Mark Bennett: Downing Street insider who went on to lead a local authority and spearhead life-enhancing projects

 

The sudden death of Mark Bennett from a heart attack at the age of 44 has robbed both local government and the gay movement of a high profile campaigner. But it was as a junior civil servant that he came closest to the centre of power. In 1997, he went to work at 10 Downing Street, the only man in the famous garden room staffed by women who normally acted as administrative and secretarial support to the prime minister of the day. Tony Blair, with whom he worked closely during those early days at No 10, said: "He was intelligent, immensely hard-working and above all, a warm and generous spirit who was a pleasure to be around."

Bennett moved over to work for Alastair Campbell, then Blair's media chief, acting as "gatekeeper", support staff, and importantly for Campbell, friend. He was never scared of commenting or giving opinions on what Campbell's writing or actions. He once gave Blair a slow hand cap for a speech that he didn't think was very good; his own jokes, if rejected by Blair, were scooped up by John Prescott.

In 2001, he resigned from his civil service career so that he could support Labour at the general election, becoming Campbell's right-hand man for its duration. He would continue to offer support and help to Campbell when he quit No 10, playing a vital role in helping him to put together his memoirs of the Blair years. He was also on hand when Campbell gave evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the war on Iraq, helping him to prepare his evidence and reading through all the background papers to prepare for the onslaught of media inquiries.

Alastair Campbell recalled someone who was very important to him: 'He was a huge part of my life. He was very political, something we hadn't realised at first as he was in the civil service. He was a very committed team player, with a very funny dry sense of humour. He was always looking to do something more. He had wanted to be an MP and a screenwriter. Sadly he was thwarted in both."

Bennett had graduated in television and film studies from Staffordshire University between two bouts of studying at the Civil Service College, from where he had been recruited to No 10. He was to continue to write scripts, film reviews and articles for the rest of his life. He was writing a political history of Lambeth in south London when he died.

On leaving the service, he went to work for Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden. "He was a great writer," she remembered. "He wrote one of the best lines in a speech for me: 'Dogma never delivered a baby.'" He was also a great singer of light opera, founding a Gilbert and Sullivan society. On the surface he seemed quiet, but there was so much behind that. He was so many things on so many levels. He could be flamboyant and he was a great party animal. He loved dancing.

Bennett was a moving force in initiating a campaign to get digital hearing aids introduced. One of his two sisters was profoundly deaf, and working together with the RNID, he and McDonagh fought to establish the system's widespread use, and to destigmatise deafness.

In 2003, he moved on to working for the GMB union on its campaigns, then for the Labour Party. He failed to be selected for a parliamentary seat; but in 2005 was elected to Lambeth Council, serving for several years as a cabinet member responsible for several portfolios. "I had entered politics," he said simply, "to help people."

He became Mayor of Lambeth in 2013, throwing himself into the role, showing enthusiasm for everything that he was asked to do. Duties ranged from welcoming the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to the National Theatre, to launching a new Scout and Guide unit at the Evelina London Children's Hospital. Particularly close to his heart was the support he gave to The Trussell Trust which runs food banks across London.

His love of history was often reflected in speeches and articles, as was his exuberance as shown in his description of this year's London New Year's Parade: "Giving out oranges, rain dampened robes but not spirits."

Bennett was also a member of the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights; in 2013 he took part in the London Gay Pride Parade wearing his mayoral chains. In November, he took part in a Reclaim Vauxhall walk along the Albert Embankment in south London, the week after a homophobic attack. He was particularly proud and touched to have received a letter from the lesbian and gay rights movement praising him for being a "fantastic LGBT role model in our community".

He owned a dog, Index; welfare of animals was also very important to him, and he sat on the board of the Greek Animal Welfare Fund. Bennett was born and brought up in Berkshire, his parents running the local pub in Crowthorne where he went to the local school. He believed strongly that people should be judged for what they did "at the time and not on their past".

Mark Bennett, politician and campaigner: born Crowthorne, Berkshire 9 July 1969; died London 6 February 2014.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution