Labour’s first female general secretary Margeret McDonagh dies

Labour’s first female general secretary, Baroness Margaret McDonagh, has died at the age of 61. Described as an “absolutely essential part” of Labour’s landslide election victory in 1997 and a “tour de force”, the peer was diagnosed with a brain tumour after suffering from a series of fits in November 2021.

Her elder sister Siobhain, a Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, recently accused the NHS of “abandoning” her in an emotional speech in Parliament earlier this year.

Baroness McDonagh’s death was announced on Saturday.

Sir Keir Starmer said it was “absolutely devastating news.”

He added: “Margaret McDonagh gave her life to the Labour Party. Margaret may not have been as famous as some of the politicians she worked with but they wouldn’t have got into power without her.

“As general election co-ordinator, Margaret was an absolutely essential part of the 1997 Labour landslide, and as the first female general secretary led the organisation through a historic re-election campaign in 2001.

“Both inside and outside of the Labour Party, Margaret was a tireless champion for women, mentoring a whole generation of political and business leaders. To the very end Margaret was campaigning for better healthcare for those with brain tumours.

“Margaret was absolute proof that one person can make a difference in the world. The difference with Margaret is that she also built an army of change-makers along the way who will proudly carry on that fight in her name.

“You can’t think about Margaret without her sister Siobhain (the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden), campaigners together not just in Mitcham and Morden, but across the world.

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“Our thoughts and prayers are with Siobhain, and all Margaret’s family and friends at this tragic time. I know I speak for many when I say I will miss her friendship and wise counsel in the years ahead.”

In March, Siobhain McDonagh fought back tears as she told the Commons about her sister’s glioblastoma, the disease she was diagnosed with after suffering from fits.

Ms Mcdonach criticised the NHS for its brain cancer treatment. She told MPs the Baroness had been on a course of treatment which involved a monthly four-day trip to Dusseldorf, Germany.

She said: “The numbers that the NHS is currently forsaking and abandoning to international travel, the lucky people who can get the funds to do that, is nothing short of a complete and utter national scandal.

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“I wonder what my mum, who came here in 1947 to train as the first generation of nurses from Ireland, would say about the NHS abandoning her daughter.”

Peter Mandelson, who was Labour’s campaign director in the 1997 general election, said of the former general secretary’s death: “Margaret was a tour de force. “She ran Millbank in 1997 with a rod of iron. Everyone was terrified including me.

“I have never met anyone so resolute, so uncompromisingly honest and so direct.

“She almost never made it to the high command in the early 1990s, but once she arrived there was no going back. She was formidable.”

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