We come now to tributes to the late Baroness Jowell, former Member of Parliament for Dulwich and West Norwood. While there is not time today for many right hon. or hon. Members to speak, I know that many of you would like to record your memories of her, and her contribution both to Parliament and to the nation. I am confident—I repeat, I am confident—that there will be other opportunities for you to do so in the coming days and weeks.
Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, colleagues in all parts of the House: in offering my own heartfelt condolences to Tessa’s family, together with my own deeply felt personal tribute, I shall attempt for once to lead by example, and be uncharacteristically brief.
The embodiment of empathy, a stellar, progressive change-maker, and a well of practical compassion without rival, Tessa Jowell was the best of us. I rue her tragic and untimely passing, which leaves all of us in this place, and countless others beyond it, infinitely and permanently poorer. May Tessa rest in peace.
Before I pay tribute to Baroness Jowell, may I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and the whole House that I may not be able to remain to hear all the tributes as I am due to welcome the President of Panama to Downing Street this afternoon?
I am sure the whole House was deeply saddened by the passing of Dame Tessa Jowell this weekend. She was a most extraordinary politician, colleague and campaigner, but she was also a loving mother and wife, and our thoughts and sympathies at this time must be with her family: her husband David, her children Jess and Matthew, and her stepchildren Eleanor, Luke and Annie.
Jess said this morning: “It is the greatest honour of my life to be her daughter,” but, Mr Speaker, we were all honoured to share this Chamber with Dame Tessa, and we are here to pay tribute to her life and work—to her warmth, her compassion and her incredible strength of character.
I was fortunate enough to meet Tessa while she was confronting her illness, and her dignity and courage were as humbling as they were inspirational. She was resolutely brave, not only in how she faced her treatment, but also through the way in which she spoke so openly about her illness and campaigned tirelessly for greater brain cancer research. Even at what must have been some of her most difficult moments, her compassion for others shone through.
Like many across the House, Tessa began her career in politics as a councillor, becoming an MP in 1992 and entering Government in 1997. Whether as councillor, a Back Bencher or a Minister, she was defined by her devotion to public service.
Throughout her time in Parliament, she would always reach out to an MP of any party who was going through a tough time; whether it was personal or professional, she would be there for them. For Tessa was a person first and a politician second. And nowhere was that humanity greater than with the support she provided to the loved ones of those who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7. Her advocacy was so compelling because Dame Tessa was never one to take no for an answer, something I believe she put down to her Scottish roots.
Dame Tessa certainly refused to take no for an answer when many said that London should not even bid for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. As Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, she persuaded Tony Blair and the Cabinet, the civil service and ultimately the whole country to get behind the bid. That historic summer of 2012, which brought us together so powerfully as a nation, would simply not have happened without her.
Tessa Jowell’s political achievements were outstanding. But those who know her will also never forget her sense of humour. For many years after London won that Olympic bid the screensaver on her phone was a photo of her and David Beckham after the announcement—hugging. As she said: “You can be a feminist but still be susceptible to a David Beckham moment.”
Dame Tessa brought all those qualities of compassion, passion and determination to her final, and perhaps most important, campaign: on brain cancer. Her impact was reflected in yesterday’s announcement of the Tessa Jowell brain cancer research fund, and it will live on in an annual Tessa Jowell global symposium, to be hosted by the UK, to bring together the best clinical, scientific and academic minds on brain cancer.
No one who heard her extraordinary speech in the House of Lords when she spoke about her own brain tumour could have failed to be moved. As she said in that speech:
“In the end, what gives a life meaning is not only how it is lived, but how it draws to a close.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 788, c. 1170.]
Dame Tessa lived out those words. To the end, she fought not for herself, not for her party, but for everyone affected by this most cruel of diseases. It was typical of the spirit with which she approached her whole life.
The outpouring of tributes this weekend, from those who had the privilege to know her and those who did not, shows the extent to which her courage and service inspired us all. Her legacy will live on.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and thank you for arranging this half hour of tributes to Tessa Jowell. We are grateful to you for that, and we are grateful to the Prime Minister for what she has just said about Tessa. Right across the House, people were devastated when they heard the news of Tessa’s death. Like the Prime Minister, I send my condolences to her family and friends and to everyone who knew her well. The media coverage yesterday and this morning goes way beyond the coverage of the death of a normal politician. It goes way beyond that because it brings in the way in which she lived her life and the way in which she died.
