Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Mo Mowlam

I watched 'Mo' last night on Channel 4.

According to Wikipedia:

Marjorie "Mo" Mowlam (18 September 1949 – 19 August 2005) was a British Labour politician, who was the Member of Parliament for Redcar from 1987 to 2001, and served in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Mowlam's time as Northern Ireland Secretary saw the signing of the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998. Her personal charisma, reputation for plain speaking and fight against a brain tumour led her to be perceived by many as one of the most popular "New Labour" politicians in the UK; a fact reflected in the standing ovation she received when Tony Blair mentioned her name in his speech at the 1998 Labour Party Conference

But she was so much more than that. She was a woman in a man's world, who could achieve great things because she was a woman. With a woman's intuition and guile and lack of ego.

Julie Walters played her brilliantly, but the script was also fabulous. I remember those dark days of The Troubles and the bombs in London from my children. I also recall the various characters who appeared on the News, sometimes voiced by the voices of actors because they were not allowed to be heard for real (Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and other politicians from Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA) and sometimes ones you wish were being voiced by actors because their accents were so harsh and their tirades so strident (Ian Paisley).

They were like children squabbling over so many quarrels that went back hundreds of years. Religion and violence and nationality, with some wanting to remain part of Britain and others wanting to be part of a united Ireland, depending upon whether they were Protestant or Catholic. Cities, towns and sometimes even streets were split in their allegiance because of their religion to the extreme that part of Belfast was sectioned off around the Shankhill Road to keep their area separate from the rest.

But it's even worse than that. The Orangemen (Protestants) would hold regular marches along long-set routes that took them into Catholic areas and would insist on being able to follow their time-honoured traditions several times a year, almost deliberately goading the Catholics; and then the Catholics would put up barricades to prevent the marchers. Violence would erupt.

Each side had their own renegade paramilitary groups who committed violent atrocities with bombs, doorstep shootings and kneecappings, even on their own side if they thought someone was being too friendly with the other. I can remember hearing on the News about people being 'tarred and feathered'. It was a horrible time.

When New Labour came to power, Mo was given the job of Northern Ireland. The Government there had been used to the 'no quarter given' policies of Margaret Thatcher and Mo really took all those retrenched and angry men by surprise.

She had no ego. She was calm and firm and committed to achieving what was right, without thought for any danger to herself. For her, peace was the goal. And if, by belittling her, they could forget their differences and join together in some way, she was happy to let them do it.

Her handling of the talks required them to debate and discuss 'without putting their cocks on the table'. This, for me, was the most visually descriptive line of the whole programme because that's exactly how men negotiate. But most men loved her. For her jolly camaraderie and her ability to call a spade a spade. She was not feminine in that flighty, accepted way but one of the boys. She was instrumental in bringing about a temporary ceasefire, as well as being involved in setting the level playing field for the eventual accord that was reached, although her relationship with the Unionists was deteriorating rapidly because they felt that she was too sympathetic to the views of Sinn Fein.

At the end of the day, she was forced out - the programme said by 'Tony Blair's spin doctors' - but, in his speech celebrating the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Tony, himself, mentioned her by name and she received a standing ovation.

Five months before the Genereal Election of 1997, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour, but insisted on continuing to campaign and have treatment simultaneously. Her cancer went into remission but later returned and she died in 2005.

The saddest part about the programme was her realisation that it might well have been the tumour's effect on her brain that caused her unique character traits and the bubbly charm that everybody so loved. Which part of her personality was Mo, and which part the cancer?

She was an extraordinary, brave and wonderful lady who stands out from all the other politicians in my memory and this programme celebrating her life and her amazing achievement had over 3.5 million viewers, making it Channel 4s most viewed programme since 2001.

Alternatively you could rent it from LoveFilm.

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