The TV docu/drama on Mo Mowlam was a must see and the casting of Julie Waters was inspired: after a couple of minutes she became Mo and was no longer Julie: quite an acting triumph when playing someone so cherished: prominent and so recently among us. I met her once and had the privilege of spending the day with her while on the election trail: this was the first Holyrood election and Mo. had kindly agreed to visit Paisley and Renfrewshire to drum up support for our Labour candidates Trish Godman: Wendy Alexander and Hugh Henry as well as the council candidates as the council election was being run in tandem.
Her entourage hit our election headquarters like a cyclone: accompanied by 4/5 big guys with bulging jackets and a enchanting springer spaniel which must have been the sniffing champion of the world as it stuck it’s nose in bags: pockets: cupboards and coats and discarded clothes: shoes etc. in fact all over the place: it growled and barked incessantly as if it was quarrelling with itself and still found time to play with the kids who were around the campaign team. The entourage was there of course because she was The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which we all found out carries its own particular buzz about with it: whether it is a cheerful buzz or not I’ll let you decide: a wee bit tense I’d say. Mo. was as they say here in Scotland “a big wumman” she was on steroids for her cancer treatment and she wore a wig or her “Irish” as she called it i.e. (Irish Jig = Wig) which caused her to get angry occasionally: she thought nothing of tearing off the wig and scratching her bald head with the cry “this F*****g thing is driving me daft” she would do this in the middle of a busy street or shopping centre which gave some of us palpitations: saying to her “please don’t do that Mo. was not on though” : no one would have volunteered for the job in any case. One of her ‘minders’ gave me a bit of information on how to spot the people guarding a potential target and it is spot on “look at the couple of guys in the crowd who are the only ones not looking at Mo. they are guarding her” he said and he is dead right: try it the next time you see a powerful politician making a visit and you will see them.
The day was a roaring success as she drew crowds everywhere: all and sundry wanted a picture with her and she obliged: everyone got a hug and a kiss as well as she stormed her way through the town her personality was huge and people took to her: her down to earth ways and no nonsense no airs and graces style left everyone charmed. The highlight of the day was her visit to the Paisley Youth Theatre at the Museum: daughter Rayleen was there and she is an ex stalwart of the Youth Theatre: she knew them all and she helped to show her round and explain the activities taking place: the mood was great and the crowd of talented out going children doing dance and drama quickly got her involved she loved it and so did they; it was an unforgettable day.
She was of course a very serious politician and had a very gifted political brain: she did not lose many arguments: her time in Northern Ireland was fertile and the agreements which were ultimately reached were down in no small measure to her hard work. Some of the old guard did not take to her but she tackled everyone head on: she would break off a meeting to make tea for everyone and once told the stern Ian Paisley to “F**k off” she would also theatrically dash her wig on to the table while growling ‘sotto voce’ “Jesus F*****g Christ” a big no no in Hell’s Fire Ulster. She was also fond of taking her breaks with the cleaners and tea ladies who adored her.
Her early demise was undeniably tragic not least because we were deprived of the opportunity to see where she might have got to: she unquestionably had the ability to reach the very top of the “greasy pole” as Disraeli described the job of Prime Minister. I strongly suspect that one very influential politician knew that very well. Tony Blair removed her from the N. I. job at the height of her success and popularity: that was inexplicable but: many of us cast our minds back to an incident at conference when Tony Blair was addressing the audience. Mo. arriving late to take her platform seat, discreetly walked on stage at the back to take that seat and the hall rose as one to give her a standing ovation: Blair: great operator that he was of course joined in: his smile though was like the brass plate on a coffin: that in my judgment was the instant that her career hit the buffers. What Prime Minister would want an immensely successful and very popular minister climbing her way upward through cabinet with a dazzling personality and a mind like a gin trap? one who could stop the Prime Minister in full flow while he was delivering a speech by merely walking softly to the back of the stage: the knife was whetted there and then.
Like Barbara Castle: John Smith: Tony Benn: Dennis Healy et al: she is another who will be talked of by people who will start by saying “see that Mo. Mowlam: what if”?