I knew Tessa for a very long time. She was a warm and compassionate person. Prior to coming to this House in 1992 as the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood, she was a councillor in Camden in the 1970s, which is where I first met her—I in my role as a union organiser and she in her role as a councillor. There is always a basic synergy between the two. She was Labour’s candidate in a by-election in Ilford North in 1978, and many of us trudged along many streets in support of her at that time. Unfortunately, she was not elected then, but she came into the House sometime after that. In Camden, Tessa was instrumental in trying to bring an end to the pay dispute in 1979 by offering us lots of money. When we wanted a national settlement, she offered us a local one. It was very kind of her. It was an attempt to try to support low-paid workers in her constituency in Camden.
In Government, Tessa was absolutely determined to bring about Sure Start, which was one of the great achievements of that Government. The idea was that all children and all families should have a place and be supported in the difficult times that they were going through. Sure Start helped to lift 1 million children out of poverty, and I thank her for that. I also thank her for being an active NHS campaigner in London from the moment she entered this House in 1992. I worked with her on that, and I was very happy to do so.
Tessa’s pivotal moment was helping to win the 2012 Olympics for London, when she persuaded a probably reluctant Prime Minister, an undoubtedly reluctant civil service and a probably reluctant just-about-everybody-else with her amazingly penetrating stare, saying, “Well, you’ve got to do it!” And of course, everyone had to do it and they did. She then showed her skills in diplomacy by putting together a team consisting of Lord Coe, Ken Livingstone and herself to deliver the Olympics for London. I have never forgotten her describing the chances of a British gold medal in taekwondo to a meeting of Labour MPs. I do not think that any of us knew what taekwondo was, but we did not want to admit that to her, so we all said, “Well done, yes, it’s bound to go well.” She actually tried taekwondo, and she was just as formidable at that as she was later in putting her case to the House of Lords. So, well done Tessa on that.
Tessa’s recent speech in the House of Lords was just amazing. We live our lives and enjoy our lives and none of us wants it to end, but she was able to convey to the House and to the world that living your life is also about how you end your life and about the legacy that you leave behind. It was such a brave and selfless speech, and it took so much out of her, but she was determined to do it. Using her platform as a Member of Parliament in the House of Lords to raise awareness of brain cancer was truly amazing: well done her. She will be remembered for her passion, for her sense of social justice, for her sense of inclusion and for her sense of fun in dealing with people. Above all, she will be remembered for the manner of her leaving us. Her children and family are obviously totally devastated, but I think they can also be very proud of the legacy she has left behind. It is wonderful that we now have the Tessa Jowell brain cancer research fund, and I hope that we will all support that so that others do not have to suffer in the awful way that she suffered. She taught us how to live, and I think she also taught us how to die.
I have been in this House since 2001—far less time than some colleagues—and I have come to distinguish between when the House comes together to lament a former colleague because it feels it ought to and when it comes together to lament a departed colleague because it feels it wants to. There can be no doubt that the latter is the case this afternoon. Many people in the House knew Tessa far better than I did, worked with her far more closely and were far more ideologically wedded to her beliefs, but it was my privilege—as much as being in opposition can be a privilege—to be the shadow Culture Secretary when she was Secretary of State, and I want to take a few seconds to thank her for her extraordinarily unpartisan behaviour.
Tessa embodied the best in a Minister—one who goes about their business trying to do what they believe is in the best interests of the country, not necessarily of the party. It was of course my job to rubbish the Olympic bid and to rubbish the dome, both of which I did extremely unconvincingly, I am sure. However, Tessa was unfailingly courteous to me and my family, and I miss her as much as anyone else.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, I express my deep condolences to Dame Tessa’s family and friends and note the passing of one of the truly great parliamentarians of the past 30 years. I had the great pleasure of shadowing Tessa at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport from 2001 and for the Olympics from 2005, and it would be impossible to find a more accommodating, supportive and open colleague. Even if she furiously disagreed with me, as she quite often did, she was able to do so in the most charming and personable of ways. I liked Tessa immensely. I enjoyed her company, and she was always immensely knowledgeable of every detail of her brief.
