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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 08:03 GMT 09:03 UK
'Popular appeal' of Mo Mowlam
By Martina Purdy
BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent

Marjorie 'Mo' Mowlam was a secretary of state in Northern Ireland unlike any other.

Mo Mowlam
Mo Mowlam endeared herself to the public in Northern Ireland

She endeared herself to nationalists, weary of a succession of stiff-upper-lip Tories, but eventually fell foul of unionist politicians, who disliked her earthy, informal style.

She took up her post after the New Labour 1997 landslide and arrived in Belfast in June 1997 wearing a wig.

Her health became a matter of speculation until she confirmed that she had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour, said to be benign.

Her first walkabout showed her popular appeal, as she bent down to talk to children, munched on crisps and bantered with those she met.

She infuriated nationalists early on by forcing an Orange Order march down the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, County Armagh, but the anger soon subsided.

Her time as secretary of state was eventful, not least because the Good Friday Agreement was delivered, and passed at referendum in 1998

Government policy was to embrace the peace process and Mowlam literally embraced those who had once had pariah status in the halls of Hillsborough.

She did a lot of hugging, called her associates "babe", including Martin McGuinness, and went to the Maze prison to appeal to loyalists not to give up on their ceasefire.

The gamble worked and the loyalists remained inside the talks process. It illustrated her commitment to inclusivity and ending alienation.

At Castle Buildings, she encouraged the participants to make peace, but unionists found her far too chummy with Sinn Fein.

Peter Mandelson succeeded Mo Mowlam in Northern Ireland
Peter Mandelson succeeded Mo Mowlam in Northern Ireland

In the last days of the talks, she visited the Sinn Fein offices and happily left with an Easter Lily commemorating the IRA dead in her lapel.

When Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness learned of this, he called her back and insisted she remove it before any unionist should see her.

But despite the bonhomie, it later emerged Dr Mowlam had authorised a bugging device to be placed in a Sinn Fein car.

While loyalists appreciated her efforts to include them in the political process, both the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP clashed with her, accusing her of being pro-nationalist and expressing disgust at her salty language.

Ken Maginnis, the UUP negotiator, memorably had a bust-up with her during the talks process.

She showed little patience for the DUP's refusal to support the talks with Sinn Fein or the Agreement that resulted.

When she departed, nationalists praised her courage - and despite unionist political sentiment - there appeared to be genuine affection across the community in Northern Ireland for the secretary of state who insisted on being called Mo and who had thrown open the gates of Stormont for a free rock concert with Elton John.

Unlike her Tory predecessor, Sir Patrick Mayhew, Mowlam's roots were working class.

The daughter of a postman, she was born in Watford on 18, September 1949 and schooled in Coventry.

She later spoke of her father's alcoholism and the trauma that brought to her childhood.

Mowlam focussed on her studies and later studied social anthropology at Durham University and Iowa University, earning a PhD.

She worked as a senior administrator at Northern College in Barnsley until 1987 when she became MP for Redcar.

She held a variety of shadow portfolios before Labour came to power including shadow Northern Ireland Secretary in 1994, the year of the ceasefires.

Her time as secretary of state was eventful, not least because the Good Friday Agreement was delivered, and passed at referendum in 1998.

Months before the 2001 general election, a disillusioned Mowlam announced she was quitting politics for good

It helped seal her popularity within the Labour Party and during the prime minister's speech that year, she won an standing ovation.

Tony Blair was said to have been upstaged and some felt it helped seal her fate in the cabinet.

She complained of being treated like the tea lady during talks aimed at bringing about devolution post-agreement.

By the summer of 1999, it was clear that the prime minister wanted to move her from Northern Ireland where unionists were demanding she be replaced.

She was, it was said, being offered a job as health secretary but this did not suit her. She refused to go but the prime minister got his way by October 1999.

She went to the Cabinet Office and her job went to Peter Mandelson. He kissed her good-bye but it masked an underlying friction with the party leadership.

Mowlam would later claim she had been pushed out and that there had been a smear campaign against her.

Months before the 2001 general election, a disillusioned Mowlam announced she was quitting politics for good.

She published her autobiography Momentum and on occasion appeared on the chat show circuit.

She is survived by her husband Jon Norton and her step-children.




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