Tessa Jowell never held any of the really big jobs in government, and judging by the tributes from those who knew her, she lacked the thrusting self-belief of Tony Blair’s biggest beasts.
She never ran for leader, and despite delivering the Olympics for London, she was well beaten by Sadiq Khan to be Labour’s candidate for mayor.
But don’t let tributes to her kindness and warmth distract you – Jowell was an operator with a record of delivery that any minister would be jealous of.
READ MORE: Tributes for ‘inspirational’ Tessa Jowell
It wasn’t just winning round a sceptical Cabinet to back what became a winning Olympic bid, or her moving final campaign for cancer research funding. She helped set up the SureStart programme that is likely the most under-appreciated part of the Blair legacy, and came up with two ideas that take the edge off living in London: 24-hour alcohol licensing and ‘hopper fares’ that keep the price of travel under control. In their own ways, all were policies that changed the culture of this country, because of their direct impact on people’s lives.
Amid the warm tributes following news of Jowell’s death, it emerged that the Prime Minister will spend time this week meeting her own MPs to explain the detail of her two options for post-Brexit customs. Neither are acceptable to her own Cabinet, let alone the EU. Neither will be ready in time for Brexit, because the government hasn’t broken ground on the infrastructure for either.
Meanwhile, Labour can’t decide if it will back a hard Brexit that its own membership doesn’t want, which all the evidence suggests will make the UK poorer. The party’s Scottish leader says he wants cross-party talks to stop ‘power grab’ legislation that Labour peers at Westminster agreed to.
When you compare the things politicians are spending time and effort on now to what Jowell actually achieved, you get a sense of where we are.