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Former Labour MP Ann Clwyd dies at 86

22 Jul 2023 9 minute read
Ann Clwyd MP. Picture by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0)

Martin Shipton

Ann Clwyd, Wales’ longest serving woman MP who became well-known internationally as a human rights campaigner, has died at home in Cardiff at the age of 86.

For 35 years she was the MP for Aberdare and then Cynon Valley, during which time she held a number of key front-bench posts including Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.

But her passionate support for those who were oppressed made her more suited to the role of campaigning backbencher.

Early in her Parliamentary career she spent time underground in Tower Colliery, protesting against the plan to close it down. Her efforts were not in vain and a workers’ cooperative led by Tyrone O’Sullivan, who died recently, succeeded in buying the pit and keeping it going from 1995 until 2008.

She supported the invasion of Iraq, not out of any sense of tribal loyalty to Tony Blair, but because of her long standing support for the Kurdish people, thousands of whom had been gassed by Saddam Hussein. Blair appointed her as his special envoy to Iraq and she showed fearlessness and courage in making repeated visits to a dangerous war zone.

In the latter part of her Parliamentary career, she became a champion for those who had complaints about the quality of their health care. Her interest in the issue was heightened by what she saw as the poor nursing care given at the University Hospital of Wales to her dying husband Owen Roberts, a retired BBC journalist. She was subsequently appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron as an adviser on complaint handling in the NHS.

Journalist

Before entering politics, Ann Clwyd had herself been a journalist, working for the BBC, the Guardian and the Observer.

Her original name was Ann Lewis, and she was born in Pentre Halkyn, Flintshire. She was educated at Holywell Grammar School and the Queen’s School, Chester, before graduating from the University of Wales, Bangor.

From 1979 to 1984, she was the Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Mid and West Wales. Elected to Parliament in a by-election in May 1984 following the death of Ioan Evans, she became the first woman to sit for a Welsh valleys constituency.

She served as Shadow Minister of Education and Women’s Rights from 1987,but was sacked in 1988 for rebelling against the party whip on further spending on nuclear weapons. She returned as Shadow Minister for Overseas Development from 1989 to 1992, and then served as Shadow Secretary of State for Wales in 1992 and for National Heritage from 1992 to 1993.

In 1991, at the National Eisteddfod, she was made a member of the Gorsedd of Bards.

She was the Opposition spokesperson for Employment from 1993 to 1994, and for Foreign Affairs from 1994 to 1995, when she was again sacked, for observing the Turkish invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan without permission.

In 2003 she presented a private member’s bill that made it a criminal offence for parents and others to take girls out of the UK to be subjected to female genital mutilation. It became law.

In August 2004, she became a member of the Privy Council.

She was a vice-chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party from 2001 until 2005, and was elected as Chair, beating Tony Lloyd in May 2005. However, in December 2006 she was defeated by Lloyd by 11 votes when she sought re-election, with her closeness to Tony Blair being cited as a reason for her defeat.

She served as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group and the All Party Parliamentary Iraq Group. She was Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coalfield Communities, and Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cambodia.

Compete 

After announcing her intention to stand down from Parliament in 2015, she changed her mind and said she wanted to continue. Labour told her she would have to compete with others for the nomination. She did so and won.

She stood again in 2017 and was re-elected.

In the series of Parliamentary votes on Brexit in March 2019, she voted against the Labour whip and in favour of an amendment tabled by members of The Independent Group for a second public vote.

She didn’t seek re-election to Westminster in 2019,

In an interview with me in 2019, she said it was her membership of the European Parliament that had broadened her political perspective and sparked her intense interest in human rights. She said her view of the institution had changed after she was elected to it.

She said: “I went over [to the European Parliament] as a prospective candidate, to a meeting organised by the European Commission. They’d taken a group of us who were journalists actually over to see what it was like.

“My one abiding memory was of being in this event, and they were actually popping Champagne corks into the ceiling. I thought this was really, really profligate – I was a bit shocked by the whole thing. We were in the period of excesses – the huge sugar mountains, wine lakes and all the rest of the things we campaigned against at the time. People forget that both the Tories and Labour were split on the issue.

“I was elected as an anti-EU candidate. After two years I thought, ‘I can see how this place works’. I could see how it could work. I found the interaction with other nationalities to be really something worthwhile, something I felt excited about. When one of the factories in my constituency, in Llanelli, was due to shut down, I talked to the trade unions in Europe, and the place it was supposed to move to in Belgium refused to take it through solidarity for the workers in Llanelli. I thought, if we can cooperate like this to save jobs, this is tremendous.

“There were lots of other issues. I took a petition to the European Parliament in 1977 for women’s rights. Many of the things we argued for then became law during the period when I was a Euro MP: equal rights for men and women. It was really exciting and positive – I was on the environment and the employment committees, and they were talking about acid rain in Brussels when nobody was talking about acid rain in this country.

“I found it stimulating and exciting, and full of possibility for doing things for the better.”

