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Monday, 31 January, 2000, 15:03 GMT
Downing Street rallies behind Mowlam

Dr Mowlam is said to have the "prime minister's ear"


Downing Street has thrown its weight behind Mo Mowlam after it emerged her armed protection has been withdrawn only months after she left the Northern Ireland Office.

Dr Mowlam, who is minister for the Cabinet Office, was said to be "surprised" at the decision that she no longer needed her bodyguards.

The sensitivity of Dr Mowlam's former job as Northern Ireland secretary meant she was entitled to armed security officers and a specially trained driver.

'Massive asset'

Many former Northern Ireland secretaries have kept their protection decades after leaving their posts.

The Cabinet Office minister has also been the subject of a whispering campaign which included one report that Labour insiders had said her benign brain tumour three years ago had impaired her ability to carry out her job as a minister.

On Monday, Tony Blair's official spokesman said such reports in no way represented the prime minister's view.

He said that Dr Mowlam was already making a strong impact in her new role, which included responsibility for the government's policies on drugs and social exclusion.

The spokesman said: "The prime minister has a huge regard for Mo.

"She is a massive asset to the government and will continue to be so.

"She has got clout. She has got the prime minister's ear and the prime minister's backing and people know that when she is out and about in government, she is speaking for him."

The decision to withdraw her bodyguards had been taken on security grounds and was not a reflection on her status as a minister, he said.

'Absolutely wonderful'

"These decisions are for the security forces," he added.

"They are not political decisions at all."

John McCormack, chairman of Dr Mowlam's Redcar constituency, said it would be outrageous if the protection had been removed to save money.

He also said the minister had the backing of her constituency.

"As far as we are concerned in the constituency, Mo is an absolutely wonderful MP," he said.

"She is well liked by the public, and by all of the polls, by all of the public nationally, perhaps that's the problem."

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See also:
16 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
I smoked cannabis, admits Mowlam
17 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Mowlam has changed drugs debate - MP

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