I'm usually resistant to the sentimentality with which parliamentary veterans are written about. My attitude to, e.g., Tony Benn, has evolved from hostility in his political heyday to pathological hostility now. But Gwyneth Dunwoody was something else, and I'm sorry to read of her death. Her obituary in The Times notes:
She considered that her greatest contribution to her party was her seven years on its national executive where she had been elected by the votes of right-wing trade union leaders. She justified their judgment, earning the title of Hammer of the Left in the tabloid press. In particular she helped to turn the tide against the Militant Tendency. She spent most meetings placidly embroidering tapestry before intervening, often lethally. Her ally, Betty Boothroyd, said it was like watching somebody knitting by the side of the guillotine.
I'm pleased that this was her own judgement, because many might mistakenly think it a negative achievement to have defeated a small entrist group in the Labour Party. Gwyneth Dunwoody and her allies in fact were essential to Labour's belated return to sanity. She was a close ally of the late Peter Shore, and (as is not widely recalled) stood as a candidate for Deputy Leader of the Party while Shore ran for the leadership after Labour's catastrophic election defeat in 1983. They received a minuscule vote - she received the support of only a few Shore loyalists among MPs, such as Bryan Gould and Jack Straw - but they said important things. Both were wrong in their inveterate anti-European positions, but they were on the right side and showed courage in wresting Labour - for all its flaws and errors, one of the two most important post-war parties of the European Left - from some peculiarly destructive and anti-democratic elements.
Martin Bell, who was a fellow Cheshire MP for four years, cited a few weeks ago what turned out to be Gwyneth Dunwoody's swansong to the House of Commons. It concerned a peculiarly obtuse piece of local government reform that bears the hallmarks of gerrymandering. Imagine being a minister on the receiving end.