ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: This government is ruining Tessa Jowell’s greatest achievement

PUBLISHED: 13:00 17 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:15 17 May 2018

Dame Tessa Jowell speaking at the Sunday Papers Live tent in Citadel, a one-day festival at Victoria Park, east London

Dame Tessa Jowell speaking at the Sunday Papers Live tent in Citadel, a one-day festival at Victoria Park, east London

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Alastair Campbell discusses how the government is dismantling Tess Jowell’s finest political achievement.

I loved Tessa Jowell to bits. So did my partner Fiona and our three children. For them, memories of Tessa are as much about Halloween and holidays, birthdays and barbecues, as about the hard grind of politics that she did so well.

So, having agreed with Tessa’s family I would organise the announcement of her death and the first tributes, then do a media round to pay tribute myself, I found that amid the inevitable sadness I was constantly smiling at one of those more personal memories. Even in death, Tessa found a way of making you feel glad to be alive.

That positivity is what helped her, as Tony Blair put it, to turn everything she touched to gold. A nice phrase, given that the best Olympic and Paralympic Games imaginable were such a part of her legacy. Tessa, her personality, her character, her determination and her charm, drove that process from 
start to finish. Persuading the government to go for it. Leading the fight against Paris. Then helping preside over delivery.

Then there was the way she used her illness to fight for and win better care for cancer patients who did not have her platform and profile and the access to care that can bring. Tessa was always about fighting for others, not herself. So the government’s additional support for the treatment of rare cancers, and their linking it to Tessa’s legacy, is welcome.

If Tessa was ever asked about what she saw as her most important achievement, however, it was not the Olympics. But Sure Start. And on that, the government record deserves no praise at all.

I did a BBC interview on Monday morning and the interviewer said “and thanks to her, Sure Start will always be with us”. Well, will it? For after years of austerity, and a Tory government instinctively hostile to state intervention in the raising of children, it is currently a very poor imitation of the Sure Start Tessa brought into being.

Her motivation was the anger she felt that children growing up with her own daughter and son, Jessie and Matthew, were denied the same opportunities because of their background. Her training in social work and mental health also fired her belief it was possible to improve the life chances of even the most deprived and vulnerable. But you had to want to do so. And you had to have the drive and know-how, and the government backing and resources, to get it done.

Sure Start was as good an emblem of Tessa’s and New Labour’s values as anything else we did. Yes, it is part of her legacy. But that legacy is being undermined, not just by cuts that will be exacerbated by the Brexit that she deplored.

So while I applaud Jeremy Hunt and the many other Tories who spoke so warmly about Tessa, and have honoured her in their reshaping of cancer care strategy, we should not forget the steady demolition of what she saw as her finest political achievement.

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