Beckett, Margaret


Beckett, Margaret
▪ 2007
 On May 5, 2006, Margaret Beckett became the first woman to hold the post of U.K. foreign secretary and thereby defied repeated predictions over the years that Prime Minister Tony Blair would dismiss her from his cabinet. Beckett, a junior minister during the 1970s as well as one of the few people to serve in every cabinet following the Labour Party's return to power in 1997, could claim to be one of the great survivors of British politics, with more ministerial experience than any other member of Blair's government.

      Beckett was born Margaret Jackson on Jan. 15, 1943, in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. She trained as a scientist, graduating from the Manchester College of Science and Technology, and worked as a metallurgist at the University of Manchester. She became a researcher for the Labour Party and was elected to Parliament in October 1974, representing Lincoln. Within 18 months she had her first government post, as parliamentary undersecretary at the Department of Education. With the 1979 general election, which brought Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party to power, Beckett lost both her parliamentary seat and her ministerial post.

      After being ousted from the House of Commons, she married Leo Beckett, her local Labour Party leader, and took a research job (1979–83) with Granada Television. She remained politically active, however, and served briefly on Labour's National Executive. She was a vocal member of Labour's left wing and a prominent supporter of Tony Benn's unsuccessful attempt in 1981 to replace Denis Healey, a moderate, as the party's deputy leader. Beckett returned to Parliament in the 1983 general election as MP for another Midlands constituency, Derby South, and thereafter held several shadow posts. Like many MPs from the left wing of the Labour Party, she moved toward the political centre. When Benn challenged party leader Neil Kinnock in 1988, Beckett backed Kinnock and resigned from the left-wing Campaign Group, which supported Benn. Kinnock resigned in 1992 following Labour's fourth consecutive general election defeat, and Beckett was elected deputy to the new leader, John Smith. She rose to party leader on May 12, 1994, when Smith died suddenly, but she held the post for just 10 weeks, losing the subsequent leadership election to Blair and the deputy leadership to John Prescott.

      After Labour returned to power in 1997, Blair appointed Beckett secretary of state for trade and industry. She was moved to leader of the House of Commons in 1998 and to secretary of state for environment, food, and rural affairs in 2001. In the latter post Beckett was actively involved in international attempts to avert climate change, and she acquired a reputation in Britain and beyond as a skillful negotiator. This talent, together with her firm loyalty to Blair, her effective management of a large government department, and her renowned ability to handle the toughest radio or television interview without losing her temper or causing the government any embarrassment, prompted Blair to promote Beckett to foreign secretary.

Peter Kellner

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▪ British politician
née  Margaret Mary Jackson 
born Jan. 15, 1943, Ashton-under-Lyme, Lancashire, Eng.
 
 British politician who served as foreign secretary of the United Kingdom (2006–07), the first woman to hold the post.

      Beckett trained as a scientist, graduating from the Manchester College of Science and Technology, and worked as a metallurgist at the University of Manchester. She became active in the Labour Party and was elected to the House of Commons (Commons, House of) in October 1974. The following year she became a government whip, and in 1976 she was named parliamentary undersecretary for the Department of Education and Science.

      Beckett lost her seat in the House of Commons in 1979, after which she became a researcher with Granada Television. She remained politically active, however, and served briefly on Labour's National Executive Committee. Beckett was returned to the House of Commons in the 1983 general election. Between then and the Labour Party's return to office in 1997, she held several posts in the shadow cabinet. In 1992, following Labour's fourth consecutive general-election defeat, Beckett was elected deputy to the new leader, John Smith. She rose to party leader in May 1994 when Smith died suddenly, but she held the post for just 10 weeks, losing the subsequent leadership election to Tony Blair (Blair, Tony) and the deputy leadership to John Prescott. Beckett was the first woman deputy leader and the first woman leader of the Labour Party.

      In 1997, after Labour returned to government, Blair appointed Beckett president of the Board of Trade and secretary of state for trade and industry. The following year she became leader of the House of Commons, and in 2001 Beckett became secretary of state for environment, food, and rural affairs. In the latter post Beckett was actively involved in global climate change, acquiring a reputation as a skillful negotiator. This talent, together with her firm loyalty to Blair, prompted him to promote Beckett to foreign secretary in May 2006.

      Beckett's tenure as foreign secretary was dominated by the continuing Iraq War, Iran's refusal to halt its nuclear program, and the battle between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. Shortly after Blair resigned as prime minister in 2007, Beckett was replaced as foreign secretary by the new administration of Gordon Brown (Brown, Gordon). The following year Beckett returned to government when Brown appointed her minister for housing and planning.

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Universalium. 2010.

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