Former Labour cabinet minister, described as ‘the ultimate sensible loyalist’ by Tony Blair, was not afraid to speak her mind
Tessa Jowell, Lady Jowell, the former secretary of state for culture, media and sport, who has died aged 70, was best known outside Westminster as the minister for the Olympics in the run-up to the hugely successful London games in 2012. It was directly as a result of her enthusiasm and personal pressure on the then prime minister, Tony Blair, that the UK first mounted its bid and then subsequently won the competition to stage the event. As an MP in the House of Commons, Jowell was best known as the unfailing cheerleader for Blair’s leadership of New Labour: “The ultimate sensible loyalist”, as he described her in his memoirs.
After the unexpected death of John Smith in May 1994, Jowell was one of the first Labour MPs to assert Blair’s claim to inherit the Labour leadership. Her steadfast support thereafter was rewarded with her uninterrupted tenure of a seat on the party’s frontbench for the next 18 years. “She is a great person, Tessa, just a gem,” wrote Blair. “She represents the best of political loyalty, which at its best isn’t blind, but thoroughly considered.” She nonetheless spoke her mind to the prime minister, notably over the Olympics. She upbraided him for having doubts about making a bid: “Of course we may not win,” she told him, “but at least we will have had the courage to try.” She was also one of those close to him who persuaded him not to stand down in 2004. Although she later tried to deny it, Jowell did once say of Blair in an interview: “I would jump in front of a bus to save him.”