British Labour Politician
Siobhain McDonagh has been the Member of Parliament for Mitcham and Morden since 1997, being generally regarded as an ultra loyal backbencher who largely focussed to her constituency duties. She nevertheless joined Gordon Brown's government as an Assistant Whip on the 28th June 2007, only to be unceremoniously sacked on the 12th September 2008 on the grounds that she was plotting to remove Gordon Brown as Leader of the Labour Party.
Early life and Career
Siobhain Ann McDonagh was born on the 20th February 1960 at New Malden, being one of the two daughters of Cumin McDonagh and Breda McDonagh (née Doogue) who were respectively a builder and a nurse. She was educated at the Holy Cross Catholic Girls' School in New Malden, following which she attended the University of Essex where she studied politics. After graduating in 1981 she became a clerical officer for the Department of Health and Social Security, but left in 1982 to go and work for Wandsworth Council, firstly as an administrative assistant (1982-1983), then as a receptionist at their Homeless Persons Unit (1983-1986), and finally as an adviser at their Housing Aid Centre (1986-1988). She subsequently worked as a development coordinator for the Battersea Churches Housing Trust until 1997.
A member of the Labour Party since her teens, Siobhain became the youngest councillor in London when she was elected to Merton Council in 1982 representing the Colliers Wood ward where she lived, and made her first speech at the Party conference in the following year at the age of twenty-three. When the Labour Party later won control of Merton Council in 1990, she became Chair of the Housing Committee and subsequently claimed much of the credit for the redevelopment of the Phipps Bridge Estate where the tower blocks were demolished and replaced by over 1,000 homes over the course of some four years.
Her birthplace of New Malden and indeed Merton Council was part of the Mitcham and Morden constituency, represented in Parliament by Bruce Douglas-Mann on behalf of the Labour Party, at least until he defected to the rival Social Democratic Party in 1982, resigned his seat to fight a by-election, and duly lost his seat to the Conservative candidate. The seat was held by the redoubtable Angela Rumbold thereafter, although Siobhain was selected as the Labour PPC and stood against Ms Rumbold in both 1987 and 1992, managing to squeeze the Conservative majority down to 1,734 at her second attempt. Despite such disappointments Siobhain persevered and with the Labour landslide at the General Election of May 1997, was finally successful with a majority of 13,741 on a swing of 16%. Demographic changes have since made Mitcham and Morden more favourable Labour territory, and her majority in 2005 was a relatively secure 12,560.
With her election to the House of Common in 1997, Siobhain joined the ranks of Blair's Babes and "swiftly", as the Evening Standard once put it, "acquired a reputation as a robotic cheerleader for the Government", although she justified her actions by saying that she made "no apology for attempting to ask questions which allow the many achievements of the Government to be publicised". Her one claim to fame was when she introduced a Private Members Bill in June 1999 that would have allowed Catholic priests to sit in the House of Commons, being that she was herself a reasonably devout Catholic whilst her research assistant David Cairns was indeed a former Catholic priest with political ambitions. Although the measure failed, the government later introduced its own bill, and Mr Cairns duly became the member for Greenock and Inverclyde in due course.
Siobhain nevertheless managed to attract some public attention thanks to the frequency with which she appeared near the top of the Evening Standard's league table of London MPs expenses, making it to No 5 in 2006 and then No 2 in 2007. In fact Siobhain became known in some quarters as the 'Queen of the Stamps' thanks to her fondness for spending money on postage and stationery, and spent some £48,000 in 2006/07 sending out more than 100,000 letters to her constituents. In her own defence Siobhain claimed that it was "really important" to "stay in touch" with her constituents, and cited her campaigns to prevent the closure of the local St Helier Hospital, and the conversion of two local secondary schools into academies as evidence of her involvement in local affairs. Nevertheless it was this sort of thing that persuaded the powers that be to abandon the practice of allowing MPs unlimited free stationery and postage, and from the 1st April 2007 new rules came into force which imposed various cash limits on such expenditures.
Generally speaking she therefore settled down to the business of being an active constituency MP who held 'roving surgeries' and coffee and tea mornings to keep in touch with her constituents, whilst she served as a member of the House of Commons Select Committee on Health between 2000 and 2005, and was a rock solid loyalist who always took the government line, never rebelled and scarcely muttered a word that was critical of the government line.
Her first taste of anything approaching government office came on the 10th November 2005 when she became Parliamentary Private Secretary to John Reid, who was the Secretary of State for Defence, and subsequently became Home Secretary. This job naturally came to an end on the 28th June 2007 when Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair as Party leader and Prime Minister, since John Reid had already indicated his intention to stand down from government when this came to pass. A good deal of surprise was then expressed when Brown announced Ms McDonagh's appointment as an Assistant Whip, if only because she was one of the handful of members who had failed to sign his nomination papers and was widely recognised as a diehard Blairite.
Nothing more of note was heard from Ms McDonagh, but at the beginning of September 2008 Siobhain wrote in confidence to the General Secretary of the Labour Party with the request that the party resume the practice of sending nomination papers out ahead of the party conference. It would be worth noting at this point that, technically speaking, the Leader of the Labour Party held office from conference to conference, and that once upon a time when the Party was in opposition, it recognised this technicality by sending out nomination papers just in case anyone wanted to challenge the incumbents automatic reappointment, only to abandon the practice once it came into power and adopted a new set of rules.
This fact came to the attention of SkyNews who naturally approached Ms McDonagh on the 12th September 2008 to establish what she had in mind. Siobhain explained that it was her intention to "clear the air" about the issue of Gordon Brown's leadership, although she later admitted that she had nobody specific in mind as a replacement and that she was "probably the only person who does not know who they would vote for", but nevertheless felt that a leadership contest should be held even of it reaffirmed Brown as leader. As a government spokesman later confirmed, once Siobhain had made her views public they "moved very quickly to find a replacement". Another Labour member Joan Ryan, was also "relieved of her duties" on the following day for similarly calling for a leadership election, and was soon joined by a small group of backbenchers, all clearly part of a planned 'conspiracy' to destabilise Gordon Brown and usher in an alternative.
Siobhain McDonagh has a West Highland Terrier named Elvis and enjoys shopping, music and women's magazines. She has never married and lives with her sister Margaret McDonagh in Colliers Wood, not far from where she was born. Indeed before Siobhain's flurry with political controversy in 2008, her sister was the better known of the two, having once been General Secretary of the Labour Party in 1998-2001 and regarded as having played a prominent role in Blair's early electoral successes. She is now the Baroness McDonagh and is a director of Standard Life.
- My Life in Mitcham, Morden and Colliers Wood
- ‘McDONAGH, Siobhain Ann’, Who's Who 2008, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007
- Profile: Siobhain McDonagh 12 Sep 2008
- Profile: Siobhain McDonagh 12 September 2008
- Would-be MP fights to change law, BBC News, 16 July, 2000
- Nicholas Cecil, Paul Waugh and Joe Murphy, Revealed: London MPs claiming £9m expenses, Evening Standard, 26.10.07
- Whip Sacked Over PM Challenge, SkyNews, September 12, 2008
- Whip sacked over leader bid call, BBC News, 12 September 2008
- Allegra Stratton, Whip sacked for urging leadership contest, The Guardian, September 13 2008