Remember Tessa Jowell for her career – and the kindness that lay behind it

The high-flying New Labour politician made a great deal of effort to be kind to people she had no need to be kind to.


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My story about Tessa Jowell, who died this weekend, is much the same as everyone else's: we first met at a point in our respective careers when she had no need to be generous to me, yet she was. With her time, with her insight, with her humour and the courtesy she displayed to almost everyone. 

Jowell made a great deal of effort to be kind to people she had no need to be kind to and one of the sad facts of life at Westminster is that you can't say that about many people. (In fact, some people aren't even very good at being kind to the people they need to be kind to.)

But she wasn't just kind: she was also an astute observer of the political scene and an effective minister. From SureStart to 24-hour opening to the Olympics, she had a enviable record of ministerial achievement, and after leaving the frontbench she devised the Hopper Oyster fare that Sadiq Khan introduced as Mayor, and ended her days securing changes to cancer treatment and funding. But those achievements were owed in part to her kindness, which inspired people to work harder and do more to achieve her aims. Even her defeat to Sadiq Khan in the Labour mayoral race was a tribute to the way she touched and inspired people, doing significantly better than any committed Blairite (she was one of just three Labour MPs to give Ed Balls her fifth preference in the 2010 Labour leadership race) could reasonably expect to in the same year that Jeremy Corbyn won a thumping landslide.

So while we shouldn't only remember Tessa Jowell for her kindness, it was a vital part of how she achieved so much - and something we should all seek to emulate. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.