I remember when the London Olympic games were first announced, and I can say now that there was not a huge amount of enthusiasm among the SNP group for what we saw as further spending in London, but that was important to Tessa, and she had to ensure that the whole UK bought into the project. She selflessly went around the UK in order to recruit people as champions for the London Olympics, and she even convinced us of the merits of the case.
The games will be her enduring legacy, but so will all her work on Sure Start and the incredible, brave ways in which she faced the months at the end of her life. I only saw Tessa a couple of times during that period, but she was still the same Tessa—determined and feisty, but always personable and charming—and she would always remind me of the contribution of the UK music industry to the economy. I will miss her, and I wish her family all the best. Rest in peace, Tessa.
I call the Mother of the House, Harriet Harman.
Tessa Jowell was the embodiment of that old women’s movement saying: “The personal is political.” For Tessa, the personal and the political were completely intertwined. Her devotion to her children and her stepchildren was what underpinned her drive for Sure Start children’s centres, with parenting support at their heart. Her enjoyment of her family and their prowess in sport was what lay behind her wanting to get the Olympics for the UK. She wanted them and the Paralympics to be shared and to inspire every child and young person across the country.
Tessa had a unique personal style. She befriended people who were struggling, had difficulties or were powerless, whom she felt she could support, but she also befriended the powerful in order to get them to back her progressive causes. She was no softie, though. Everybody has quite rightly said how charming and nice she was, but there was steel behind those clear blue eyes. As her constituency neighbour for 23 years, we went to countless meetings together and worked together on countless campaigns. She was always courteous and polite to the police, the schools, the hospitals and the council, but if ever she felt that they were obfuscating or letting people down, she would be tougher than anybody. She was true Labour, as an activist, as a councillor, as a Member of this House and as a Member of the Lords, but she was never afraid to work cross-party for the causes that she supported or to forge friendships across parties. We are so sad for her family, especially David, Jess and Matthew, but I know they will be strong because she will have prepared them for the loss they faced, just as she supported, on behalf of the Government, those who faced loss after the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks. We send them all our sympathy.
All around the country there will be people who are listening to these tributes and who have heard of Tessa’s death who worked with her, who knew her and who will be feeling sad but also immensely proud that they can say, “I knew Tessa Jowell.”
Tessa served our area as the MP for Dulwich—later Dulwich and West Norwood—for 23 years from 1992 with a commitment to making a difference every single day. Her legacy is extraordinary, from five brilliant new schools to Sure Start centres, the turnaround of King’s College Hospital and the countless community groups she championed. Tessa is much loved across the constituency for the things she delivered, but perhaps even more for her deep empathy and compassion, her ability to connect with people and the way she worked collaboratively to empower others.
Tessa’s legacy is national as well as local. Sure Start was born of her passionate belief in the need to address the disadvantage affecting children at the earliest opportunity, and Sure Start centres have transformed the lives of countless families. It was Tessa’s vision, which she nurtured from idea to completion, that the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics should be not just a singular sporting event but the vehicle for transformative long-term investment in east London and the most authentic and glorious celebration of London and Londoners that we have ever seen.
I last saw Tessa a few weeks ago, when her presence lit up this Chamber as she attended the debate in her honour led by my hon. Friend Sarah Jones. Tessa’s commitment to using her devastating brain tumour diagnosis to campaign to make a difference for others was no surprise to anyone who knew her, but it was nevertheless extraordinary and extremely brave. At a reception following the debate, Tessa was determined to speak. Although her language was much affected by her tumour, among the words she managed to articulate were “determined,” “love” and “lucky”—the essence of Tessa, whose determination and love led her to deliver so much and who leaves so many of us feeling lucky to have known her.
Tessa’s legacy in Dulwich and West Norwood is in our schools, our hospital and our community, and it is in our culture of campaigning, which puts people at its centre. We are grateful to have had so much of her time. Our thoughts and love are with David, Jessie and Matthew and the rest of Tessa’s family on their deep loss. I hope they will take some comfort from knowing that Tessa leaves the world a far better place than she found it, and that there are many in Dulwich and West Norwood, and across the country, who will ensure that her tremendous legacy lives on.
