Books of condolence have been opened at both Lambeth and Southwark town halls following the passing of Tessa Jowell at the age of 70.
Tributes were again paid to the former Dulwich MP in the House of Commons yesterday – only a few weeks after Tessa Jowell had been in the Commons to hear MPs voice their praises for her.
Along with local MPs Harriet Harman, Helen Hayes, Steve Reed and Sarah Jones there was cross-party praise from backbench MPs for Tessa Jowell as well as tributes from Prime Minister Theresa May, health secretary Jeremy Hunt and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Mother of the House, Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab):
Tessa Jowell was the embodiment of that old women’s movement saying: “The personal is political.” For Tessa, the personal and the political were completely intertwined. Her devotion to her children and her stepchildren was what underpinned her drive for Sure Start children’s centres, with parenting support at their heart. Her enjoyment of her family and their prowess in sport was what lay behind her wanting to get the Olympics for the UK. She wanted them and the Paralympics to be shared and to inspire every child and young person across the country.
Tessa had a unique personal style. She befriended people who were struggling, had difficulties or were powerless, whom she felt she could support, but she also befriended the powerful in order to get them to back her progressive causes. She was no softie, though. Everybody has quite rightly said how charming and nice she was, but there was steel behind those clear blue eyes. As her constituency neighbour for 23 years, we went to countless meetings together and worked together on countless campaigns. She was always courteous and polite to the police, the schools, the hospitals and the council, but if ever she felt that they were obfuscating or letting people down, she would be tougher than anybody. She was true Labour, as an activist, as a councillor, as a Member of this House and as a Member of the Lords, but she was never afraid to work cross-party for the causes that she supported or to forge friendships across parties. We are so sad for her family, especially David, Jess and Matthew, but I know they will be strong because she will have prepared them for the loss they faced, just as she supported, on behalf of the Government, those who faced loss after the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks. We send them all our sympathy.
All around the country there will be people who are listening to these tributes and who have heard of Tessa’s death who worked with her, who knew her and who will be feeling sad but also immensely proud that they can say: “I knew Tessa Jowell.”
Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab):
It is a privilege to pay tribute to my predecessor as MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, Baroness Tessa Jowell of Brixton, on behalf of the thousands of my constituents whose lives she touched.
Tessa served our area as the MP for Dulwich—later Dulwich and West Norwood—for 23 years from 1992 with a commitment to making a difference every single day. Her legacy is extraordinary, from five brilliant new schools to Sure Start centres, the turnaround of King’s College Hospital and the countless community groups she championed. Tessa is much loved across the constituency for the things she delivered, but perhaps even more for her deep empathy and compassion, her ability to connect with people and the way she worked collaboratively to empower others.
Tessa’s legacy is national as well as local. Sure Start was born of her passionate belief in the need to address the disadvantage affecting children at the earliest opportunity, and Sure Start centres have transformed the lives of countless families. It was Tessa’s vision, which she nurtured from idea to completion, that the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics should be not just a singular sporting event but the vehicle for transformative long-term investment in east London and the most authentic and glorious celebration of London and Londoners that we have ever seen.
I last saw Tessa a few weeks ago, when her presence lit up this Chamber as she attended the debate in her honour led by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). Tessa’s commitment to using her devastating brain tumour diagnosis to campaign to make a difference for others was no surprise to anyone who knew her, but it was nevertheless extraordinary and extremely brave. At a reception following the debate, Tessa was determined to speak. Although her language was much affected by her tumour, among the words she managed to articulate were “determined,” “love” and “lucky”—the essence of Tessa, whose determination and love led her to deliver so much and who leaves so many of us feeling lucky to have known her.
Tessa’s legacy in Dulwich and West Norwood is in our schools, our hospital and our community, and it is in our culture of campaigning, which puts people at its centre. We are grateful to have had so much of her time. Our thoughts and love are with David, Jessie and Matthew and the rest of Tessa’s family on their deep loss. I hope they will take some comfort from knowing that Tessa leaves the world a far better place than she found it, and that there are many in Dulwich and West Norwood, and across the country, who will ensure that her tremendous legacy lives on.
Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab/Co-op):
For all that Tessa achieved on the national and international stage, she never forgot the local. It was as a local campaigner and politician that I first knew Tessa, when I was leader of the opposition and then of the council in Lambeth, where she was one of our fantastic local MPs. Whether it was the young people, like Solomon and his friends who set up the Brixton Soup Kitchen, or the women—it usually was women, formidable, generous women—who were running the residents associations on the estates she represented, or the parents she worked with to set up the country’s first parent-promoted secondary school, the Elmgreen School in West Norwood, Tessa’s love was with people and the communities they were part of.
Yesterday I spoke with Andy Troke, who for 20 years was Tessa’s organiser in Dulwich and West Norwood. Andy said to me that a very important part of Tessa’s legacy is that there is a little bit of Tessa in thousands of us around south London and around the country. We have been inspired by her vision, her passion, her love and her empathy, and we will take that legacy forward. As fantastic as Sure Start is and as the Olympics were, those people are Tessa’s legacy.
Tessa did me the enormous honour of asking me to chair her mayoral bid—not with enormous success, it has to be said. It is funny how things work out sometimes, because instead of sitting in City Hall, she spent the past two years with her family. Who could begrudge them the precious, treasured moments that they spent together in what turned out to be her last two years?
If I may, I would like to address my final comments to Tessa’s family. Thank you for sharing Tessa with us. Today, we stand with you in love and respect for this remarkable woman.
Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab):
Last month we held a debate on cancer and paid tribute to Tessa. Just before that debate, Tessa said to me, “This is not about me; this is about what comes next.” She would therefore not forgive me if I did not both welcome the new Government money that has been announced today and say that together we can go further. I look forward to working with the Government on the data sharing, clinical trials and research to come.
Having been helped by Tessa, having been friends with her and having been her employee, I saw the velvet and the steel in Tessa Jowell. She always got what she wanted, but she always wanted the best for others. The best advice she ever gave me—and gave anyone—was, “Never take no for an answer.” She never gave up. I wish to repeat the words from Tessa that I read out in the debate here last month:
“It was the honour of my life to be one of you, and I shall cheer on from the sidelines as you keep fighting the good fight. So remember our battle cry: living with, not dying of, cancer. For more people, for longer. Thank you.”
The Prime Minister (Mrs Theresa May):
She was a most extraordinary politician, colleague and campaigner, but she was also a loving mother and wife, and our thoughts and sympathies at this time must be with her family: her husband David, her children Jess and Matthew, and her stepchildren Eleanor, Luke and Annie.
Jess said this morning: “It is the greatest honour of my life to be her daughter,” but, Mr Speaker, we were all honoured to share this Chamber with Dame Tessa, and we are here to pay tribute to her life and work—to her warmth, her compassion and her incredible strength of character.
I was fortunate enough to meet Tessa while she was confronting her illness, and her dignity and courage were as humbling as they were inspirational. She was resolutely brave, not only in how she faced her treatment, but also through the way in which she spoke so openly about her illness and campaigned tirelessly for greater brain cancer research. Even at what must have been some of her most difficult moments, her compassion for others shone through.
Like many across the House, Tessa began her career in politics as a councillor, becoming an MP in 1992 and entering Government in 1997. Whether as councillor, a Back Bencher or a Minister, she was defined by her devotion to public service.
Throughout her time in Parliament, she would always reach out to an MP of any party who was going through a tough time; whether it was personal or professional, she would be there for them. For Tessa was a person first and a politician second. And nowhere was that humanity greater than with the support she provided to the loved ones of those who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7. Her advocacy was so compelling because Dame Tessa was never one to take no for an answer, something I believe she put down to her Scottish roots.
Dame Tessa certainly refused to take no for an answer when many said that London should not even bid for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. As Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, she persuaded Tony Blair and the Cabinet, the civil service and ultimately the whole country to get behind the bid. That historic summer of 2012, which brought us together so powerfully as a nation, would simply not have happened without her.
Tessa Jowell’s political achievements were outstanding. But those who know her will also never forget her sense of humour. For many years after London won that Olympic bid the screensaver on her phone was a photo of her and David Beckham after the announcement—hugging. As she said: “You can be a feminist but still be susceptible to a David Beckham moment.”
