argaret McDonagh, Labour’s first female general secretary, has died at the age of 61.
The politician, who sat in the House of Lords as Baroness McDonagh, was described as an “unstoppable force of nature” and a “tireless champion for women” as tributes were paid on Saturday.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer hailed her “absolutely essential” role as election co-ordinator in the party’s 1997 general election victory.
He added: “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.
“Both inside and outside of the Labour Party, Margaret was a tireless champion for women, mentoring a whole generation of political and business leaders.”
Earlier this year, her sister Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, gave an emotional House of Commons speech in which she accused the NHS of “abandoning” Baroness McDonagh as she was treated for brain cancer.
She fought back tears as she criticised the lack of progress on brain cancer treatment since 2005 in the NHS and explained her sister was on a course of treatment which involved a monthly four-day trip to Dusseldorf, Germany.
Sir Keir added: “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.”
Former prime minister Sir Tony Blair said: “Margaret was an amazing, vibrant, unstoppable force of nature. Dedicated to the country, the Labour Party and to fighting for what she believed was right.
“As general secretary of the Labour Party she was an incredible support to me and a vital element of New Labour.
“Most of all she was the most loyal friend anyone could wish for.”
Lord Mandelson, who was Labour’s campaign director in the 1997 general election, said: “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.”
Many people won’t know her name, but she was a someone who helped transform this country
Speaking at Glastonbury Festival, shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband described Baroness McDonagh as “an incredible woman, a huge fighter for social justice”.
He told the PA news agency: “She deserves huge credit for Labour’s election victory in 1997 – for the country having been changed.
“Many people won’t know her name but she was someone who helped transform this country.
“She’s fought her illness with incredible courage and she will be really so sorely missed by everyone in the Labour Party and the Labour movement.”
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told PA: “Margaret is just such a big figure in the Labour Party’s history. Her role in 1997 in that historic victory cannot not be underestimated.”