Tessa was already a Cabinet Minister when I was first elected in 2001 so, unlike others, I cannot claim to have had a close association with her as she made her way up through the ranks. When I speak to my colleagues and former colleagues who did know her well, either from her time in office here or from working on the 2012 London Olympics, I get the same messages time and again: always cheerful; good at building consensus; boundless energy; and a natural team player. Perhaps less well known and less remarked upon is the fact that all those qualities were displayed towards not just MPs, peers and Ministers, but all others with whom she worked in Parliament and in the civil service. When I was Secretary of State for Scotland, I acquired a member of my private office who had previously worked as part of Tessa’s private office in the then Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Despite it being more than four years since he had worked as part of Tessa’s team, he always spoke warmly—and with very little prompting—about how great it had been to work with her. Like so many others, he spoke with pride and affection. He was always kind enough never to draw a direct comparison with his experience working for me; for once, I was sensible enough not to ask.
Although one would not have known it to listen to her speak, Tessa had a long- standing association with the north-east of Scotland. She was educated there, in St Margaret’s School for Girls in Aberdeen and later at Aberdeen University, where she was both a graduate and an honorary graduate. The university principal, Professor Sir Ian Diamond, spoke yesterday of her helpfulness and humanity. Unlike some universities, the University of Aberdeen has never been over-represented on these Benches but—I declare an interest as an alumnus—I like to think that what we lack in quantity we have been able to make up for in quality. I have never been able to think of a better way of advancing that argument than by reference to Tessa Jowell.
Tessa Jowell leaves a legacy that is substantial in politics, and it will be enduring. I think that she would be a little frustrated to think that her life might be defined by the way in which it ended but, as a member of the all-party group on brain tumours, I want to comment on the enormous impact she has made for those who suffer from brain cancers. A couple of years ago, I raised with David Cameron at Prime Minister’s questions the subject of funding for brain tumour research. I was astonished at the response I got—emails and messages from people thanking me for raising the issue and saying that this was something that affected their son, daughter, husband, wife, friend or neighbour. They came from people whose lives had been touched by the condition—some of whom I knew quite well—but who never felt able to talk about it. For some reason that is well beyond my understanding, brain cancers seem to be the last cancer taboo in our society, but because of the way in which Tessa Jowell dealt with hers—with courage and candour—I am sure that that taboo is weaker today than it has ever been. The money for research will doubtless help us to find better cures, but Tessa’s courage will be the biggest hope and encouragement to thousands.
Last month we held a debate on cancer and paid tribute to Tessa. Just before that debate, Tessa said to me, “This is not about me; this is about what comes next.” She would therefore not forgive me if I did not both welcome the new Government money that has been announced today and say that together we can go further. I look forward to working with the Government on the data sharing, clinical trials and research to come.
Having been helped by Tessa, having been friends with her and having been her employee, I saw the velvet and the steel in Tessa Jowell. She always got what she wanted, but she always wanted the best for others. The best advice she ever gave me—and gave anyone—was, “Never take no for an answer.” She never gave up. I wish to repeat the words from Tessa that I read out in the debate here last month:
“It was the honour of my life to be one of you, and I shall cheer on from the sidelines as you keep fighting the good fight. So remember our battle cry: living with, not dying of, cancer. For more people, for longer. Thank you.”
I first really got to know Tessa when we were both very pregnant—I with my last child, and she with her first, Jessie. In those days, we did try to cuddle each other, but we were both slightly vertically challenged, so with these big bellies, it was—
It was jolly hard to get your arms around her, but that was what you always wanted to do with Tessa: you did want to give her a cuddle. I remember the early days of our relationship, when we would spend the time talking about nappies and sleepless nights on the one hand, and on the other discussing how we would make Labour electable and our latest very good idea. That was her, really; as my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman said, the personal was very much the political with Tessa.
Tessa was already a successful politician before she came into Parliament. I knew her when she was chair of social services in Camden, and she chaired the social services committee at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. She did incredibly radical things on diversity and on care for the elderly in the community. I well remember that she worked for a while for Birmingham City Council and tried to devise its policy for caring for the elderly outside of old people’s homes. She did what Tessa would always do: she spent endless nights in those homes so that she could really feel what the people who were living that life felt. That informed the way in which she devised policy.
