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Monday, 4 September, 2000, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Profile: Unorthodox Mo

The modern political jungle, concerned only with measured soundbites and polished appearance, supposedly lacks the great colourful creatures of old.

Mo Mowlam stands in bold defiance to that theory. Even her Tory counterpart, Andrew Lansley, said that her decision to leave the Commons at the next election would make politics "the poorer".

Once described as a "national treasure", she has regularly topped the polls for most popular political figure.

Mo Mowlam
Born: 1949
Educated: Coundon Court Comprehensive School
Durham, Iowa universities
Employment: Lecturer, university administrator
Politics: Elected MP for Redcar - 1987
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - 1997
Cabinet 'enforcer' - 1999
The universal admiration she won for her perseverance in working towards the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland in April 1998 endures.

For on top of the normal pressures, she was recovering from treatment for a brain tumour that left her without most of her hair and exhausted. She had revealed her condition when, before the last election, the Daily Mail had asked why she "is so big"?

Her enthusiasm, lack of pretension and mateyness appealed to a public which yearned for an end to terrorism in Northern Ireland, and she won standing ovations and media awards in equal measure.

In 1998 she took a particular political risk by going inside the Maze Prison when it became clear that the peace process would only succeed with the backing of the prisoners. The loyalist UDA/UFF prisoners had previously withdrawn their support for the peace process.

She spoke to the prisoners face-to-face for 60 minutes, and two hours later the paramilitaries' political representatives announced they were being allowed to rejoin the talks.

Dr Mowlam told reporters: "I didn't negotiate, I didn't do a deal. If you want progress, you ain't going to get it if you don't have talks."

But the failure of the Northern Ireland parties to agree on implementation, and the release of IRA prisoners without a parallel surrender of arms, led to criticism by the Tories, and calls for her sacking by the Ulster Unionists, who lost confidence in her when she insisted the agreement had not been broken by the IRA.

Peace a personal triumph
She made the peace agreement a personal triumph, but reconciliation eluded her.

In 1999 she was replaced as Northern Ireland secretary by Peter Mandelson, and became the Cabinet "enforcer", seen by some as merely being a minister for the Today programme.

Her time in the cabinet was somewhat marred by a steady flow of reports that someone in a high place was "briefing against her". She told reporters: "Some people are trying to get me out, but I am determined to keep going."

There were also claims that Prime Minister Tony Blair was annoyed that the Labour Party conference had given her a standing ovation during his speech. Mr Blair denied both things again today.

Yet the thing many people will remember about Mo Mowlam's political career is her unorthodoxy. She had not been scared to express an individual opinion.

So in June this year, she said she had not mean to offend the Royal Family by restating her belief that they should move out of Buckingham Palace, and saying she was "no great fan of the Royals".

And she became the first minister in charge of drugs policy to admit that she had tried illegal substances. "I haven't made any secret of being a child of the Sixties, never have," she said.

"I tried marijuana, I didn't like it particularly - and unlike President Clinton, I did inhale."

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