Margaret and Siobhain McDonagh’s parents were part of the great wave of post-war Irish immigration to the UK. Like so many others who came to work on construction sites, in the NHS and countless other jobs, they came to start a new life in a post-war, worker-starved Britain.
For the generation that came, they obtained work and a livelihood that was not available at the time in Ireland. And they also contributed something through the hard work they did. Their sons and daughters growing up in the 1960s and 1970s were able to take advantage of the enormous increase in opportunity in those postwar decades. The growth of higher education. The opportunity to get good jobs. The ability to change your circumstances.
These changes, and the desire to make them more available to others, were what drove Margaret McDonagh’s policy. After a brief stint working for the pub owners’ trade association, she found her true calling, first as a Labor organizer and then as a key figure in Labor headquarters.
From the early days it was clear that if a job had to be done, it had to be done right. She did not put up with fools willingly. She had no time for shortcuts or lazy thoughts or practices. She was probably the most determined person any of us have ever met. If she hadn’t always done it that way, who cared about her. If she annoys someone, so what? If she added to the Labor Party’s chances of winning, do so.
So much of life is about timing and Margaret’s rise coincided with a Labor leader who was just as passionate about spreading opportunity as she was. Tony Blair and Margaret McDonagh were a fine couple: equally committed to winning, equally committed to confronting and dealing with whatever holy cows got in the way, and each instilling a culture of loyalty and high standards that upheld the team but demanded a good performance.
Margaret brought a rigor and professionalism to Labor’s methods that simply had not existed before. She saw no reason why if Labor put on an event, it shouldn’t be the best event with the best sound quality, the best visuals, the most professional staging.
It was completely focused on the voters, talking to them, listening to them, collecting data and using it like a guided missile. Margaret herself instilled in all of us the culture of voter ID that exists in Labor today, with her emphasis on engagement with individual voters, contact rates and increasing Labor turnout. Every time I knock on the door, I have her in my head, like an angel on my shoulder, making sure it’s done right.
But his influence was not only organizational. He was cultural and political too. Margaret she knew how much the people needed a Labor government. She knew and believed in the good that she could do and she did when she was in office. She wanted Labor to practice the politics of ‘and’ rather than ‘or’: constantly adding people to the coalition without excluding or pigeonholing them.
Margaret McDonagh was like no other. I work Passionately. Hard as steel. Winning mentality. A vital part of Labor victories. She taught us all a lot. May God rest in her soul. 🌹
Thinking of her sister Siobhain and all her friends and family today. @Siobhain_Mc https://t.co/pLc4yYigyn
—Pat McFadden (@patmcfaddenmp) June 24, 2023
Because Margaret Labor had a duty to the electorate to be a modern and relevant campaign party committed to expanding opportunity for the working class. If we did not fulfill that duty, it was an abdication of our responsibilities. This was not just a difference of opinion on politics with others. It was a different take on the Labor job description.
It is not for her the vision of what working-class life and expectations should hold for parts of the moneyed hard left who have no personal skin in the game and for whom Labor’s defeat leaves them untouched. Or the familiar version the Tories wanted of a big-hearted but soft-headed Labor Party that they found easy to beat, time and time again. She knew there was no iron law that Labor had to give the Conservatives the kind of opponent they wanted.
No. For Margaret, politics on the left should never just be about taking care of people and telling them to take what they’re given. Instead, you must provide a platform to stand on, a vehicle to realize your potential, and to break down the barriers that prevent that from happening.
He knew that one of the most radical and progressive things a government can do is give those who have no money the kind of power and choice that those who have money have always enjoyed.
He wanted politics to move in line with growing expectations and ambitions. She herself, the daughter of social mobility, wanted those opportunities for others.
At 9:38am this morning, my amazing sister passed away peacefully at home surrounded by loving friends. She was the first woman, the youngest and the most successful.@UKLabourSecretary General in history. She was kind, generous, and brave. I loved with all my heart pic.twitter.com/o1aQWPZsWB
— MP Siobhain McDonagh (@Siobhain_Mc) June 24, 2023
His sister Siobhain, MP for Mitcham and Morden, is simply the best constituency MP in Parliament. There isn’t a broken cobblestone in Mitcham and Morden that she doesn’t know about. Around both sisters they have built a CLP that lives in accordance with the values dear to them. A great family dedicated to winning and to the policy of opportunities in which they believe.
In her last few months, Siobhain has been constantly by Margaret’s side, taking care of her, fighting for her. She has shown him a sisterly love both amazing in its power and gentle in its strength.
Have Lost a true working class hero. May God rest the soul of Margaret McDonagh and bring comfort to the family and friends of Siobhain and Margaret.
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