As well as being a feminist—she was a feminist with many of us during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s—Tessa was incredibly feminine. Her home was always filled with fresh flowers, and Friday was Tessa on the splurge, going to buy lots of flowers. While her husband David cooked the meals, she created the ambiance that made people feel positive and comfortable, with beautiful things around the room. She was the go-to person if you wanted any advice on style: for hair—we shared the same hairdresser; for fitness—she went to this absolutely ghastly place in Austria where they really pulled it out of you; and for the most beautiful clothes. When we went to Pontignano for an annual get-together of the Italian and UK left, we would go off for an afternoon to see what was in the Siena shops.
Tessa was a people-focused politician and a feminist, and she showed awesome courage all the way through her life, but particularly in her last years. Death is a part of all our lives, but the people who were with us yesterday remain a part of all our present and our future. Tessa touched countless people’s lives when she lived; their experience will form part of the legacy that she leaves behind. We salute her and celebrate who she was and what she achieved.
Tessa was the mother of Sure Start, and also Britain’s first Public Health Minister. She started some amazing things, including the teenage pregnancy strategy, which worked, and Sure Start itself, into which she threw so much of herself—literally. I was lucky enough to follow her into the Public Health job and to see some of the amazing work she had done. The things that were most valuable in Sure Start—not only the warmth, the empathy, and the focus on families and whole communities, but the ambition, the aspiration, and that wider support and emotion—were also all the things that we valued about Tessa and her life. What she saw in her own family, with David, Jessie and Matthew—all her family, for whom we now feel so much—was what she worked so hard to provide for other families throughout the country.
I know that when we think about Tessa and the Olympics, we are supposed to think about her steely determination in getting the games to happen. We are supposed to think about her amazing values of inclusion and diversity, which she infused throughout the Olympics, whether in the amazing Danny Boyle opening ceremony that she commissioned, the games makers she championed, or the sending of the torch all around the country. All that is true, but I cannot help but keep remembering a meeting before the London Olympics in which she briefed us in some detail, and with great frankness, about her plans to distribute condoms throughout the Olympic village. She said, “Well, there are going to be all these athletes with their beautiful bodies, and when they finish their races they’re going to have a lot of sex, and we have a responsibility to keep them safe!” That, in the end, along with the twinkle in her eye, was Tessa. She was completely down to earth and practical; she had no qualms or squeamishness about all aspects of people’s lives. That was what made her so remarkable—that down-to-earth quality and also the great visions that she had. We know that she leaves a huge legacy not just around cancer, not just around the Olympics, not just around Sure Start, and not just in the hearts of all those who met her and were inspired by her, but for all those who did not meet her but whose lives were changed for the better by the work that she did.
In following my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, as a former Public Health Minister, I can say that I was so glad that Tessa put the public health case for condoms during that briefing—once a Public Health Minister, always a Public Health Minister.
Tessa was a lovely and delightful person, but she was not a saint. There were a few off-the-record conversations and discussions that we had when she let rip with a few choice swear words. We were part of a relatively small group of colleagues—Hazel Blears, Jacqui Smith, Ruth Kelly, Baroness Scotland—who had a “Come Dine with Me” club. Occasionally we would try to escape this place, and one of us would cook for the rest of the group. I remember the papers got a sniff of this somewhere and said that we were plotting some terrible overthrow or what have you. To be honest, we just got together to have a nice glass of wine, give points for the food that we were being served by the person whose turn it was, and to have a good gossip about this place.
Tessa was a great listener. She was always hands on in every job that she did. In many respects, she sets an example for Ministers today and in the future. One thing about the jobs she did—whether it was Minister for Public Health, for the Olympics or for London—was that she put her heart and soul into them. She was not looking to the next job or the next promotion. She devoted herself to the job in hand. Truthfully, Tessa had so many firsts to be proud of, but she would have been a great Secretary of State for Health. Actually, she would have been a great Foreign Secretary, given her talent for bringing people together. At this very sad time, emotions will be raw for her family, but she will live on through them and their children. For all of us, she will live on in our hearts.
