Friday, April 18, 2008

Understanding Gwyneth

Gwyneth Dunwoody has died. I liked her as an individual and came to admire her politics. This came as a surprise to me. For as a Labour left-winger I had at one time dismissed her as being just another hard-line Labour right-winger who was part of the Party's establishment. The fact that her father was the General Secretary of the Labour Party from 1944 to 1962 and her mother was a life peer, seemed to confirm my prejudices.

When I became an MP I was surprised to discover that I normally supported her efforts and liked her personality. She always brought a mixture of expertise, common sense and compassion to the issues she pursued. She was also that form of workaholic which comes from having a firm political commitment.

She had been a Member of the European Parliament from 1975 to 1979 and was a Euroseptic who tested out Government Ministers fully in a mainly unpublicised European Standing Committee which I also served upon. It did not matter to Gwyneth whether she had an audience or not, she knew the importance of using the parliamentary and other avenues available to her.

She was a forceful defender of MPs' rights (and hence of voters' openings) in an era when too many MPs were willing to surrender their avenues of influence for an easier life of short hours and quick, whip-controlled and unreflective decision-making.

She spoke regularly in the Commons using the opportunities available to long-serving MPs. She was listened to carefully, for she always made serious and well-expressed contributions and did not need to use notes.

Her contributions went well beyond the Transport topics she covered with such care as Chair of the relevant Select Committee. Yet the effectiveness of her work in Transport was seen in the attempt by Labour's parliamentary leadership to remove her from her position. Luckily, the Labour back-benchers knew something of her worth and rebelled within the Parliamentary Party to ensure that she retained her post.

When New Labour took over, Gwyneth did what she always did - she stood her ground. Her traditional Labourite values meant that she found an even greater need to articulate her belief in the need to further the rights of ordinary people in their communal and trade union activities.

Thanks to Gwyneth, I came to realise what it was that the traditional right-wings and left-wings of the Labour Party held in common. We will all miss her.


ADDED : 8.50pm

These are Gwyneth's final and typical words from Hansard of 1 April -

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that Ordnance Survey is not only one of the oldest but one of the most efficient Government services? Other Departments depend on it, quite apart from local authorities and other institutions in need of accurate information. Will he urgently come up with an agreement that does not—as usual—lend some agency the extraordinary honour of a totally unworkable private finance initiative? This trading fund works, and we ought not to disturb it.

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