Mo Mowlam

Mo Mowlam
The Right Honourable
Mo Mowlam
Minister for the Cabinet Office
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
11 October 1999 – 7 June 2001
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Jack Cunningham
Succeeded by The Lord MacDonald of Tradeston
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
In office
3 May 1997 – 11 October 1999
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Patrick Mayhew
Succeeded by Peter Mandelson
Member of Parliament
for Redcar
In office
11 June 1987 – 7 June 2001
Preceded by James Tinn
Succeeded by Vera Baird
Majority 21,667 (44.3%)
Personal details
Born 18 September 1949(1949-09-18)
Watford, England
Died 19 August 2005(2005-08-19) (aged 55)
Canterbury, England
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Jon Norton (1995–2005)
Alma mater Trevelyan College, University of Durham
University of Iowa
Religion None (Atheist)

Marjorie "Mo" Mowlam (18 September 1949 – 19 August 2005) was a British Labour Party politician. She was the Member of Parliament (M.P.) for Redcar from 1987 to 2001 and served in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Mowlam's time as Northern Ireland Secretary saw the signing of the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998. Her personal charisma, reputation for plain speaking and her fight against a brain tumour led her to be perceived by many as one of the most popular "New Labour" politicians in the UK. When Tony Blair mentioned her in his speech at the 1998 Labour Party Conference, she received a standing ovation.


Early life

Mowlam was born at 43 King Street, Watford, Hertfordshire, England, the middle of three children of Tina and Frank,[1] but grew up in Coventry, where her father rose to become Coventry's assistant postmaster. She would later be awarded the Freedom of the City in 1999.[2] She was the only one of the family's three children to pass the 11-plus exam. She started at Chiswick Girls' grammar school in West London, then moved to Coundon Court School in Coventry,[2] which, at the time, was one of the first comprehensive schools in the country.[1] She then studied at Trevelyan College, Durham University, reading sociology and anthropology. She joined the Labour Party in her first year.[1] She worked for then-Labour MP Tony Benn in London and American writer Alvin Toffler in New York, moving to the United States with her then-boyfriend and studying for a PhD in political science at the University of Iowa[1] on the effects of the Swiss system of referenda.[3][4]

Mowlam was a lecturer in the Political Science Department at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in 1977 and at Florida State University in Tallahassee from 1977 to 1979. During her time in Tallahassee, her apartment was broken into by someone who she suspected was Ted Bundy, a serial killer and rapist who murdered thirty-five young women and attacked several others.[1]

Mowlam returned to England in 1979 to take up an appointment at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.[1] In 1981, she organised a series of alternative lectures to the Reith lectures being given that year by Laurence Martin, the university's vice chancellor. These were published as Debate On Disarmament, with their proceeds going to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.[1]

Personal life

Mowlam married Jonathan Norton, a City of London banker, in County Durham on 24 June 1995;[5] Norton died on 3 February 2009.[6] She had no children.[7]

Member of Parliament

Having failed to win selection for the 1983 general election, Mowlam was selected as Labour candidate for the safe seat of Redcar after James Tinn stood down. She took the seat in the 1987 general election, becoming the Labour spokesperson on Northern Ireland later that year. Together with Labour leader John Smith, Mowlam was one of the architects of Labour's "Prawn Cocktail Offensive" dedicated to reassuring the UK's financial sector about Labour's financial rectitude.[8] Subsequently, she held a variety of posts and was made Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 1994 by Tony Blair. She initially resisted being appointed to the position, preferring an economic portfolio, but, after accepting it, threw her weight into the job.

Following John Smith's death, Mowlam, alongside Peter Kilfoyle, became a principal organiser of Blair's campaign for the Labour leadership. As a Shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage in Smith's shadow cabinet, she had earlier antagonised both monarchists and republicans by calling for Buckingham Palace to be demolished and replaced by a "modern" palace built at public expense. Later, her willingness to speak her mind – often without regard to the consequences – was seen as her greatest strength by her supporters.

In government

In 1997, Mowlam was once again re-elected as MP for Redcar with an increased majority of 21,667.[9] She was made Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the first and currently only woman to have held the post. She was successful in helping to restore an IRA ceasefire and including Sinn Féin in multi-party talks about the future of Northern Ireland. In an attempt to persuade the Ulster loyalists to participate in the peace process, she paid an unprecedented – and potentially dangerous – visit to loyalist prisoners in the Maze prison, meeting convicted murderers face-to-face and unaccompanied.

