Tessa Jowell’s spirit is precisely what politics needs right now
18 October 2018 15:23
In this week of all weeks – as British politics descends into a pitiful omnishambles – it is both sad and uplifting to remember a truly extraordinary public figure. I have written elsewhere of my friendship with, and personal debt to, Tessa Jowell, who died in May of brain cancer. Today, hundreds of us gathered in Southwark Cathedral to remember her life and achievements.
What a tremendous occasion it was. Three former prime ministers – Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron – honoured Tessa with their presence. They were joined by representatives of the Royal Family, David Blunkett, Seb Coe, Harriet Harman, Melvyn Bragg, David Puttnam, Caroline Michel, Amber Rudd and scores of other luminaries.
Yet – aside from her family’s beautiful words – I have a hunch that Tessa would have been proudest of the tribute paid by Solomon Smith and Mahamed Hashi of the Brixton Soup Kitchen. They recalled ‘a small white woman’ who turned up, told them that she was an MP – and, when they asked, explained to them what an MP was.
Thereafter, she became an integral part of their respective lives, always quick to help in any way she could – yet never once asking them to canvas or campaign on her behalf. As Mahamed recalled, ‘she never troubled us with the politics of politics.’
That’s exactly right. In her combination of empathy, compassion and relentless pragmatism, she always saw public service as an end in itself. This was what underpinned and drove her accomplishments: her support of the bereaved of 7/7, Sure Start, and (pre-eminently) the 2012 London Olympic Games.
How long ago the spirit of those games now seems – the epiphany of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, in particular. As so often, Blair put it best: Tessa, he said, embodied an ‘open, optimistic, future-embracing, life-enhancing’ politics that is sorely lacking from public discourse in October 2018.
Yet it need not be so. The sense of collective loss in the cathedral this crisp autumn morning was matched by an effusion of hope and humour. There was laughter and applause. As David Mills, Tessa’s husband and rock for more than 40 years, recalled, her last words were: ‘Love forever.’ This was clearly an injunction for the future, as well as moment of summation at the end of a life.
DRUGSTORE CULTURE strongly supports ACT (Adaptive Collaborative Treatments), the cancer organisation founded in her memory and urges you to take an interest in its activities: www.actforcancer.org.uk. It was entirely in character that Tessa spent her final months ensuring that her own affliction would be a spur to action after she was gone. What a legacy. What a remarkable human being.
The Rt Hon Baroness Jowell of Brixton DBE (September 17, 1947 – May 12, 2018)