Gwyneth Dunwoody MP 1930-2008

Gwyneth was born in 1930 and died in April 2008. She was educated at Fulham County Secondary School and the Convent of Notre Dame.

Gwyneth came from a family steeped in Labour tradition. Her father, Morgan Phillips was Labour’s Secretary then General Secretary from 1944 to 1962, her mother Norah was a Labour Peer and her daughter Tamsin served as a Labour member and Minister in the Welsh Assembly from 2003 to 2007. Gwyneth liked to tell colleagues that she first attended party conference in swaddling clothes. But her parents didn’t force her to go into politics – it was very much her own choice.

She first served as a Labour Councillor for Totnes Council in Devon from1958 to 1964 and then as a losing Labour candidate for Exeter for the 1964 general election. In 1966 the tables were turned and she won the seat setting off on a superb parliamentary career. In the same year Gwyneth’s husband John won Falmouth for Labour with a majority of over 3000.

In 1967 when she had been an MP for just a year Gwyneth was made a minister at the Board of Trade where she proved to be an extremely effective minister. In 1970, on the same night that her husband John lost Falmouth, Gwyneth lost Exeter to the Tories.

After this setback she was made Labour candidate for Crewe and got back into Parliament in February 1974. As Crewe was a railway town, this meant she developed a keen interest in this field. In 1975 she also became an MEP.

Two years after Labour lost the general election of 1979 Gwyneth was elected to Labour’s NEC and was appointed health spokesman in the Shadow cabinet. She served on the NEC from 1981-1988 and Gwyneth was trenchant in her fight against the Militant – and history will judge that the Militant came off worst.

Her later work in Parliament will primarily be remembered for her chairmanship of the Transport Select Committee from 1997. And we all know what happened when an attempt was made to remove her four years later…..

Her work on the Transport Committee was greatly respected amongst those in the transport industry. She was also considerably feared by anybody who appeared before her Committee as they knew that she would expose sloppy argument and factual inaccuracy and would pounce on errors. But she was always ready to be constructive and help Ministers improve as Steven Ladyman remembers, saying:

“As a transport minister I learned first hand exactly how formidable she could be and we had our fair share of battles. But even when she was doing her best to grill you she did it with grace and a smile and later, when the cameras were off, she would provide good advice and guidance.”

And it wasn’t just British Ministers that learnt to respect her. In 1998 Gwyneth had a very public battle with Rudy Giuliani, then mayor of New York, for the return to the UK of the original AA Milne Christopher Robin dolls, which were on display in a New York museum.

As a keen collector of teddy bears she raised the matter in the House of Commons, and then she and Rudy Giuliani traded insults across the Atlantic – which made headlines in the Big Apple.

I will always remember Gwyneth very fondly as a tireless and brilliant campaigner. Throughout her career nobody doubted whose side Gwyneth was on – she was ‘Labour First’ in every sense of the words.

The many tributes paid to Gwyneth across the country over the last few days are testament to the effect she had on people. Perhaps the words of her son David are the most fitting tribute to her memory:

‘She said what she believed was true and defended those who did not have many people to defend them. She stood up for her principles, she was a wonderful woman.’

Gwyneth leaves two sons and one daughter.

Below are the words issued by the Prime Minister, Deputy Leader and Transport Secretary:

Leading the tributes, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “So many people will be so sad to hear of the death of Gwyneth Dunwoody. “She was always her own person. She was fiercely independent. She was politics at its best – a great parliamentarian. She will be sadly missed in all parts of the Houses of Parliament.”

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly described Mrs Dunwoody as having a passion for transport.
“Gwyneth was an outstanding parliamentarian and a larger-than-life figure who tirelessly served the people of Crewe and Nantwich.”

Labour deputy leader and leader of the House of Commons Harriet Harman said Mrs Dunwoody was “an outstanding politician and a champion in the fight for social justice”. She added: “She was a strong parliamentarian and a committed campaigner who was admired and feared in equal measure. I will sorely miss her. We shall not see her like again.”