At the finish line, triumph

IT WAS in the garden of 10 Downing Street that Tessa Jowell made her mark. The then culture secretary had demanded a meeting with Tony Blair, the prime minister, to argue that London should bid for the Olympics. A sceptical Mr Blair did not want a pricey, risky project to burden his legacy. But she won him round: “This is a country that should always have the highest ambition,” she argued. Without Lady Jowell (as she later became), who died of brain cancer on May 12th aged 70, there would have been no London 2012.

The Olympics painted a neat caricature of Britain during the Blair era: open, global and successful, even if expensive and over-budget. It was a Britain that Lady Jowell helped to shape. It was on her watch as health minister that Sure Start centres, which provide child care and advice to new parents, were introduced. Archaic, illiberal drinking laws that banned serving alcohol in pubs after 11pm were scrapped, and gambling restrictions were loosened at her behest, too. “We will give adults the freedom they deserve and yobs the tough treatment they deserve,” she said.

Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus”, which she saw aged 14, was one of the formative influences of her socialism. Born in London, she studied at Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities before returning south and working as a councillor in north London in the 1970s, as Labour began its wilderness years. She entered the Commons in 1992 and played a prominent role in the governments of both Mr Blair, to whom she was politically devoted (she once joked that she would “jump under a bus” for him) and Gordon Brown. She had a knack for working across political divides, both within the Labour Party and across the aisle with the Tories.

This skill stemmed from a trait rare in the upper echelons of politics: she was fantastically nice. Mr Blair declared baldly that she had “simple human decency in greater measure than any person I have ever known”. We can vouch for this: in 2015 Lady Jowell joined the board of The Economist Group, to which she brought a deft understanding of human dynamics and a great capacity to bring people together. Even when she was ill she joined almost every board meeting by phone.

She spent the final months of her life campaigning for better treatment of brain cancer. Her speech on the subject in the House of Lords in January won a rare standing ovation. The day after her death, the government announced an extra £20m ($27m) for research into the disease. It was a final flourish. “She had an extraordinary, successful career in politics,” her husband, David Mills, said. “Then somehow after this disease struck she added another 25% to it.”