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Tuesday, 27 March, 2001, 14:38 GMT
Margaret McDonagh: Labour general secretary

By BBC News Online's Ray Dunne

Margaret McDonagh was appointed Labour's general secretary in 1998 after playing a crucial role in helping to deliver the party's record majority at the last general election.

She became Labour's first female general secretary after serving as deputy general secretary for the previous year.

She was also a key appointment in terms of the New Labour project.

Ms McDonagh was part of the leadership inner-circle for the 1997 campaign and was charged with delivering Labour victories in key target seats.

She played an active role in the day-to-day running of the party's campaign and was one of the inner-core that decided for MPs what the official party "line" was on specific issues.

This core group - which included Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell, and party pollster Philip Gould - agreed a line and fed it to MPs via their now infamous pagers.

Up the ranks

Her early career was as a party organiser in London. She has always been on Labour's right wing, which could have made the job more difficult for many less able people in the atmosphere of the 1980s.

But Ms McDonagh managed to keep the crucial trade unions on her side throughout this time despite never making a secret of her political views.

She is a ferocious party loyalist and her sister Siobhan McDonagh was one of Labour's new MPs at the last election.

However, her views and her style have sometimes brought her into conflict with other party officials and members.

Diplomatically, it is said that she is respected if not particularly liked by many in the Parliamentary Labour Party and beyond.

Leafleting for fun

Single-minded to the point of fierceness - a main recreational activity is said to involve leafleting for the party - she has always avoided publicity, believing that she is more effective without visibility.

She is not a good platform speaker but is reputed to perform well in Labour's most important committees in terms of being relied upon to deliver the desired for the leadership.

This has meant frequent clashes with non-Blairites in senior positions within Labour, who view her as "queen of the stitch-up".

A large proportion of the "control freakery" accusations levelled at the party's Millbank headquarters have been based on her performance there.

Mayoral battle mishandled

She badly mishandled the party's controversial London mayoral selection process and the subsequent fall-out (including Labour's disastrous performance), which has included a disaffected membership less willing to be as active as previously.

Her stock fell considerably as a result, and there has been much speculation that she will not stay on in her post far beyond the election.

In more recent months, she regained some brownie points with the party hierarchy by helping to secure significant funding from the trade unions for Labour's election campaign.

She was reported to have played on union fears that the party would end up in thrall to big business unless the donations were made.

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