Tessa Jowell

Intro British politician
A.K.A. Tessa Jane Jowell, Tessa Jane Helen Douglas Palmer, Tessa Jane Helen D…
Was Politician
From United Kingdom
Type Politics
Gender female
Birth 17 September 1947, London, UK
Death 12 May 2018, Shipston-on-Stour, United Kingdom (aged 70 years)
Star sign Virgo
Politics Labour Party

Tessa Jane Helen Douglas Jowell, Baroness Jowell, DBE, PC (née Palmer; 17 September 1947 – 12 May 2018) was a British Labour politician who was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Dulwich and West Norwood from 1997 to 2015, having previously been elected as the MP for Dulwich in 1992. She held a number of major government ministerial positions, as well as opposition appointments, during this period. Her most senior position in Government was as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, a post she held from 2001 to 2007. A member of both the Blair and Brown Cabinets, she was also Minister for the Olympics (2005–10) and Shadow Minister for the Olympics and Shadow Minister for London until September 2012, resigning after the London Olympic Games. A Privy Councillor from 1998, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2012. She stood down from the House of Commons at the 2015 general election. She was nominated for life peerage in the 2015 Dissolution Honours and was raised to the peerage as Baroness Jowell, of Brixton in the London Borough of Lambeth, on 27 October 2015. In September 2015, she was unsuccessful in seeking to be selected as the Labour Party's official candidate in the 2016 London mayoral election, coming second to Sadiq Khan in the contest of six candidates.

Early life

Tessa Jane Helen Douglas Palmer was born at Middlesex Hospital in Marylebone, London, to Dr. Kenneth Nelson Veysey Palmer, a physician, and his wife, Rosemary (née Douglas), a radiographer. She was educated at the independent St Margaret's School for Girls in Aberdeen, the University of Aberdeen (where she studied arts, psychology and sociology) and the University of Edinburgh (where she studied for an MA in Social Administration). She became a social worker, initially working in the Craigmillar area of Edinburgh and as a childcare officer in Lambeth, before training at Goldsmiths College as a psychiatric social worker. She subsequently worked at the Maudsley Hospital, and later became assistant director of the mental health charity Mind. During this time, Jowell took her first steps into electoral politics, being elected to represent Swiss Cottage on Camden London Borough Council in the early 1970s, and becoming Chair of the Camden Borough Council's Social Services Committee at the age of 25. In 1978, she was the Labour Party candidate in a by-election in Ilford North but lost Labour's majority to the Conservatives. She stood again in Ilford North at the 1979 general election, also unsuccessfully.

Member of Parliament

Elected as MP for Dulwich at the 1992 general election, Jowell was successively appointed as an Opposition Spokesperson on Health, an Opposition Whip and Spokesperson on Women, before returning to the Shadow Health team in 1996. After boundary changes, she was the MP for Dulwich and West Norwood from 1997.

In Government

Jowell was appointed as Minister of State in the Department of Health after the 1997 Labour electoral landslide. As the first Minister for Public Health she championed cross-sectoral action to improve health and reduce inequalities, initially set out in her Green paper 'Our Healthier Nation'. She moved, again as Minister of State, to the Department for Education and Employment in 1999. Jowell in 2000 She was appointed Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport after the 2001 election, replacing the sacked Chris Smith. One of her main concerns as Culture Secretary was television broadcasting. She blocked the BBC's plans for the digital channel BBC3, on the grounds that they were insufficiently different from commercial offerings, and imposed extra conditions on BBC News 24 after it was criticized on the same grounds by the Lambert Report. She was responsible for the Communications Act 2003 which established a new media regulator, OFCOM. It also relaxed regulations on ownership of British television stations, though, following a rebellion in the House of Lords, a 'public interest' test was introduced as a compromise. In July 2003, she launched an overhaul of the National Lottery. She dealt with complaints that the lottery had been directed to fund programmes that should have been covered by mainstream taxation. In 2001 Arts Council England announced changes to how funding would be distributed and she supported this. She oversaw the restructuring of the Arts funding system but lost out in the 2004/5 spending round, when there was a cut in her departmental budget. In 2004 a tax loophole was closed around film production in Britain. In 2004, Jowell faced resistance to proposals for a series of so-called "super casinos", to be sanctioned as part of the Gambling Act 2005 which liberalised Britain's gaming laws. Although problem gambling has ruined the lives of many ordinary people, in the run up to the Bill, Jowell dismissed much of the criticism as being elitist, commenting that "opponents of the Government's gambling reforms are snobs who want to deny ordinary people the right to bet". Former Labour Welfare Minister Frank Field said her comments were crass, declaring, "I think this whole New Labour line that you insult people rather than engage in argument is deeply disturbing". In March 2005, Jowell announced a new governance system for the BBC: the BBC Trust, to replace the long-established Board of Governors. The trust was introduced in 2007 but in 2012 was shown to be 'not fit for purpose', leading to the resignation of the Director General. In Gordon Brown's reshuffle in June 2007, following his succession as Labour leader and Prime Minister, Jowell was demoted from her position as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. She retained her Olympics portfolio, however, and was also appointed Paymaster General and Minister for London, being allowed to attend Cabinet, although not as a full member. She was further demoted on 3 October 2008, losing her Minister for London role to Tony McNulty, and being allowed to attend cabinet only when her area of responsibility was on the agenda. In his 2009 reshuffle, Brown reappointed her to the Cabinet as Minister for the Cabinet Office. In the 2012 Birthday Honours, Jowell was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for "political and charitable services", in particular for her contribution to delivering the London 2012 Olympics.