I first met Tessa in a stable. It was the 1992 general election, and I was the shadow Home Office Minister—the deputy to Roy Hattersley—covering policing. Roy said, “Go down to the stables where the Metropolitan police have their horses and get a photo opportunity with this candidate.” I pitched up somewhere, which must have been in the constituency, and saw this very lovely young candidate standing near three enormous horses snorting—there was not exactly fire coming out of their noses, but it was pretty close. If anyone has been close to one of those horses, they will know how big they are. The PR person said, “One of you has to get on that horse for the photograph.” I said, “Well, I’m only here to support Tessa.” I’ll tell you what: Tessa—and she was small—stepped up and stroked the nose of the horse, and in about two minutes, she was his best friend. She got up on the horse—I remember putting the hat on—and we had the photo opportunity. That was how I first met Tessa. When she arrived in this House, we already had something in common.
I have been in this place for quite a long time. I have seen some really superb parliamentarians on both sides of the House, but there are some who bring a certain sparkle to this place—they are just different. Mo Mowlam was one, and Tessa was as well. David Beckham was not the only person who got a hug from Tessa. If you pleased her or if you did something as part of her team, she gave you a hug. She liked to give a hug. She also brought fun into this place. Sometimes we are a bit dreary in these Chambers. If Tessa walked into a room, it felt like a bit of joy was coming through the door. I remember her with love and affection. I remember her enlivening this Parliament, which can sometimes be a bit dry and dusty. I especially remember that she had that quality of sparkle. Although I am a bit of a bad Christian, I still think of both of them—Mo Mowlam and Tessa—up there smiling and bringing joy wherever they are.
There have been many wonderful tributes to Tessa. One of the many that would have pleased her hugely was yesterday’s from the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. He described in detail the rigour with which Tessa put forward her case in the now famous meeting at which she pitched the Olympics to him. Tessa described that same meeting to me a few years ago, and it was identical to Mr Blair’s description—with one addition. She said that at the end of the meeting she turned informally to him and said, “Do you want to be the Prime Minister who had the Olympics within their grasp and chose to turn away?” That, for me, was Tessa. She had learnt to weaponise the male ego, and woe betide any big beast that stood between her and one of her political objectives. That somebody could have an Olympic-sized vision and make it happen, yet do so leaving nothing but a trail of love and laughter, is a modern day political miracle. For those of us who knew her, she was that miracle. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
That was a very special tribute, and the reaction of the House to the hon. Gentleman tells its own story.
I wish to add my contribution and heartfelt words on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party. I commend all who have spoken so far, including you, Mr Speaker. You have a tremendous grasp of the English language and set things out in a succinct and helpful way—we all appreciate that very much.
I may have only been here a short time, but I recall Dame Tessa Jowell’s wise and helpful contributions in this House both while I was here and before I came to the House. She had an everlasting smile. I always felt that she was a lady who I would not want to get on the wrong side of, as other Members have said, but she reached out to people everywhere. One of my constituents phoned me this morning to say that she was moved by Tessa’s life, and by her courage, strength and determination that shone through. Tessa touched the lives of many.
On a Thursday some three weeks ago, we had a debate in this Chamber on brain cancer. You were also present for that very emotional debate, Mr Speaker. Tessa sat right through the debate—very much a campaign warrior—not too far from where I stand now. She was so very obviously in pain, with her head gently resting on her husband’s shoulder, alongside her family, who were there to support her.
At this time of sorrow and grief, I say to Tessa’s husband, family, friends and the many colleagues in this House who knew her much better than I did: we have fond memories of a lady who we will all miss greatly, but we remember with joy what she did in this House right to the very end. God bless Tessa.
We have heard a lot today about what Tessa did—her outstanding legacy of bringing the Olympics and Paralympics to London, and her amazing work—but I want to talk a little bit about how she did it. I remember a fantastic speech that she gave at the Labour party conference in 2005, when I was a newly elected MP. She spoke about her plans to roll out music education to every child, and mentioned a conversation that she had had with a lady in a tower block in Lambeth. She talked about that lady’s daughter, saying, “I want this music education programme to reach everyone. The test will be: will Rosa learn to play the violin?” I am pretty certain that Rosa, in that tower block in Lambeth, did get to play her violin.
