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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK
Instinctive empathy of Mo
By Peter Kilfoyle
Labour MP

Mo Mowlam was not only one of the most instantly recognisable politicians that I have known. She was also one of the few who was genuinely loved by people.

Mo Mowlem
Mo Mowlam had 'a natural way with people'

Not, I hasten to add, by many of her fellow politicians - there are too many egos in politics vying for the same popularity. No, I am talking about ordinary citizens of this land of ours.

She had a very natural way with people. It was not based on affectation or the courting of popularity.

Very simply, she had an instinctive empathy with the people she met.

Mo required no urging to relate to those she was privileged to represent. Her genuine interest in all whom she met was readily apparent.

She had, after all, chosen to study anthropology - the study of man - because of her natural inclination to understand those around her.

I recall her support for a junior Labour Party staff worker who was going through emotional difficulties; her rapport with those she would meet on the street or in a hotel - not just the guests, but the employees; her genuine interest in the minutiae of others' lives.

Mo carved out a special place in politics based on her essential decency and humanity
Peter Kilfoyle

This is not always appreciated.

Indeed, her informality upset many traditionalists, who could not always accept Mo's familiarity with either themselves or staff.

On one occasion, my wife, youngest son and I visited her at Hillsborough. Mo arranged for the cook's son to be company for our son, and she was more solicitous about the well-being of the two boys than of anyone else around.

Some of her civil servants found this relaxed Mo difficult to cope with.

She had no side to her, and cared not a jot for what people thought of her.

Many years ago, I had bumped into Mo on a train in the days when she still smoked. She had run out of cigarettes and was dismayed momentarily by the fact that I had none.

Although already establishing herself a profile with the public, she promptly went around the smokers in the carriage, asking each of them for two cigarettes for herself and her colleague.

She returned with enough cigarettes to choke a donkey and unashamedly placed them in a heap on the table between us.

Northern Ireland progress

Mo carved out a special place in politics based on her essential decency and humanity.

She captured the imagination and the hearts of many of the antagonists in Northern Ireland.

Peter Kilfoyle
Peter Kilfoyle said it was a sad day when Mo Mowlam quit politics

I doubt whether there would have been such progress without her work.

Mind you, she felt she had been squeezed out when the prime minister decided to take the reins.

Her straightforward honesty had upset Tony Blair prior to 1997.

En route to the Question Time studio shortly after Tony Blair was elected leader, she had remarked to Tory minister John Patten that Tony was already worried whether No 10 was big enough for him and his family.

Patten repeated this on television, causing a major political row at Mo's expense.

However, Patten's junior minister, Eric Forth, remonstrated with him for betraying Mo's confidence. Her charm had even penetrated Eric's tough Tory exterior.

Her Cabinet Office days were marked particularly by Mo's work on drugs, although she had already read the runes on her deteriorating health.

'Forthright honesty'

Thus it was a sad day when she decided to quit politics in 2001, to concentrate on her charity work.

She and her husband John - virtually her full time carer in recent years - settled for a life in the Kent countryside.

Mo was still doing lectures and promoting her MoMo charity.

Mo Mowlam had given the Labour government a human dimension lacking since her departure. It has missed her forthright honesty and her passion for social justice.

The rest of us will miss the joy she brought to every occasion, at work or at play.

The world is a smaller, darker place with her passing.


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