Mo Mowlam – a political hero

By Kezia Dugdale MSP


*This article first appeared in the Daily Record on 10/04/18*


Many moons ago, I trained to be a Labour Party Organiser. This was a serious business because organisers were, and to this day are, the worker bees behind politicians – the ones who get things done. The training was intense: how to run election campaigns; and build teams and volunteer capacity. This was 15 years ago when Labour was in Government, so you also had to learn how to put together visits from VIPs (which almost always meant Tony Blair or Gordon Brown), how to look after the press, keep out of the TV shot and – above all else – anticipate any hazards or embarrassing moments and divert your politicians from them. Having your politician pictured under an exit sign, covered in egg, or hustled out of a shopping centre constituted a bad day at the office.
I remember one training session where we’d be taught how to pack our cars for every eventuality. I’m convinced people have climbed Everest with less kit than we were advised to pack into the boot of a Vauxhall Corsa. Leaflets, clipboards, umbrellas, street stalls, stickers, balloons, a spare shirt and tie (for the egg day) and tights – because Mo Mowlam always ripped her tights.
A remember that detail well because Mo Mowlam was my political hero and today is the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which she did so much, alongside Tony Blair, to secure. An agreement that’s delivered 20 years of peace. A settlement that looks very unsettled and precarious the closer we get to Brexit day.
I loved Mo for her no-nonsense attitude. Her complete disregard for conventions and the stiff upper lip. One intervention she made in the peace process is often credited for being thee breakthrough moment, and that’s the day she took herself, against advice, to the infamous Maze prison to talk with convicted terrorists. The tale goes that Mowlam, who was being treated for a brain tumour throughout the peace process, pulled off her wig and sat on the jail floor smoking rollies with Johnny “mad dog” Adair to get things moving. She just got things done and never let anything or anyone hold her back.

That unconventional approach is clearly unique, but it was successful. And we now live in unconventional times where unique solutions are in high demand. Facebook determining
Elections; increasing tensions with Russia; teenagers murdering each other on the streets of London night after night; children being gassed in Syria; protestors being shot in Gaza; a UK government hellbent on a Brexit that 99 per cent of economists believe will be a disaster… I could go on, but I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.
I can’t help but think that past prejudices and the way of doing things because that’s how it’s always been done is holding us back as a nation.
The Good Friday Agreement was achieved because its protagonists decided that the goal was sustained peace – and they’d do whatever it takes to get there. We need that same bloody mindedness again.


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