I remember running into Tessa in the middle of the Olympic games, when she was incredibly busy and under pressure. I asked her, “What’s going on? How are you, Tessa?”, and she said, “Well, I’m living here for the next six weeks.” I said, “Gosh, are you not even going home? Do you have enough stuff with you?” and she said, “Yes. Essentially, me and Sebastian Coe are the joint mayors of the Olympic village.” I just knew that she was glorying in that amazing six weeks of tremendous sport.
A friend of mine sent me a text to say that she had been at a housing association trust, where a nervous young man had introduced Tessa as “Jessa Towell”. Tessa had just roared with laughter. My friend said that everybody in the room simply fell in love with Tessa at that moment. That is what she was—irresistible, charming and funny, but with a little bit of steel inside. She loved fashion. She could rock a frock and she liked to shop. In the end, the moments I treasure are the lifts home that she gave me, having some pretty salty conversations on the way as well.
In an era of fast food, fast politics and fast media, Tessa was a slow politician. I mean “slow” in the very best sense of the word: every word, every deed, measured out for kindness, for thoughtfulness and for compassion. Seamus Heaney wrote in “At the Wellhead”:
“Being with her
Was intimate and helpful, like a cure
You didn’t notice happening.”
She leaves a legacy in our hearts. Rest in peace, Tessa.
Tessa Jowell was both a very special person and a very special politician, and the qualities of one reinforced the brilliance of the other. She was the best friend that anyone could wish for: loyal, true, uplifting and empathetic. There are many people in this House and outside it who, when they found themselves at a low ebb, would know that Tessa was there for them, holding out love and support: never your judge and jury, always your friend and shelter in a storm.
She was quite simply full of love—full of love for her family, her friends, and the causes she believed in. She loved London, our great capital city. She loved it for its openness, its diversity, its endless opportunities, and its focus on tomorrow rather than yesterday. As a politician, she was a change-maker, a moderniser. Her mission was not to preserve Britain or seek illusory solace in nostalgia but to change it for the better—and always, always in a progressive direction. For her, Sure Start—the mission to give every child from whatever background the best possible start in life—was not just a Government programme but a symbol of what she believed the United Kingdom should stand for.
For the London Olympics, she not only played a vital role in winning the bid but helped to shape the character of what, for many of us, was the greatest moment of Britishness and the coming together of the country in our lifetimes. She understood more than anyone that how we hosted the games was as important as what happened in the competition itself. She gave us our golden summer. She gave the country our united golden moment.
Her love and empathy were there for the families of the victims of terrorism on 9/11 and in the 7/7 London underground bombings. There was Tessa, full of love and the desire to help—the human embodiment of the total antithesis of the hatred that had caused those people their grief.
And in her final illness, she was determined not to go quietly into that good night. She fought for better treatment for cancer sufferers and for international collaboration on how to treat the disease, and—as the Secretary of State can testify—used all her firmness and charm to ensure that Ministers backed their words of support with the very welcome new resources announced for cancer research today. She was both proud of what she had achieved and immensely grateful for having had the opportunity to achieve it. She was thankful for the era that she lived through—the modernising movement for progressive change and social justice of which she was such a vital and brilliant part.
At a time when there is so much that divides the country, and when demonisation of others is all too readily reached for and transmitted in the world of politics, we should remember that Tessa Jowell represented the opposite of all that. Let us give thanks and remember her not only for the wonderful things that she did, but for the way that she did them, and for the many lives that she changed for the better along the way.
Many of us walked around yesterday slightly dazed and deeply saddened by the news of Tessa’s passing. She was funny, kind, strong, generous, warm and brilliant, and she was always there for any of us. She was a great support to me and, I know, to many others when we were first elected to this House, and her advice on politics and, indeed, the practicalities of being an MP was incredibly helpful.