Dame Tessa brought all those qualities of compassion, passion and determination to her final, and perhaps most important, campaign: on brain cancer. Her impact was reflected in yesterday’s announcement of the Tessa Jowell brain cancer research fund, and it will live on in an annual Tessa Jowell global symposium, to be hosted by the UK, to bring together the best clinical, scientific and academic minds on brain cancer.
No one who heard her extraordinary speech in the House of Lords when she spoke about her own brain tumour could have failed to be moved. As she said in that speech:
“In the end, what gives a life meaning is not only how it is lived, but how it draws to a close.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 January 2018; Vol. 788, c. 1170.]
Dame Tessa lived out those words. To the end, she fought not for herself, not for her party, but for everyone affected by this most cruel of diseases. It was typical of the spirit with which she approached her whole life……Her legacy will live on.
Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn:
Tessa’s recent speech in the House of Lords was just amazing. We live our lives and enjoy our lives and none of us wants it to end, but she was able to convey to the House and to the world that living your life is also about how you end your life and about the legacy that you leave behind. It was such a brave and selfless speech, and it took so much out of her, but she was determined to do it. Using her platform as a Member of Parliament in the House of Lords to raise awareness of brain cancer was truly amazing: well done her. She will be remembered for her passion, for her sense of social justice, for her sense of inclusion and for her sense of fun in dealing with people. Above all, she will be remembered for the manner of her leaving us. Her children and family are obviously totally devastated, but I think they can also be very proud of the legacy she has left behind. It is wonderful that we now have the Tessa Jowell brain cancer research fund, and I hope that we will all support that so that others do not have to suffer in the awful way that she suffered. She taught us how to live, and I think she also taught us how to die.
The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Mr Jeremy Hunt)
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for graciously allowing a second contribution from the Government Front Bench.
Some people may wonder why a Conservative Government are so determined to mark the legacy of a Labour Cabinet Minister, but those who know, or knew, Tessa will not be surprised at all, because she had an incredible gift for bringing people together and breaking down barriers in a way that was unique and inspiring. As many have said this afternoon, we saw that in London 2012, when as Culture Secretary I had the terrifying responsibility of making her dream come true—and faced with Tessa, I never dared to put a foot wrong. What an incredible success that was: real Tessa magic, bringing the whole country together.
We saw those qualities latterly, and more tragically, when almost as an aside in her final harrowing few months, she decided that the Government needed to tear up our policy on brain cancer and start again, so basically we have done so. Thanks to her, and many other campaigners from this House and outside this House, we are proud to announce today the Dame Tessa Jowell brain cancer mission, which seeks massively to increase research and improve the treatment of this most challenging of cancers. Today, the thoughts of all of us are with David, Jess and Matthew. We hope and pray that, as a result of her efforts, many more will survive this terrible disease—a final and most wonderful gift of Tessa magic to the nation. (Source: Hansard)
On social media yesterday Steve Reed posted:
Steve ReedVerified account @SteveReedMP .
So sad that Tessa Jowell has died, she leaves such a powerful legacy. Was proud to become her friend while I was leader of Lambeth and she was an incredible support as a local MP. Rest in peace dear Tessa x
So many chats today with so many people whose lives Tessa Jowell touched in different ways. Kind, caring, supportive, she really was an inspiration to so many of us. She will be missed very much
Tributes were also paid from yesterday morning on Lambeth Labour party Twitter:
Jane Edbrooke @JaneEdbrooke Retweeted Zoe Norfolk
Tessa and the women who were in the Labour government post 1997 were icons to me and other women. We saw women better represented in government and they were changing lives. #inspirational – she will be greatly missed.
Jim Dickson @JimDicksLambeth .
So sad to get the news of Tessa Jowell’s passing. She was the best of us; always more concerned about others than herself, constantly looking for ways to make the world a better place for everyone & with the tenacity to get things done. And what lovely person! #RIPTessa
Lib Peck @cllrpeck .
Such sad news. Tessa was an inspirational woman, a brilliant constituency MP and a very lovely friend. She achieved so much and will be missed by so many. #RIPTessa
LambethLabour Retweeted The DR @DrNBYP .
Heartbroken!!! @TessaJowell our rock!!! 1st person to show me that politicians were human! 1st person to get me to vote, and show us how to overcome fear!! My inspiration for running as a councillor and getting in!!!! #tessajowellRIP we see you in your legacy.