Political positions

Jowell was a zealous supporter of the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, reportedly saying on one occasion that she would "jump under a bus" for him. She was very supportive of New Labour and was fully loyal to its agenda, earning herself a strong reputation as a Blairite. In 2007, she supported Hazel Blears for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party. In 2009, she was mentioned as a possible Cabinet minister who might resign over the leadership of Gordon Brown in order to trigger a leadership contest – a suggestion which proved unfounded. In opposition, Jowell supported David Miliband's campaign to become Leader of the Labour Party, but served in Ed Miliband's Shadow Cabinet when he became Leader of HM Opposition. In 2010 she briefly appeared as a landmark on Google Maps, as a result of a prank. She was involved in the Blue Labour movement in the Labour Party, and was a contributor to The Purple Book, drawing on her background on the Right of the Labour Party. Jowell set up the Sure Start programme, Jowell said, "I am very proud of setting up Sure Start [the national nurture and childcare programme], because the first three years of a child’s life are absolutely critical in determining the chances they have subsequently."

London 2012 Olympics

Jowell was in charge of London's successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics. She came up with the idea in 2002, during her time as Culture Secretary, when she said there was very little support from within the Cabinet, with many colleagues thinking that Paris' bid would win. Jowell convinced the Government to support the bid, however, and went ahead with it. In 2004, she launched the bid and, when the Games were awarded to London, she was appointed Olympics Minister (in addition to her responsibilities as Culture Secretary), and held full ministerial responsibility for the bid from 2006. Despite being moved from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2007, she retained her position as Olympics Minister throughout Labour's time in office. Following the general election of May 2010, at which Labour lost power, she became Shadow Olympics Minister. She remained on the 2012 Olympics Organising Committee, with Lord Coe and Jeremy Hunt. She was appointed Deputy Mayor of the Olympics Village, being responsible for making the Olympics take place. She resigned her role as Shadow Minister for the Olympics in September 2012, and returned to the House of Commons backbenches.

After the House of Commons

In November 2013, Jowell announced that she would not contest the next general election. In May 2015, she launched her campaign to be selected as the Labour Party's official candidate in the 2016 election for Mayor of London. Six candidates stood for selection and in September the process concluded with her coming second to Sadiq Khan. She was nominated for life peerage in the 2015 Dissolution Honours by the Labour leader. She was raised to the peerage as Baroness Jowell of Brixton in the London Borough of Lambeth, on 27 October 2015. In January 2018, Jowell got a standing ovation in the House of Lords for a speech. She began by speaking of how she came to be diagnosed with an extremely lethal form of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme. She went on to advocate making more cancer treatments available in the NHS. She said, "In the end, what gives a life meaning is not only how it is lived, but how it draws to a close. I hope that this debate will give hope to other cancer patients, like me, so that we can live well together with cancer, not just dying of it. All of us, for longer."


Jowell, Mills and Berlusconi

Jowell's husband David Mills was an international corporate lawyer who has acted for Silvio Berlusconi, then the Italian Prime Minister. Mills was investigated in Italy for money laundering and alleged tax fraud. Jowell was investigated by the Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell over the allegations surrounding her husband, because of a possible conflict of interest between her personal life and ministerial duties. O'Donnell stated that, "it is the Prime Minister, not me, who, constitutionally, is the right and proper person to take a view on matters arising based on the Ministerial Code" in his letter, and Tony Blair decided that she was "not in breach" of the ministers' code of conduct. On 4 March 2006, it was announced that Jowell and Mills had separated, after the allegations had begun to damage her political standing. Jowell said "although we are separated I have never doubted his innocence". Skepticism that Jowell was unaware of the details of her husband's dealings with Berlusconi led to a Private Eye front cover of her with a speech bubble saying: "I have never met my husband". Mills allegedly admitted to being "an idiot", and has expressed his remorse about the impact of his dealings upon his wife. The separation had effectively ended by September 2012. On 17 February 2009, an Italian court sentenced Mills to four years and six months in jail after finding him guilty of accepting a bribe from Berlusconi to give false evidence on his behalf during corruption trials which had taken place in 1997 and 1998. His defence counsel said that the sentence went "against the logic and dynamic of the evidence presented". The judgment was appealed by Mills. On 27 October 2009, the Italian Appeal Court upheld his conviction and prison sentence. Mills confirmed that he would initiate a second and final appeal to the Cassation Court. On 25 February 2010, the Italian Cassation Court (the second and last court of appeal under Italian law) dissolved the case because of the statute of limitations. For this type of crime, in Italian law, a case expires after 10 years. Mills argued that he received the money in 1999, and not 2000 as Prosecutors had previously argued, thus taking advantage of the statute of limitations.

