By Diane Cooke
Mo Mowlam was the UK's Northern Ireland Secretary for two years from 1997.
She was well known for calling 'a spade a spade' and used her direct, earthy language to break down barriers between rival groups of politicians and paramilitary groups.
Mowlam was a shrewd and intelligent operator who changed Irish politics by raising subjects others ignored and - even more dangerous - speaking to people others avoided.
Nothing typified her personal and political bravery more than her entry into the Maze prison in 1998 to plead with the loyalist prisoners for their support on the peace talks in Northern Ireland.
She insisted her civil servants called her "Mo" and not "Madame Secretary of State"; she arrived for her first meeting in Belfast, kicked off her shoes, put her feet on the table and lit a cigarette. Worse, she then whipped off her wig and threw it on the table. Unconventional she most certainly was. But the situation in Northern Ireland needed a Mowlam. There had been a succession of earnest and well-meaning Conservative ministers who had made little progress with the "troubles". In breezed Mowlam and argued with passion and reasoned with a patient understanding.
She was instrumental in the successful peace negotiations between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Protestant unionists that led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (Belfast Agreement). As time passed, the unionists lost confidence in Mowlam, accusing her of being too soft on Sinn Féin, the political party associated with the IRA.
An outspoken and often irreverent supporter of the Labour Party’s shift from the left wing toward the centre ground, she was also noted for her unusual ability to communicate with voters.
Mowlam received a degree in anthropology from Durham University (1970) and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa (1977). She taught political science at Florida State University (1977–79) and Newcastle University (1979–83) before entering Parliament in 1987.
During the run-up to the 1997 general election, she was criticised in the media for putting on weight. When she disclosed that this (and her thinning hair) was a side effect from treatment for a brain tumour, which she'd kept secret from her boss Tony Blair, she gained a great deal of public sympathy.
But there were already worrying signs: her behaviour was often idiosyncratic, probably a symptom of the brain tumour, and she had begun to believe in her own invincibility. She resisted an attempt to draft her as Labour's official "Stop Ken Livingstone" candidate in the first election for a London mayor, and she wanted to leave her job on her own terms. She had decided that she should become foreign secretary and when Blair offered her the post of secretary of state for health instead, she refused.
It was not until the autumn of 1999 that she was moved, largely against her will, to the Cabinet Office, where she remained as minister and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster until standing down as an MP at the 2001 election. She had responsibility for a number of important issues - parliamentary reform and drugs policy among them - but she did not have the appetite for the job, nor did she hide her lack of interest in it or her disillusion with the "new" Labour experiment with which she had previously been so closely associated.
Mowlam felt increasingly sidelined and powerless and left the government and Parliament at the 2001 general election.
She died on August 19, 2005, in Kent, aged 55.