dulwich & West Norwood for 23 years.

“Tessa leaves huge legacy both locally & nationally & bravely used her brain tumour diagnosis to keep making a difference for others until the very end. Much missed x.”

Former Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP of 32 years Sir Simon Hughes tweeted: “RIP Tessa. It was a pleasure & privilege to work with you as fellow Southwark MP for many years.

“Tessa – you were lovely, brave, caring, principled, talented and determined.

“Your colleagues, city and country thank you. And to your family love and thanks.”

Link Age Southwark director Ruth Driscoll said Dame Tessa would be fondly remembered by the charity.

“Tessa Jowell is so fondly remembered by everyone @LASwark for the compassion and commitment she gave to our charity’s work supporting older people in Southwark over many years,” she tweeted. “May she rest in peace.”

Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust tweeted: “We’re very sad to hear about the passing of @TessaJowell

“Our thoughts go out to her family and friends. A kind, caring and courageous servant to the Dulwich community and a supporter of our club over the years @DulwichHamletFC who will be sorely missed.”

Southwark Council leader Peter John (left), Dame Tessa Jowell, and Tony Doyle MBE

Dame Tessa was elected in Southwark in 1992 – first as MP for Dulwich, and then for Dulwich and West Norwood – holding the seat until she stepped down in 2015.

She was appointed minister for public health in Mr Blair’s first government, then later secretary of state for culture, media and sport, and was one of just a few politicians to serve as a cabinet member for the full terms of prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

She had previously trained as a psychiatric social worker and worked at the Maudsley Hospital before switching to the voluntary sector and becoming assistant director of mental health charity Mind.

Sharing a picture of herself laughing alongside Dame Tessa on Twitter, Ms May said: “The dignity and courage with which Dame Tessa Jowell confronted her illness was humbling and it was inspirational.

“My sympathies to her loving family – Dame Tessa’s campaigning on brain cancer research is a lasting tribute to a lifetime of public service.”

Former prime minister Tony Blair, in whose cabinet Dame Tessa served as culture secretary, said she would be remembered for being “the most wise of counsellors, the most loyal and supportive of colleagues, and the best of friends”.

“There was no one like Tessa and no one better; I will miss her more than I can say,” he said.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was “devastating to hear the news” of Dame Tessa’s death, and that her “strength in raising awareness of her illness and fighting for better treatment for others inspired us all”.

Dame Tessa Jowell, former MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, has died from brain cancer aged 70 (Alexandra Coyle)

Sir Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, added that “she behaved with such great dignity and her bravery has been an inspiration to so many”.

Former Labour director of communications Alastair Campbell told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that Dame Tessa was “one of the kindest, most compassionate, empathetic people I’ve ever known”.

“She was completely dedicated to other people and politicians get such a bad rap from so many people but Dame Tessa was not just the best in politics, she was the best of humanity,” he said.

“Yesterday [Saturday] when we knew what was happening and phoning a few people to let them know what was going on – I’ll spare his blushes – but there was a Tory MP I spoke to who burst into tears.

“I think she just had this capacity to touch everybody she met and I can’t quite believe she’s gone.

“I just remember her as a positive life force who never stopped smiling and never stopped being dedicated and motivated by other people.”

Lord Sebastian Coe, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and former British Olympic Association chairman, the London 2012 Olympics would not have happened without Dame Tessa.

“Tessa was not just a close friend, she was a life enhancer,” he said.

“Her contribution to the Olympic and Paralympic Games is easily defined – without Tessa there would have been no London 2012, and without Tessa they would not have been the success they were.”

Dame Tessa died peacefully at her family home near Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire shortly after 10pm on Saturday, with her husband David at her side, as well as their children Jessie and Matthew, their husband and wife, and David’s children from his first marriage.

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