MP Margaret Beckett ‘amazed and proud’ to be made a dame
DERBY MP Margaret Beckett has been honoured with a damehood for her 40-year career in politics, saying she hoped the title “made the city proud”.
The 69-year-old joined Ilkeston cycling supremo Dave Brailsford and retiring Rolls-Royce chief Mike Terrett among those in Derbyshire named in the New Year Honours list.
Dame Margaret, who represents Derby South, said that she had been “stunned” to be given the title DBE – Dame Commander – by the Queen.
She said: “When I got the letter I was amazed, it came entirely out of the blue.
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The only person who has known up to now is my husband Leo.
“I could pull rank now but I won’t.
“I think it has been given to me for some of the firsts in my career – first woman to be Foreign Secretary and first woman to lead the Labour Party.
“I hope it makes people in Derby proud in the same way I am of them and the way they have overcome difficulties and rallied together in the past few years.”
Dave Brailsford, who masterminded Team GB’s haul of eight cycling gold medals at this year’s Olympic Games, was awarded a knighthood.
And Mike Terrett, retiring chief operating officer for Rolls-Royce, was awarded the CBE for his 34 years’ work with the company in Derby.
Political giant Beckett wins top honour after blazing trail for women
She is famous for empowering women through politics, becoming the first woman leader of her party and the first female foreign secretary.
So, it seemed only fitting for Margaret Beckett to be awarded one of the highest-ranking titles which can be bestowed on a woman – a damehood – in honour of her work.
But the 69-year-old MP for Derby South said she was so surprised by the news, revealed in today's New Year Honours list, that she had not yet decided how to celebrate.
"Well, I imagine we'll have a drink or two," she said.
"But other than that, I have no idea yet. It's been such a surprise."
In a career spanning nearly 40 years, Dame Margaret cut a swathe through politics, embarking on a series of firsts for women.
She was elected Labour's first female deputy leader in 1992 and took on the role of leader for the period after the sudden death of John Smith, from a heart attack, two years later.
She stood in the subsequent leadership election to choose a permanent successor to Mr Smith but came third behind Tony Blair and John Prescott.
When Labour came to power in 1997, she was a fixture in Mr Blair's Cabinet from the start, holding posts including Trade and Industry Secretary, Leader of the Commons, Environment Secretary and, from 2006-7, the first female Foreign Secretary.
Mrs Beckett returned to the backbenches when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, after he made clear she would not be staying at the Foreign Office.
But she was soon appointed to the sensitive post of chair of the Prime Minister's Intelligence and Security Committee and made a comeback to government in 2008 as housing minister.
She first became an MP in 1974, for Lincoln, lost her seat in the 1979 election and then was elected MP for Derby South in 1983, a position she has retained.
She hoped the honour made Derby "proud" of her.
She said: "I heard about it a couple of weeks ago. My husband Leo knew but that was it. We've kept it secret. It's amazing, the idea of being given this honour.
"When I was a little girl the idea of being an MP was amazing and I did that.
"The citation I was sent mentioned the fact that I had done several things women had never done before and it said how women can follow in my footsteps so it has made me look back at my career and see what I've achieved."
She said she was proud of the way people in Derby had rallied against difficulties in the past few years, like the decision not to award Bombardier the lucrative Thameslink contract.
"The reaction of people to the problems at Bombardier, the way people pulled together after that left me full of pride; it was admirable.
"In some ways I think Derby has changed for the better over the past few years."
Born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, in 1943, the young Margaret Jackson trained as an apprentice engineer before being drawn into politics through the campaign against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
She became MP for Lincoln in 1974 and served as a whip in Harold Wilson's last administration and education minister under James Callaghan, but lost the marginal seat in the 1979 election which swept Margaret Thatcher to power.
She married the chairman of her local Labour Party, Leo Beckett, the same year and he became her agent and a vital part of her team throughout her parliamentary career.
After four years as a TV researcher, she returned to Parliament in 1983.
In opposition, she was a principal architect of Labour's renewed vigour and aggression during the mid-1990s as a prominent member of the shadow cabinet.
Her political journey mirrored that of the Labour Party, from protest against apartheid and nuclear weapons in the 1970s, when she was a hard-left supporter of Tony Benn, to the softening of her views under Neil Kinnock's leadership and then easing her way into the centre ground to become one of the great survivors of the Blair era.
Dame Margaret said that despite the length of her political career, she still had a lot of fight inside her.
She said: "I want to see the Labour Party back in power and that's what I am fighting for.
"To my mind, what the Conservatives are trying to do is complete what Margaret Thatcher started in the 80s. I would like to defeat that."
The MP was not the only local person to be honoured today.
Elsewhere, Rolls-Royce bosses Professor Richard Parker, the director of research and technology, and Michael Terrett, the firm's outgoing chief operating officer, were given CBEs (see panel, right).
An MBE was awarded to Lisa Vernon, the chief executive of Derbyshire Learning and Development Consortium.
The charity supports voluntary and community groups and earlier this year it took control of Rykneld Community Centre, breathing new life into the centre, which closed in March 2011.
The Learning for Living Centre is planned to open in spring 2013.
Initial activities will include a children's club, a youth club and an enterprise club for those looking to set up their own business.
Burton singing teacher Coral Gould, who has guided numerous pupils to careers in musicals and opera and published a successful singing tuition book, was given the OBE for services to music and the arts.
In Matlock, Carol Taylor, who is the director of research and development for the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, was awarded the OBE for services to adult learning.
She has 30 years' experience of teaching and managing learning and has been a primary and secondary teacher, worked in higher and further education and in local authorities.
Anthony Favell, councillor and chairman of the Peak District National Park Authority, was awarded the MBE for political and public service.
Mr Favell was the former MP for Stockport and in 1990, he resigned as John Major's Parliamentary Private Secretary in a disagreement over whether the UK should enter the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
Finally, Nicholas Warren, of Hope Valley, was awarded the OBE for services to the voluntary sector.
MORE: See Related Article (above, right) for more awards stories.