Margaret McDonagh

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Margaret McDonagh, Baroness McDonagh, is a British Labour Party politician who was General Secretary of the Labour Party from 1998 to 2001.

Inheritor of the socialist tradition

The opening address at Labour's conference in 1999 by then General Secretary Margaret McDonagh claims that New Labour is the inheritor of past radical movements:

But although many of the developments of the 20th century, would shock and surprise them, I am certain that the founding fathers of our party would be proud of how we have translated their values into action. All Labour governments this century have changed Britain for the better. They have legislated in favour of, the many not the few. Since 1997 we have built on that record. Delivering the political dreams of our founders. [1]

These dreams may or may not have included appointments to the unelected House of Lords. McDonagh was ennobled as Baroness McDonagh in 2004. The UK Parliamentary minutes state:

Baroness McDonagh — Margaret Josephine McDonagh, having been created Baroness McDonagh, of Mitcham and Morden in the London Borough of Merton, for life by Letters Patent dated in the afternoon of 24th June 2004, was introduced between the Lord Alli and the Lord Sawyer, the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod and Garter King of Arms preceding; and took and subscribed the oath pursuant to statute. [2]

McDonagh is on the board of TBI, the operator of Luton airport, as a non-executive director. Until it sold itself to Abertis Infraestructuras, the company operated eight airports in which it holds controlling interests: Belfast International (UK), Cardiff International (UK), London Luton (UK), Orlando Sanford International (US), Skavsta Airport (Sweden), and three airports in Bolivia. The company has sold nearly all of its property portfolio, but it still operates the luxury hotel Hilton Cardiff. TBI's board included Saatchi & Saatchi's CFO Charles Scott, Gareth Jones former Managing Director Wholesale Banking of Abbey National plc, Caroline Price and Keith Brooks both formerly with PricewaterhouseCoopers

Donation to Labour

McDonagh became general manager of porn baron Richard Desmond's Express Newspapers between 2001 and 2002. According to a PR Newswire report:

Labour party officials insisted at a private lunch that Express newspaper owner Richard Desmond write out a cheque for £100,000 there and then, so that it could be cashed by the party before the deadline for publicly declaring political donations cut in. According to Labour party sources, the lunch took place on 15 February 2001 shortly after Desmond, who also owns a string of pornographic, top-shelf publications as well as the Fantasy Channel, was given government clearance to buy Express Newspapers. It was attended by Margaret McDonagh, then general secretary of the Labour party, and Lord Alli, a Labour fundraiser with close links to Tony Blair.... McDonagh left the lunch soon after, presumably to bank the money in the Labour party's account that afternoon.... McDonagh got her own reward for banking the money so quickly. After the election, she went to work as general manager of Express Newspapers. She held the post for six months and is now studying for an MBA at Harvard. Downing Street was anxious to ease her out of her party job as soon as the election was over. Desmond was happy to oblige with a six-month posting until she left for Harvard. [3]

Desmond's purchase of the Express group was subject to an investigation by the Competition Commission, which reported that there was no reason why his company, Northern and Shell, should not complete the purchase, a move endorsed by then-trade secretary Stephen Byers, who had this to say about McDonagh:

There was quite a lot of jealousy in all this — the real rivalry was between Margaret [McDonagh] and Michael [Lord Levy, another Labour party fund-raiser close to Blair]. There was so much kudos associated with bringing in boatloads of money, between Margaret and [Lord] Waheed Alli on the one hand and Michael on the other.

There seems to be more than kudos associated with the Lord Levy procedure. John Reid defended this by stating:

If you are asking if we are going to sit in moral judgement, in political judgement, on those who wish to contribute to the Labour party, then the answer to that is no. [4]

John Kampfner writing in the New Statesman states that the arrangements for even knowing about this money were secret:

The figures were stored away in a computer database. According to former Millbank insiders, only three people had access to the password - Lord Levy, Amanda Delew and McDonagh herself...It is claimed now that not even Levy or Delew knew about the Desmond money. [5]

In 2002 McDonagh joined the board of the interactive media group YooMedia as chairman. This "provides Local Authorities, Health Service Organisations, Central Government Departments and Government Agencies with innovative and engaging iTV service delivery solutions."

Her appointment as Chairwoman of YooMedia Public Sector came at the same time as Waheed Alli (Lord Alli of Norbury) became a non-executive director. YooMedia also run the chat-line Dateline, YooMedia Gambling & Games — in partnership with William Hill — casino and poker gambling services for digital TV, the web and 3G mobile phones.

