Giving Battleaxes A Good Name
Belatedly, I must express my sadness at the death of the Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody.
Built like a brick shithouse - and I wouldn't dare say that if she were still alive - she was as terrifying as one of Bertie Wooster's aunts, although I doubt if Aunt Agatha would have ever been found ensconced on the Labour benches at the House of Commons. More likely spreading terror in the House of Lords Tea Room.
Gwyneth Dunwoody was a late-flowering cactus, her golden years coming towards the end of her career when she became Chairman of the Transport Select Committee.
Prickly herself, she showed no mercy to the assorted pricks who were paraded before her.
And they included our late leader, Tony Blair. Left to her own devices, she would probably have pulled his designer boxers down and smacked his bottom. As it was, she was one of the select group of people who managed to put one over on the smug, God-bothering little public schoolboy.
Exasperated by her withering attacks on Government transport policy, and particularly on the greed and incompetence of the privatised railway companies, Blair had her removed from the Chairmanship of the Committee. But Gwyneth hasn't having it. Nor was the House of Commons. She was swiftly reinstated and the snivelling little creep retreated to his den in Downing Street to write out 100 times: I will not interfere with the appointment of Select Committee Chairmen, especially when their name is Gwyneth.
This episode inspired one of my favourite Steve Bell cartoons, based on a cliché of early movies. Blair has tied Gwyneth to a railway line and, as an express bears down on her, he says: "Get out of that, train-loving bitch!" Of course, the joyous ending, subsequent to the cartoon, was that she did.
It's possible that my mother once dangled the infant Gwyneth on her knee. (Well, it wouldn't have been the mature Gwyneth. It would have taken a heavy-duty crane to do that).
My mother and Gwyneth's mother trained as teachers together after the war. Her mother was Norah Phillips, later Lady Phillips, the wife of Labour General Secretary Morgan Phillips.
They met up towards the end of their respective lives to reminisce. Norah Phillips probably told my mother that Gwyneth was now putting some stick about in the Commons and watching people jump. Mercifully, the chronology meant that my mother didn't have to confess that little Willie was now blogging and remarking on Gwyneth's resemblance to a brick shithouse.
Sometimes it's better not to read people's obituaries.
I had no idea that Gwyneth, whilst a forensic critic of the financial excesses and incompetence of the private sector, had got her own finances into such a parlous state that she took a consultancy for the Fur Traders Association and found herself having to defend animal traps.
But we must be as generous in assessing the balance sheet of people's lives as we would wish them to be to us - except, of course, when Blair pops his Gucci shoes.
So we must hope that, to paraphrase the Bard, in Gwyneth Dunwoody's case the great good that she did lives after her and the misjudgements are interred with her not insubstantial bones.