European Parliament

She said she had always been grateful that she went to the European Parliament first and not to Westminster: “I think it broadened my horizons,” she said. “I became more acutely aware of human rights, because there were people there who campaigned very strongly for human rights. That’s where I got involved in Cambodia – Pol Pot [the murderous head of the Khmer Rouge] and all of that. I became a human rights campaigner as a result of being in the European Parliament and meeting people who were themselves active and introduced me to the issues. I don’t think I would have had that if I’d went to Westminster first.”

Later she became involved with Iraqi and Kurdish exiles living in Cardiff who were campaigning against Saddam Hussein. She said: “There was a chemical weapons attack on the Kurds. Alastair Hay, the specialist toxicologist, went to Kurdistan and brought back soil samples. Ministers kept telling us in Westminster there was no proof.

I’d say to them ‘get the proof!’. They could have got the proof. The proof was we saw some of the victims in hospital in London of the first chemical weapons attack against the Kurds. I took an all-party group of women MPs to see them. They were badly burnt – some of them could not talk, because of what chemical weapons do to people. It seemed to me really obscene that we should be selling weapons knowing that this was the effect, because someone as ruthless as Saddam Hussein was using them.

“I got involved in Kurdish politics, and in the end became special envoy for Tony Blair on human rights for Iraq. I was able to visit prisons, was hopefully able to influence a bit the aftermath of Saddam Hussein. We had researchers gather evidence, ready for trials. We knew we would have to have hard evidence if there were ever trials of those in the regime who were responsible. I remember talking to [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan in Geneva, and saying ‘if we gather the evidence, what will you do?’ And he said: ‘they’ll probably have to come before an International Criminal Court’. When we got the evidence, he didn’t actually do anything. So we had a big fight to get indictments over a period of years, and eventually it happened.”

Ann Clwyd and Martin Shipton at an event in Aberdare in March 2022 to celebrate her 35 years as an MP

Tony Blair

Asked whether she thought Tony Blair’s reputation had been trashed unfairly for getting Britain to participate in the invasion of Iraq when no weapons of mass destruction were found, Ms Clwyd said: “Yes I do. There are very few people who will stand up in Parliament now and defend him. I’m one of them . My support for that war came after collecting evidence of what Saddam Hussein was doing to his own people.”

Ann Clwyd was a truly remarkable woman who should act as a role model to other female politicians. She would not compromise on sticking up for the underdog and was fearless when stating her point of view, even when it was likely to make her unpopular with some.

This was particularly the case when she backed the invasion of Iraq. For her, the debate over whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the invasion was irrelevant. What was far more important was removing a tyrant who had murdered so many people in a particularly horrible way.

Even during her recent prolonged illness, she continued to think of the wellbeing of others. On what I didn’t realise was the last time I would visit her, just last week, she urged me to take up the case of someone she knew who was being mistreated by their employer. I’m so pleased that I did.

Ann Clwyd: March 21 1937 – July 21 2023.


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Rob
Rob
7 months ago

Ann Clwyd who turned against devolution because of the failures implemented by her own party?

Ann Clwyd who supported the illegal invasion of Iraq?

Wasn’t really a fan of her but my condolences to her family.

Arthur Owen
Arthur Owen
7 months ago
Reply to  Rob

She may have had flaws,I did not always agree with her but she she was a serious politician and the invasion of Iraq was wrong because of the consequences,no other reason.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
7 months ago
Reply to  Arthur Owen

I disagree. Ann Clywd was a career politician who put England first and Wales last. And to add to my first post. Even though the evidence since has proven not one bolt has ever been found regarding those WMDs as claimed by Tony Blair using that dodgy dossier copy & pasted from a teens thesis in California when he claimed in the House of Commons how those missiles could reach our shores in under 20mins. A lie. See the illegal Iraq war was largely opportunist and payback by president George Bush Jnr for his father George Bush snr failures against… Read more »

Rob
Rob
7 months ago
Reply to  Arthur Owen

The invasion of Iraq was wrong because it was illegal.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
7 months ago

Although it’s sad when anyone passes it still angers me how Ann Clywd being an alleged champion of human rights supported the 2003 illegal war in Iraq where there were numerous human rights violations by America & Britain, and even in her autobiography said she had no regrets baring in mind civilians were tortured, sexualised & murdered in Abu Ghraib prison by American soldiers. Black Watch private security mercenaries murdered civilians and even videoed their atrocity while laughing & joking. This later revealed by Bradley Manning to Wikileaks including a video showing the murder of journalists & civilians by pilots… Read more »

Rob
Rob
7 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

I totally agree. Its one thing when Conservatives or right wingers call for the abolition of the Senedd or oppose further powers because it has failed in policy areas like health and education, but its something else entirely when Labour party members / supporters do this!!! They conveniently forget that it is THEIR PARTY that has been in power for the last 25 years. They themselves are the problem not the solution.

Blaming devolution or the Senedd as a whole for Labour’s failures actually get Labour off the hook.

Expect more of this when Labour return to power in Westminster.