Mowlam saw through the Good Friday Agreement signing in 1998, which led to the temporary establishment of a devolved power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. However, an increasingly difficult relationship with Unionist parties meant her role in the talks was ultimately taken over by Tony Blair and his staff, prompting Mowlam to remark to then-US President Bill Clinton "Didn't you know? I'm the new tea lady around here".[10]

Whilst her deteriorating relationship with Unionists was the key reason Mowlam was replaced as Northern Ireland Secretary in October 1999 by Peter Mandelson, her move to the relatively lowly position of Cabinet Office Minister may have involved other factors, notably her health and her popularity.[11] Mowlam resented being appointed to the post, having previously disparaged it as "Minister for the Today programme".[12] As Cabinet Office Minister, she was reportedly intended to be Tony Blair's "enforcer".[citation needed]

Although Mowlam was head of the Government's anti-drugs campaign, in 2002 she called for international legalisation.[13] She caused some controversy when she admitted in 2000 to having used cannabis as a student, saying "I tried dope. I didn't particularly like it. But unlike President Clinton, I did inhale".[14]


On 4 September 2000, Mowlam announced her intention to retire from Parliament and relinquished her seat at the 2001 general election.[15]

After retirement from the House of Commons, she became a noted critic of government policy on various issues, especially foreign policy towards Iraq.

Following her retirement, Mowlam became agony aunt for the men's magazine Zoo. She said she missed her constituency work as an MP. She also set up a charity, MoMo Helps, to help drug users who are successfully completing their rehabilitation and provide support for the parents or carers of disabled children.

Her political memoirs, entitled Momentum: The Struggle for Peace, Politics and the People, were published in 2002.[16]

Illness and death

Five months before the 1997 general election which took Labour to office, Mowlam was diagnosed with a brain tumour, a fact she tried to keep secret until the tabloid press started to print jibes about her appearance. Although she claimed to have made a full recovery, the various treatments caused her to lose most of her hair. She often wore a wig, which she would sometimes casually remove in public stating that it was "such a bother".[17]

On 3 August 2005, the BBC reported that she was critically ill at King's College Hospital in London.[18] She appeared to have suffered from balance problems as a result of her radiotherapy. According to her husband, she had fallen over on 30 July 2005, receiving head injuries never regaining consciousness.[19] Her living will, in which she had asked not to be resuscitated, was honoured.

On 12 August 2005, she was moved to Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury, Kent, where, seven days later, aged 55, she died. She was survived by her husband, Jon Norton (who died in February 2009 aged 53[20]) and by two stepchildren. Mowlam died thirteen days after Robin Cook, another member of the 1997 New Labour Cabinet.

In January 2010, it was revealed by her ex-doctor that her tumour had been cancerous and was the cause of her death. Despite recommendations, she had withheld the true nature of her condition from Tony Blair and the electorate.[21]

Mowlam was an atheist and was cremated in Sittingbourne on 1 September 2005 at a non-religious service conducted by Richard Coles formely of 1980s band The Communards.[22] Half of her ashes were scattered at Hillsborough Castle (the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland's official residence) and the other half in her former parliamentary constituency of Redcar.[23]


A memorial service was held for Mowlam at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 20 November 2005, another at Hillsborough Castle on 1 December 2005 and another in Redcar on 3 December 2005.[24]

To honour Mowlam, Redcar and Cleveland Unitary Authority commissioned an official memorial mosaic which was unveiled at Redcar's newly refurbished boating lake on 23 October 2009. An intricate 800-tile mosaic, set in a three metre raised circle, was created by local artist John Todd to illustrate her life and interests. The mosaic has her portrait as the centrepiece, surrounded by images including the beach where she loved to walk, racehorses at Redcar Racecourse (where she celebrated her wedding), the Redcar steelworks, the Zetland Lifeboat, clasped hands and doves (to symbolise the Northern Ireland peace process) and the Houses of Parliament.[25]


