Tom Richmond: Dame Tessa Jowell's fearless spirit shines in speech of her life

NO one could fail to be moved by Dame Tessa Jowell's courage earlier this week when she described the ravages of brain cancer '“ and its cruel impact on her and her family.

Tessa Jowell spoke movingly this week about her fight with brain cancer.

The former Olympics Minister looked a picture of health in the House of Lords last year when I saw her. Now she needs help, and prompts, to remember the words that she wants to say. “I am not afraid,” she told peers before receiving an unprecedented standing ovation.

And they are words that should be heeded after she gave, arguably, the speech of her life in the Lords on Thursday. For, while Britain is home to world-class cancer care, the availability of innovative new treatments – and the expertise of medics – is certainly not universal. And more can, and should be, done to improve diagnosis and survival rates.

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Yet, rather than the health debate being dominated by the ritual trading of statistics at Prime Minister’s Questions, and the Jekyll and Hyde behaviour of Boris Johnson, it needs to focus on how to provide the very best for patients.

Too much is left to chance and that is why I was disappointed by Theresa May’s tame response when asked at PMQs about Dame Tessa’s intervention.

Though she sent her “best wishes” to the Labour peer, one of the most courteous and gracious politicians that there has been in modern times, the Tory leader went on the defensive and said 96 recommendations from the NHS cancer strategy had been accepted.

She even sounded grudging when offering the possibility of a meeting between Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Baroness Jowell and the Labour MP – Sarah Jones – who had the foresight to raise this issue.

As Prime Minister, Theresa May needs to remember that she’s technically in charge – despite the ambitions of her Foreign Secretary – and should start approaching each and every challenge with a huge sense of possibility.

Instead of deciding what can’t be done, whether it be on cancer care or any other issue, Mrs May and her team should be looking to see what can be done to improve the lives of others. There’s a difference and Downing Street needs to embrace Dame Tessa’s spirit.

I KNOW Boris Johnson is on manoeuvres – he wants to multi-task and be Health Secretary, Brexit Secretary and Prime Minister – but it didn’t excuse his scruffy appearance when he hosted Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State.

Wearing an ill-fitting suit, and bearing resemblance to Worzel Gummidge, the Foreign Secretary is supposedly this country’s chief diplomat. Time for him to smarten up his act.

STILL no oral interventions in Parliament from Jared O’Mara after he decided that he still wanted to be Sheffield Hallam’s MP following an exposé last week by The Yorkshire Post, but he has managed to vote in five divisions on Brexit.

It’s a start – the votes were, 
helpfully, all on the same day – but the electorate should, I contend, have the power to force a by-election if sufficient residents have lost confidence in their elected representative. The challenge is making this happen when the MPs concerned, like O’Mara, are also law-makers.

THREE quick updates on Chris Grayling – whose opinion column for The Yorkshire Post this week arrived two and a half hours after the deadline.

First, the Transport Secretary was so rattled by his Parliamentary inquisition on Monday that he was seen drinking water from a plastic cup. Environment Secretary Michael Gove needs to have a word.

Second, he’s been rebuked by the Speaker for holding meetings campaigning in Stoke without having the courtesy to inform the local MP of his presence, a breach of protocol. “I was told that no such meeting took place, yet the Twitter account of Stoke-on-Trent Conservatives has plastered pictures of the meeting across the social media website, saying how wonderful it was,” said Labour’s Gareth Snell.

Third, I didn’t spot any Pacer trains on the route from Grayling’s Epsom constituency to London Waterloo when I passed through the capital last week.

CREDIT to Shipley MP Philip Davies for using Commons questions to place the onus on train operators like Northern Rail to make sure station platforms are gritted in wintry weather. He’s showing more grit than Transport Minister Jo Johnson – brother of Boris – who replied: “We continue to work closely with Network Rail...” Sorry, but less talking, and more action, should be the order of the day.

SHAME on the BBC for devoting more time on Monday’s 10pm main news to Alexis Sanchez, the Premier League’s latest mercenary, than the death of Jimmy Armfield, a gentleman 
who epitomised the very best of 
football.

If it wasn’t for cruelly timed injuries, he could very well have skippered England to World Cup glory in 1966. Yet, even last year, he had no regrets. “Isn’t it better that we won?”

What class and dignity, values 
clearly forged by the experiences of the wartime generation who knew 
that football – and money – wasn’t 
the be-all and end-all.

I ALWAYS associated the ‘Beverley Bullet’ with the prestigious horse race staged 
on the town’s Westwood each August. Not now. It’s the perfect description for Kyle Edmond’s serve – and ferocious forehand – after Yorkshire’s very own tennis tyro reached the Australian Open semi-finals.

If only this precocious schoolboy cricketer had been picked by England this winter – Joe Root’s flops might have had a chance in the Ashes!