altBy Duncan Mackay - 6 June 2009

So Tessa Jowell has avoided another bullet and retained her position as Olympics Minister after Gordon Brown's latest reshuffle announced yesterday. But even she must realise that the chances of her still being in the post by the time the Olympic flame is lit in 2012 are as about as remote as Lewis Hamilton retaining his Formula 1 world title.


Labour's opinion poll ratings are so poor that it will need the biggest shock since David beat Goliath for them to retain power when Britain goes to the polls next June.


That means whoever Conservative leader David Cameron appoints to replace her will have the honour of sitting in the posh seats alongside International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge and London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe at the Opening Ceremony in the new Olympic Stadium on July 27 2012.

But whatever happens, Jowell's immense contribution to London's successful bid should never be forgotten or underestimated. Success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan it is said but Jowell can justifiably claim to have been the mother of the bid. It is often forgotten now that London's campaign to host the 2012 Olympics would have been still-born if it had not been for Jowell's persistence.

In 2003 as Britain became embroiled in the hugely unpopular war with Iraq, the  then Culture Secretary nursed it gently through the Cabinet at a time when there was more opposition to it among her colleagues than support. In particular she had to convince the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown that the idea was a good one. It is a testament to her political skills that she managed to persuade Brown when all the signs coming out of Number 11 Downing Street at the time were that he was not for turning.

In the early days Jowell cut an unusual figure as she travelled round promoting the fledging campaign. She did not know her way round the strange world of Olympic bidding and it showed. But gradually, especially after Barbara Cassani had stepped down as chair of London 2012 and was replaced by Sebastian Coe, she grew into her role and became more enthusiastic the longer things went on.

She needed all that enthusiasm during the dark days of 2004 when popular public opinion was that rivals Paris were so far ahead that they were uncatchable and that London were wasting their time. That was then followed by a Panorama investigation on BBC aired on the eve of the Athens Olympics that claimed the IOC was still riddled with corruption and that votes could still be brought. This had the twin effect of meaning many of the public lost faith in whether London would be competing on a level-playing field and also upsetting the IOC so much that for a brief period there was real concern about whether it was worth continuing the bid.

altJowell skilfully managed to assuage the fears of both and from that emerged a better bid that went from strength-to-strength, culminating on July 6 2005 in Singapore when Rogge read out the single word that few expected to hear: "London".

Probably my favourite memory of the two years I spent travelling round the world with Jowell as she lobbied for the Games to be awarded to London came morning after the vote in the lobby of the Raffles City Convention Centre.


We had all been up late celebrating and were enjoying a late morning breakfast with Jowell, who was giggling like an embarrassed schoolgirl at the picture on the front page of the Straits Times which showed her and David Beckham hugging after the decision had been announced. "I think I should get a copy of that and have it as my screen-saver," she laughed.

The mood of euphoria did not last very much longer because a few minutes later an official from her office whispered something in her ear and the entire colour drained from her face.

It was, of course, the devastating news about the terrorist attacks that were unfolding back in London. At first she carried on with our coffee but then the same official came up and whispered that the number of fatal casualties was mounting. She quickly left the table to return back to her room to talk to Prime Minister Tony Blair and make arrangements to fly home.

It meant that any celebrations were cancelled and the capital never really had the opportunity to bask in the glory of its triumph before the inevitable rows started about building works and costs. The massive contribution of Jowell, more than almost anyone, has been largely overlooked. That is a shame because without her London 2012 would never have happened in the first place.

Duncan Mackay is the publisher and editor of He was the 2004 British Sports Journalist of the Year and was the athletics correspondent of The Guardian for 11 years, being the only British daily newspaper writer to correctly predict in 2005 that London's Olympic bid would be successful.


Interesting that the eulogy ends at the time London got awarded
the Games. Jowell has been at the forefront of most the gaffes
committed since.
By Olympic cynic

8 June 2009 at 12:44pm

I agree with Duncan's comments. I no fan of Labour but it is
clearly true that with Jowell London's bid would never have got
off the starting blocks.
By London 2012 fan

8 June 2009 at 18:38pm

Travellin' the world, Tessa and Duncan, Duncan and Tessa. Lovely, can't beat the old Tessa and Duncan show
By bert splendid

9 June 2009 at 15:15pm