Winning the Olympics and all that did for our country, our pride in each other and our place in the world, owed much to her vision, her passion, her integrity and her determination. It was a story of the best of our country, a story of the best of politics and a story that showed the best of Tessa. She was an inspiration, and in her final months she gave voice and comfort to those who have been suffering from brain tumours and their families, like our friends Tara and Michelle Brady, who lost their teenage daughter Addie to brain cancer just a few months ago and who will be visiting me in Parliament tomorrow. We had hoped that they would be able to meet Tessa and, had she still been here with us, she would have hoped to meet them.
We send our love to all Tessa’s family. I hope that she would be as proud of how we take her legacy forward as we are of her.
Tessa Jowell was one of the greatest entrepreneurs in public life that we have seen in this country for decades. She was such a brilliant idealist not because she could talk with people late into the night about the newest ideas or the latest trends in thinking, but because she thought that the best thing to do with ideas is turn them into action. She was a practical idealist unlike any that we have seen for many years.
She was tremendously persistent, but with that persistence came the wisdom to know that sometimes progress did not always happen in a straight line. She had one of the best political sat-navs in the business. She knew that if you hit a roadblock, that was not the end of the story. You just had to figure how you went on round it.
She had tremendous passion, but she matched that with her compassion. She knew that this business is a contact sport and that many of us are perfectly capable of self-inflicted wounds sometimes. She was never one to judge. She was always the one—the first—to ring you, to hug you, and to tell you reassuringly that it is always darkest before dawn.
Above all, though, it was her political style that many of us will remember. I was taught at the beginning of my political career that there are two kinds of politicians: those who try to divide us and those who try to make change happen by bringing us together. With the Olympics, as with so much in her life, she brought the whole world together to make progress. Sometimes we on this side of the House ask ourselves how futures are really built. Tessa Jowell provided the example, not just with her words but with her deeds.
For all that Tessa achieved on the national and international stage, she never forgot the local. It was as a local campaigner and politician that I first knew Tessa, when I was leader of the opposition and then of the council in Lambeth, where she was one of our fantastic local MPs. Whether it was the young people, like Solomon and his friends who set up the Brixton Soup Kitchen, or the women—it usually was women, formidable, generous women—who were running the residents associations on the estates she represented, or the parents she worked with to set up the country’s first parent-promoted secondary school, the Elmgreen School in West Norwood, Tessa’s love was with people and the communities they were part of.
Yesterday I spoke with Andy Troke, who for 20 years was Tessa’s organiser in Dulwich and West Norwood. Andy said to me that a very important part of Tessa’s legacy is that there is a little bit of Tessa in thousands of us around south London and around the country. We have been inspired by her vision, her passion, her love and her empathy, and we will take that legacy forward. As fantastic as Sure Start is and as the Olympics were, those people are Tessa’s legacy.
Tessa did me the enormous honour of asking me to chair her mayoral bid—not with enormous success, it has to be said. It is funny how things work out sometimes, because instead of sitting in City Hall, she spent the past two years with her family. Who could begrudge them the precious, treasured moments that they spent together in what turned out to be her last two years?
If I may, I would like to address my final comments to Tessa’s family. Thank you for sharing Tessa with us. Today, we stand with you in love and respect for this remarkable woman.
Some people may wonder why a Conservative Government are so determined to mark the legacy of a Labour Cabinet Minister, but those who know, or knew, Tessa will not be surprised at all, because she had an incredible gift for bringing people together and breaking down barriers in a way that was unique and inspiring. As many have said this afternoon, we saw that in London 2012, when as Culture Secretary I had the terrifying responsibility of making her dream come true—and faced with Tessa, I never dared to put a foot wrong. What an incredible success that was: real Tessa magic, bringing the whole country together.
We saw those qualities latterly, and more tragically, when almost as an aside in her final harrowing few months, she decided that the Government needed to tear up our policy on brain cancer and start again, so basically we have done so. Thanks to her, and many other campaigners from this House and outside this House, we are proud to announce today the Dame Tessa Jowell brain cancer mission, which seeks massively to increase research and improve the treatment of this most challenging of cancers. Today, the thoughts of all of us are with David, Jess and Matthew. We hope and pray that, as a result of her efforts, many more will survive this terrible disease—a final and most wonderful gift of Tessa magic to the nation.
Thank you, colleagues, for what you have said and the manner in which you have said it, which has witnessed the House at its best.