Other controversies

In 2001, Jowell was widely criticised for 'interfering' in Independent Television Commission (ITC) rulings on complaints regarding Brass Eye. The Guardian newspaper suggested that "for the Culture Secretary to speak directly to the head of a TV network about a specific programme smacks of the Soviet commissar and the state broadcaster". The ITC reminded Jowell that she should not be interfering in their processes, resulting in a Channel Four interviewer suggesting Jowell and her colleagues "must feel like idiots". In 2006, Jowell was criticised for projected cost over-runs on the London 2012 Summer Olympics project, which came under the supervision of her former department. She was among a number of ministers accused of hypocrisy for opposing Post Office closures in their own constituencies while supporting the government's closure strategy at the national level. Jowell was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport during the News of the World newspaper phone-hacking scandal (pre-2007). In January 2007, Clive Goodman, the News of the World's 'royal editor', was jailed for four months, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator employed by the News of the World, was jailed for six months. In May 2014 a temporary personal assistant to Richard Scudamore, chief executive of England's Premier League, read private emails between Scudamore and colleagues and friends. These included comments about women's football, which the assistant felt to be inappropriate. She passed them on to a national newspaper, the Daily Mirror. Jowell defended the reading and passing-on of the emails, declaring that, "in the world of social media and email, there is no public and private".

Leadership fellow

Jowell served as a Richard L. and Ronay A. Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2016. In this role, she taught a course in the Department of Health Policy and Management called, "Health Policy and Leadership: Why do we know so much and do so little?" Jowell also actively served on the Advisory Board of the Ministerial Leadership in Health Program, a joint initiative of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Personal life

Jowell's first marriage was to fellow Camden Councillor Roger Jowell in 1970; this was dissolved in 1976, but she continued to use his surname. Roger Jowell co-founded and directed Social & Community Planning Research (SCPR), now the National Centre for Social Research, known for its British Social Attitudes Surveys. She married David Mills on 17 March 1979. They separated in March 2006, following the controversy over Mills's links to Berlusconi. Their professed hopes to "restore their relationship over time", rather than seek divorce, caused some to regard this as a politically expedient gesture to save her political career. Jowell said on Radio 4's Woman's Hour programme in September 2012 that she was seeing Mills regularly, saying that they had "reached a state of stability which I never thought possible". She had a son and daughter, as well as three stepchildren (including journalist Eleanor Mills) from her husband's first marriage. In April 2016, her son Matthew Mills married food writer Ella Woodward, who is also his business partner. Her daughter Jess Mills is a singer. In January 2011, during the News of the World phone hacking affair, it was revealed that Jowell had contacted lawyers as she attempted to find out who hacked into her voicemails on 28 separate occasions during 2006. Jowell contacted police in late January 2011 to inform them that there had recently been an unsuccessful attempt to listen to voicemail messages on her phone.

Illness and death

On her 70th birthday on 17 September 2017, her family made public the news that she had been suffering from a brain tumour since May of that year. On her Twitter account, she stated "Thank you for so much love and support on my birthday. More people living longer better lives with cancer is my birthday pledge". Jowell wanted more treatment for cancer patients, knowledge about cancer treatment shared more effectively, speedier diagnosis, greater access to experimental treatments, and improved survival rates. After Jowell's death, Downing Street announced that in tribute to her, brain cancer government funding would be doubled and the so-called "gold standard dye" tumour diagnosis tests would be extended to all NHS hospitals. Jowell died at her family home in Shipston-on-Stour on 12 May 2018, after suffering a brain haemorrhage the day prior and subsequently falling into a coma.

Honours and styles


She was sworn of the Privy Council in 1998, giving her the honorific title "The Right Honourable" and, after ennoblement, the post-nominal letters "PC" for life. Order of the British Empire (Civil) Ribbon She was appointed to the Order of the British Empire as a Dame Commander in the Civil Division in the 2012 Birthday Honours, giving her the right to the prenomial title "Dame" and post-nominal letters "DBE". However, the former, although hers was a substantive and not honorary damehood, was no longer practically applicable following her peerage, with its superseding form of address. She was given the Freedom of the Borough of Southwark on 12 May 2012. Coronet of a British Baron She was raised to the peerage in the 2015 Dissolution Honours, allowing her to sit in the House of Lords. She sat with the Labour Party benches. She took the title of Baroness Jowell. On 17 June 2016 She was awarded the Honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D) by the University of Aberdeen.

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