In 2009, Channel 4 commissioned a docudramatic film, Mo, portraying Mo Mowlam's life from the Labour election victory of 1997 to her death in 2005.[26] The film starred Julie Walters as Mowlam.[27] Mo was broadcast on 31 January 2010[28] and attracted over 3.5 million viewers, making it Channel 4's highest-rated drama since 2001.[29] The film was also a critical success, with MP Adam Ingram claiming that it "brought home the essence of Mo".[30] Mo was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Single Drama[31] with Julie Walters and Gary Lewis receiving nominations for, respectively, Best Actress[32] and Best Supporting Actor. The Best Actress award was given to Walters.[33]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Mo Mowlam". The Guardian (London). 20 August 2005. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "City remembers schoolgirl Mowlam". BBC News Online (BBC). 19 August 2005. Retrieved 2009-09-23. 
  3. ^ Loewenberg, Gerhard (2006). "Marjorie Mowlam". PS: Political Science & Politics 39 (1): 167–168. doi:10.1017/S1049096506240319. 
  4. ^ Mowlam, Marjorie (1979). "Popular access to the decision-making process in Switzerland: The role of direct democracy". Government and Opposition 14 (2): 180–197. doi:10.1111/j.1477-7053.1979.tb00671.x. 
  5. ^ "Marriages England and Wales 1984-2006". Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  6. ^ Nicholas, Cecil (2009-02-07). "Mo Mowlam's widower, John Norton, dies at the age of 53". The Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  7. ^ "The Biography Channel". The Biography Channel. Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  8. ^ "The Scotsman". Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  9. ^ BBC News. 
  10. ^ "Mowlam 'sidelined by Blair'". BBC News Online (BBC). 10 September 2000. Retrieved 3 February 2010. 
  11. ^ Trimble calls for Mowlam's head, The Guardian, 23 June 1999
  12. ^ "Mo Mowlam". The Times (London). 20 August 2005. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  13. ^ Legalise all drugs worldwide, says Mowlam at
  14. ^ "I smoked cannabis, admits Mowlam". BBC News Online (BBC). 16 January 2000. Retrieved 3 February 2010. 
  15. ^ "Mowlam to stand down". BBC News Online (BBC). 4 September 2000. Retrieved 3 February 2010. 
  16. ^ Mowlam, Mo (2002). Momentum: The Struggle for Peace, Politics and the People. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0340793945. 
  17. ^ Mo Mowlam's vote is number one, MyVillage, 22 November 2002.
  18. ^ "Mo Mowlam condition 'unchanged'". BBC News Online (BBC). 5 August 2005. Retrieved 3 February 2010. 
  19. ^ Daily Mail, 11 November 2005.
  20. ^ Cecil, Nicholas (7 February 2009). "Mo Mowlam's widower John Norton dies aged 53". MailOnline (London: Associated Newspapers Ltd). Retrieved 2009-10-27. 
  21. ^ Merrick, Jane (17 January 2010). "Mo Mowlam lied to Blair about her brain tumour". London: Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  22. ^ Mail on Sunday, 23 October 2005.
  23. ^ "Celebration of Mo Mowlam's life". BBC News Online (BBC). 1 December 2005. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  24. ^ "An Evening For Mo and Friends". Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  25. ^ "Mowlam memorial mosaic unveiled". BBC News Online (BBC). 23 October 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-24. 
  26. ^ Dowell, Ben (25 March 2009). "Julie Walters to play Mo Mowlam in Channel 4 drama". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  27. ^ Hough, Andrew (20 January 2010). "Julie Walters nearly quit playing Mo Mowlam in new Channel 4 drama". Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  28. ^ Little, Ivan (31 January 2010). "Face to face with Mo... again". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  29. ^ "Mo Mowlam biopic gets 3.5m viewers". BBC News Online (BBC). 1 February 2010. Retrieved 3 February 2010. 
  30. ^ "Scots MP reveals agony over Mo Mowlam TV drama". Daily Record. 31 January 2010. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  31. ^ BAFTA Television Awards Winners in 2010 at
  32. ^ BAFTA Television Awards Winners in 2010 at
  33. ^ BAFTA Television Awards Winners in 2010 at

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Tinn
Member of Parliament for Redcar
Succeeded by
Vera Baird
Political offices
Preceded by
Paul Murphy
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Andrew MacKay
Preceded by
Patrick Mayhew
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Peter Mandelson
Preceded by
Jack Cunningham
Minister for the Cabinet Office
Succeeded by
The Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

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