Extrovert who says what she thinks: Patricia Wynn Davies on the career of a politician who worries the more cautious colleagues in her party

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MO MOWLAM has stirred up Tory passion, and some Labour unease, with her proposal to evict the Queen from Buckingham Palace.

She pulled off something similar during the dull Eastleigh by-election campaign, when an unguarded chat on a train led the gossipy John Patten, then Secretary of State for Education, to trumpet at a morning press conference that Mr and Mrs Tony Blair were concerned that Number 10 might not accommodate their family.

After that, she played a behind-the-scenes role in Mr Blair's leadership campaign instead of becoming campaign manager, as some had predicted. For more cautious Labour types, such episodes indicate an alarming predisposition for indiscretion which will be increasingly off- limits as a Labour election looms.

For supporters of the 44- year-old MP for Redcar, it represents a change of air in a stale, over-stylised, calculating Westminster machine. 'That's exactly why I like her, she says what she thinks,' said one of these admirers - not from her own party.

Reports of providing Labour's political opponents with ammunition are exaggerated. But the extrovert, earthy, occasionally raucous determination that helped get her elected to a safe Labour seat in the North-east has played its part as she has grappled with the greasy pole of promotion in an organisation where the advancement of women has proved difficult.

She has held a number of jobs since first being elected in 1987 and was spokeswoman on Northern Ireland, the City, women's affairs and the Citizen's Charter, before landing up at heritage.

Fears among arty types that she might be too gutsy and down-to-earth appear to have receded.

The Middlesex-born daughter of a post-office worker and a telephonist, she followed up a degree from Durham with an MA and doctorate from Iowa University and a spell as a Newcastle University before entering full-time politics.

To the annoyance of some of her female Labour colleagues, she has never been heavily in favour of positive discrimination, although her rise in the Shadow Cabinet has been helped by rules requiring votes to be cast for at least four women.

(Photograph omitted)