‘An inspiration to work with, a joy to be near’: tributes pour in for Tessa Jowell

Tony Blair and Theresa May lead praise for Labour minister key to London Olympics

Standing ovation: Tessa Jowell after speaking about her fight with cancer in the House of Lords in January this year. Photograph: Handout/AFP/Getty

Standing ovation: Tessa Jowell after speaking about her fight with cancer in the House of Lords in January this year. Photograph: Handout/AFP/Getty

 

Theresa May and Tony Blair have led the tributes to Tessa Jowell and her achievements, ranging from her time in the British government through to her work to raise awareness of cancer after she was diagnosed last year with a brain tumour. Mr Blair described the former Labour MP and cabinet minister, who died on Saturday night, as the first senior politician fully to understand the importance of public health and to shift health policy towards prevention of illness and not only cure.

“Tessa had passion, determination and simple human decency in greater measure than any person I have ever known,” said the former prime minister, in whose cabinet she served as culture secretary, overseeing the UK’s drive to win the 2012 Olympic Games for London. “She was an inspiration to work with, and a joy to be near. She was the most wise of counsellors, the most loyal and supportive of colleagues, and the best of friends.”

He emphasised Jowell’s role as the instigator of Sure Start, the network Labour created to support families in the early years of their children’s development, after she became the public-health minister in the wake of the party’s 1997 electoral landslide. In the process, he said, “she gave hope and opportunity to hundreds of thousands of children”.

The dignity and courage with which Dame Tessa Jowell confronted her illness was humbling and it was inspirational

May paid tribute to Jowell’s campaigning after she was diagnosed with a brain tumour in May 2017, work that included making an impassioned plea in parliament for better treatments for patients. “The dignity and courage with which Dame Tessa Jowell confronted her illness was humbling and it was inspirational,” the prime minister said on Twitter. “My sympathies to her loving family – Dame Tessa’s campaigning on brain cancer research is a lasting tribute to a lifetime of public service.”

Jowell’s stoicism over the past year was also lauded by Gordon Brown, for whom she worked as one of only a handful of MPs to have served as a minister during the whole of his and Blair’s premierships. A statement tweeted on the official Twitter feed for Brown and his wife, Sarah, said: “Tessa Jowell has so many lasting achievements to her name but she will always be defined by the sheer courage and compassion for others she showed while facing cancer. Our thoughts are with her family.”

Sarah Lindsell, the chief executive of the Brain Tumour Charity, said: “Tessa Jowell’s courage and honesty in speaking about her brain tumour diagnosis, coupled with her fierce determination to improve the lives of others affected by the disease, has already brought hope to an often-forgotten community of patient and families.”

The current British Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said he was devastated at the news of Jowell’s death, adding: “Her strength in raising awareness of her illness and fighting for better treatment for others inspired us all.”

Other former government and Labour colleagues paying tribute included David Blunkett, who described her as one of his closest friends for more than 40 years. “In 1980s local government, Tessa in Camden and myself in Sheffield, we helped to promote an alternative to Old Labour on the one hand and the far left on the other,” said the former home secretary. “Before the 1997 Labour victory, we worked on a programme to nurture children from the moment of their birth, but crucially also to work with parents and the wider community to transform the lives of those otherwise caught in intergenerational disadvantage.”

London Olympics: Tessa Jowell in Stratford, in east London, as the 2012 Olympics stadium was being built. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
London Olympics: Tessa Jowell in Stratford, in east London, as the 2012 Olympics stadium was being built. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

From the world of sport Sebastian Coe, the former chairman of the organising committee of the city’s Olympics, said there would not have been a London 2012 without her. “No politician deserves greater credit for the Games. She showed unflinching tenacity in persuading the prime minister and the cabinet that the government should throw its full weight behind the bid,” said Lord Coe, now president of the IAAF.

The Olympic rower Matthew Pinsent tweeted: “RIP Tessa Jowell – absolutely central to the effort to win and stage the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012. Her determination and sense of humour surrounding them was infectious.”

The chairman of the British Olympic Association, Hugh Robertson, told BBC Radio: “It is absolutely true to say that the great British summer, one of the best of most of our lifetimes, would probably not have happened without her.”

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader and member of the Olympic Board that had oversight of London 2012, said Jowell was universally popular and respected among politicians of all parties.

Helen Hayes, who succeeded Jowell as the Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, said she hoped her family would take great comfort from knowing how many lives she had touched in the south London constituency.

“Tessa is much-loved across the constituency, for the things she delivered but perhaps even more for her deep empathy and compassion, and the way that she worked collaboratively to empower others,” she said.

Harriet Harman, the MP in the neighbouring constituency of Peckham, said: “The personal is political – that old women’s movement saying – was what Tessa was all about. Her focus on her children and stepchildren was the impetus for her putting parenting support at the heart of Sure Start children’s centres.” She added: “Her politics was personal – supporting colleagues with a sick child or a dying parent. And because everything she said or did was intertwined with the personal, she was more effective. She didn’t follow the political rules of the day. She followed her personal instinct. But she was no softie. She was clever and tough.”

Lisa Nandy, one of a younger crop of Labour MPs and formerly Jowell’s personal private secretary, said: “No matter what the pressures, she always maintained her dignity, sanity, decency and wicked sense of humour, and she was unbelievably effective.”

The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, described Jowell as a “true sister” and ranked her with Barbara Castle among Britain’s greatest women parliamentarians.

Her daughter-in-law Ella Woodward, also known as the food blogger Deliciously Ella, shared the news on Instagram, writing: “Tessa was the warmest and kindest soul.” – Guardian