Last edited 7 months ago by Rob
Y Cymro
Y Cymro
7 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Devolution hasn’t failed Wales. Labour & Conservatives have. Welsh Labour in Wales opts to manage poverty and lower any national aspiration where the English Conservatives prefer to weaponized it using centrist divide & conceur ideology and to assimilate Wales into a greater England like Russia Ukraine. Since the 1997 devolution referendum we’ve had the Conservatives and rightwing Labour MPs attack and undermine Welsh devolution from the start. Need I mention traitors Llew Smith, Neil Kinnock ect… who influenced New Labour in the watering down of powers suggested to the then Welsh Assembly meaning 12 wasted years of devolution until 2011… Read more »

John Glyn
John Glyn
7 months ago

Doedd ganddi ddim i’w ddweud wrth ddyheadau Cymru am ymreolaeth – chwerthin yn wawdlyd am ben y syniad wnaeth hi pan ofynnwyd iddi a fase hi’n hoffi gweld Cymru annibynnol. Cododd obeithion y Cwrdiaid ond heb gefnogi yn ddigonol eu hawl hwythau i annibyniaeth chwaith gan ei gadael o hyd mewn man bregys. Cefnogodd ryfel anghyfreithlon Blair yn Iraq, laddodd dros 6,000,000 yn ddiangen, a ansefydlogodd y Dwyrain Canol yn gyfan – ac mae’r canlyniadau trasig dal gyda ni heddiw.

Richard
Richard
7 months ago

AC reflected a pro Welsh and Wales attitude of a time ( now past ) in our history. We must be careful ❗️ not to judge or pass comment from the 2023 Cymru, more confident in its destiny. Ann needs to be compared with many of her contemporaries- the likes of Ness Edwards, Neil K and Leo Abse plus her predecessor Ioan Evans who fought so hard against any level of Wales elected governance. She had and espoused progressive views on a range of social issues around equality and choice plus gender and protection for children from harm. I had… Read more »

Jem Vanston
Jem Vanston
7 months ago

I was proud to be part of Ann’s campaign to improve the Welsh NHS and was there at the House of Commons on a sweltering July day just over a decade ago contributing to the Cameron-commissioned report on the NHS complaints system (albeit the English NHS, one third of the 24 people there were from Wales and really, the NHS needs to be UK-wide to share best practice). I hope it had a positive effect. Unlike many now, Ann was tolerant of others and welcomed diversity of opinion. Like most in Wales she opposed ‘independence’ of course. We talked often… Read more »

Rob
Rob
7 months ago
Reply to  Jem Vanston

Why does the NHS need to be UK wide? What happens if England implemented health policies that were unpopular in Wales? Yes they should be working closer together, no one says otherwise. I’m sorry that she has passed away and my condolences to her family and friends. But I have the right to disagree and oppose her views, especially when she blamed devolution for the failures implemented by her own party, or supported an illegal invasion of a Sovereign country.

Jem
Jem
7 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Sharing best practice. Mind you, hospitals in Wales cannot even do that (known as a supermarket system, as Tesco etc do it, whereas here 2 hospitals with same funding differ – one is great, the other is bad. WHY?) ALSO Wales has a long porous border so naturally many in Wales by the border have a nearest hospital in ENgland. I also have the right to my views, as do the 70,80, 90% in Wales (pick your poll) opposed to hardline nationalists who want ‘independence’ (which usually means joining the failing EU Empire union as a slave nation which is… Read more »

Rob
Rob
7 months ago
Reply to  Jem

This doesn’t have anything to do with independence, but with devolution. The failure of the health service in Wales is down to the Labour government, not devolution. They are the ones who have been in power in Wales, and if your unhappy with how they are running it then vote them out, or lead a campaign for them to be voted out of office. If your going to bring up Plaid’s history in regards to supporting Nazism or anti-Semitism, well weren’t some Labour members sympathetic to the Soviet Union in the last century? A regime that murdered more people than… Read more »

Jem
Jem
7 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Listen, Rob – I was part of a campaign by Ann Clwyd to improve the Welsh NHS. I was on ITV Wales twice 2013/14 and ITN News at Ten and on BBC Radio 4 World at One talking about it – Ann pushed me forward to do it with 2 others as we 3 spoke well at the meeting we had at the House of Commons on 4 July 2013. I also started a petition, discussed in the Senedd, when Carwyn Jones (who hurled abuse at Ann some would say) was First Minister. Ann was perfectly prepared to criticise her… Read more »

max wallis
max wallis
7 months ago

The Cynon was infamous for the “Furni” phurnacite plant during Ann’s time. Though miners unfit to work underground were often transferred there to suffer lung pollution on top of mining dust, they were not included in the Miners Compensation Scheme that went through parliament. Why Ann did not press this was unclear – except that.Wales NUM officials were maintaining through the1970s and 80s that working conditions were “safe”. After the plant closed in 1990, “Furni” cancer victims both in the community and the ex-workforce started campaigning, getting national coverage and culminating in a 200-strong class action in the High Court… Read more »

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