At a time when politicians are often regarded as among the lowest forms of life, today we have the opportunity to mourn one who was very different. Tessa Jowell, who has died of a brain tumour, was an exceptional politician but more than that an exceptional human being. She changed lives and made them better. What better epitaph could there be?
Ms Jowell was the instigator of Sure Start, the aim of which was “giving children the best possible start in life”. By the time Labour had come to power in 1997, our public services had gone to rack and ruin and working class children in particular had little or nothing by way of childcare, early education, health and family support. New Labour in general and Tessa Jowell in particular recognised this cruel injustice and did something about it. Yes, politicians confronting a problem that blighted the lives of millions of people actually did something to improve lives.
Sure Start represented the kind of politics I believe in, that is raising the standards of the less well off, not always penalising the better off at the same time. It worked wonderfully, enhancing the life chances of millions of families, bringing about greater opportunities for the many, not just the few. This was the great achievement of the Blair years: things really got better. And as David Cameron and Theresa May’s wretched governments have gone a long way to dismantling Sure Start, the country once again becomes more divided and less equal.
I could go on to write about the effect Tessa Jowell had on the London Olympics and, particularly, the subsequent legacy because it was huge. But my thoughts today are with her family and friends who can at least gain comfort from the wonderful life of this wonderful, courageous woman and the difference she made to people’s lives. This is a sad day for Britain.