Dame Margaret Mary Beckett DBE (born 15 January 1943) has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Derby South since 1983. She was the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party under John Smith from 1992 to 1994, and briefly served as Leader of the Labour Party after Smith died suddenly. She later served in the Cabinet under Prime Minister Tony Blair in a number of roles, becoming Britain's first female Foreign Secretary in 2006.
Beckett was first elected to Parliament in 1974 for Lincoln and held junior positions in the governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. She lost her seat in 1979, but returned to the House of Commons in 1983, this time representing Derby South. She was appointed to Neil Kinnock's Shadow Cabinet shortly afterwards, being elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in 1992, becoming the first woman to hold that role. When John Smith died in 1994, she became the first woman to lead the Labour Party, although Tony Blair won the election to replace Smith shortly afterwards to assume the substantive leadership.
After Labour returned to power in 1997, Beckett became a member of Tony Blair's Cabinet initially as President of the Board of Trade. She was later the Leader of the House of Commons and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, before becoming Foreign Secretary in 2006, the first woman to hold that position, and—after Margaret Thatcher—the second woman to hold one of the Great Offices of State. Following Blair's resignation as Prime Minister in 2007, Beckett was not initially given a position by new Prime Minister Gordon Brown. After some time, Brown appointed her Minister of State for Housing and Planning in 2008, before she left the government for the last time in 2009.
She is currently the longest-serving female MP in the House of Commons. She is also one of the few remaining MPs who served in the Labour governments of the 1970s. She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2013 New Year Honours for public and political service.
Member of Parliament
In 1973, she was selected as Labour candidate for Lincoln, which the party wanted to win back from ex-Labour MP Dick Taverne, who had won the Lincoln by-election in March 1973 standing as the Democratic Labour candidate. At the February 1974 general election, Beckett lost to Taverne by 1,297 votes. After the election, she worked as a researcher for Judith Hart, the Minister for Overseas Development at the Foreign Office. Harold Wilson called another general election in October 1974, and Beckett again stood against Taverne in Lincoln at the October 1974 general election. This time Beckett became the MP, with a majority of 984 votes.
Almost immediately after her election she was appointed as Judith Hart's Parliamentary Private Secretary. Harold Wilson made her a Whip in 1975, and she was promoted in 1976 by James Callaghan to Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Education and Science, replacing Joan Lestor, who had resigned in protest over spending cuts. She remained in that position until she lost her seat at the 1979 general election. The Conservative candidate Kenneth Carlisle narrowly won the seat with a 602-vote majority, the first time the Conservatives had won at Lincoln since 1935.
She joined Granada Television as a researcher in 1979. Out of Parliament, and now known as Margaret Beckett after her marriage, she was elected to Labour's National Executive Committee in 1980, and supported left-winger Tony Benn in the 1981 Labour deputy leadership election narrowly won by Denis Healey. She was the subject of a vociferous attack from Joan Lestor at the conference.
Beckett was selected to stand at the 1983 general election as the Labour candidate in the parliamentary constituency of Derby South after the retirement of the sitting MP, Walter Johnson. At the election she retained the seat with a small majority of 421 votes.
Following the sudden death of John Smith from a heart attack on 12 May 1994, Margaret Beckett became the acting Labour leader, the Party's constitution providing for the automatic succession of the deputy leader for the remainder of the leadership term, upon the death or resignation of an incumbent leader in opposition. Labour leaders are subject to annual re-election at the time of the annual party conference while the party is in opposition. Accordingly, Beckett was constitutionally entitled to remain in office as acting leader until the 1994 Conference, however the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) rapidly decided to bring forward the election for Leader and Deputy Leader to July 1994.
She decided to run for the position of Leader, but came last in the subsequent leadership election, behind Tony Blair and John Prescott. The Deputy Leadership was contested at the same time; Beckett, standing in this election as well, was also defeated in this contest, coming second behind Prescott. Though she failed in both contests, she was retained in the shadow cabinet by Tony Blair as Shadow Health Secretary.
Under Tony Blair's leadership, Margaret Beckett was the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, and then from 1995 the shadow President of the Board of Trade. She was one of the leading critics of the government when the Scott Report published its findings into the Arms-to-Iraq scandal in 1996.
The Labour party was elected to government in a landslide in the 1997 general election and Margaret Beckett held a number of senior positions in the Blair government. After the election she was appointed President of the Board of Trade (a position the title of which would later revert to Secretary of State for Trade and Industry); the first woman to have held the post. She was succeeded by Peter Mandelson in July 1998.
Beckett was then Leader of the House of Commons from 1998 until her replacement by Robin Cook in June 2001.
After the 2001 general election, Beckett became Secretary of State at the new Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, created after the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was abolished in the wake of perceived mismanagement of the foot and mouth disease epidemic in 2001. The new department also incorporated some of the functions of the former Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), and was known by its initials, "DEFRA".
For legal reasons, she was also appointed formally as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which appointment she held until MAFF was finally dissolved on 27 March 2002 and the remaining functions of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were transferred to the Secretary of State at large.
She held the position of Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs until May 2006, when she was succeeded by David Miliband. Beckett would be on the front line of the government's efforts to tackle climate change, and attended international conferences on the matter.
Following the 2006 local elections, Tony Blair demoted Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and appointed Margaret Beckett as his successor. She was the first woman to hold the post, and only the second woman to hold one of the great offices of state (after Margaret Thatcher). Beckett's appointment came as something of a surprise, for the media and for Beckett herself. She admitted reacting to the news with a four-letter word.
On 28 June 2007, Brown selected David Miliband as Foreign Secretary and Beckett returned to the back benches.
It was announced on 29 January 2008 that Beckett would become the new head of the Prime Minister's Intelligence and Security Committee, replacing Paul Murphy, who became the Secretary of State for Wales.
Beckett returned to government in the reshuffle on 3 October 2008 as the Minister of State for Housing in the Department for Communities and Local Government. She attended Cabinet meetings, but was not a full member and was not to be entitled to vote on collective decisions.
Beckett is currently a member of the Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation, established in October 2009. Beckett has served as a member of the Henry Jackson Society Advisory Council.