Standard Life

Early socialist groups such as the Chartists were mentioned in McDonagh's speech to the faithful; but their modern day incarnation does not seem as enamoured with what McDonagh has to offer them today:

"Margaret McDonagh, the General Secretary of the party, alludes to this in her recent comments. The editorial in the July party journal Inside Labour has McDonagh say, "You'll also find an updated membership benefits booklet, showing how you can get free legal advice, as well as great deals on a range of products and services." The idea seems to be that people join a party because they get money off offers or in other ways are attracted to 'great deals'. This makes joining the Labour Party equivalent to joining the AA or the RAC and with members having as little real control over the organisation. We're with the Woolwich."[6]

Actually she is a director of Standard Life and was appointed at the same time as Gerry Grimstone who previously held senior positions within the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Security (and was Chairman of Foreign & Colonial Global Smaller Companies plc and Chairman of the RAF Joint Audit Committee, RAF Strike Command Board).

Eligo reception

McDonagh attended the 2007 annual Eligo International New Year’s Reception hosted in London by Eligo international Chairman Anthony Bailey. Among the guests attending the two hour event was her sister Siobhain (recently PPS to the Secretary of State for Defence and, from May 2006, Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Dr. John Reid). Other attendees were:

The Rev Fr Dr Shafiq Abouzayd, Mr Nicolas Adamson, HE The Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey, HRH Crown Prince Muhammad Al-Senussi of Libya, the Charge d'affaires of the Republic of Paraguay, Alderman Sir Gavyn Arthur, Mrs Mavis Badawi, HE The Ambassador of HM The King of Morocco, Miss Oonagh Blackman, The Rev Monsignor Vincent Brady, The Hon Daniel Brennan, The Hon Alexander Brennan, The Hon Patrick Brennan, The Lady Brennan of Bibury, HE The Ambassador of the Portuguese Republic, Professor Richard Conroy, Mrs Geraldine Davies, The Rt Hon Lord Denman, Prince and Princess Peter Doimi de Frankopan, Princess Louis Doimi de Frankopan, Sir David and Lady Durie, Mrs Mehri Esfandiari, Sister Ellen Flynn, Mr Joseph Gaggero, The Rev Canon Jonathan Gough, Mr Gareth Hale, Sir Ewan and Lady Harper, Mr James Hart-Dyke, HSH Princess Marie-Therese Hohenberg, Dr Austen Ivereigh, Mr Andrew Keen-Downs, Mr Paul Kefford, Mr John Kennedy, DL, Professor Nasser David Khalili, The Rt Hon Lord Lamont of Lerwick, The Rev Monsignor Mark Langham, Mr Robert Leaf, HE The Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria The Rt Hon Baroness McDonagh, Siobhain McDonagh, MP, Mr John McTernan, HE The Apostolic Nuncio, Deacon Meliton Richard Oakes, Colonel Thomas Ogilvie-Graham, Mr David Palmer, HE The Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia, The Charge d'Affaires of Andorra, HE The Ambassador of the Republic of Costa Rica, The Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury, The Hon Mrs Celia Sandys, Mr Nicolas De Santis, The Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Asthal, The Rev Father Michael Seed, Mr Peter Sheppard, Mr Ahmed Suleiman, His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain, Mr Edward Walsh, Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, The Rt Hon Sir John Wheeler, The Lady Nicholas Windsor, The Rev Canon Flora Winfield, HRH Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia and HRH Princess Lavinia of Yugoslavia.[7]

Views on McDonagh

An article for citywire quotes unnamed sources as stating that during her three-year stint until 2001 as the Labour Party’s first woman and youngest ever general secretary, her "management style" saw her portrayed as the embodiment of the party’s obsession with "control freakery". [8] The post was the culmination of a long career as a party organiser, including playing a key part in Labour’s successful 1997 general election campaign. McDonagh was part of the leadership inner circle for the 1997 campaign and was charged with delivering Labour victories in key target seats.

The former Labour Party councillor Liz Davies published the following reminiscence of McDonagh's time at New Labour's national executive committee (NEC) in her book Through The Looking Glass:

I was to find over two years that NEC meetings were easily the least democratic, most stitched-up and most arduously unpleasant meetings I have ever attended - and I have spent many years in political meetings. [...] Procedural manoeuvres were used repeatedly to stifle or stub out debate, as I found to my cost when I tried to raise the issue of the bombing of Iraq at the January 1999 NEC meeting. [...] Listening to NEC members reassuring each other that two plus two equalled five was like walking into wonderland. McDonagh rules Millbank with a rod of iron and shamelessly does Blair's bidding.[...] But McDonagh is utterly single-minded, and her preoccupation with fixing all proceedings at every level on be half of the New Labour project is her most - indeed her only - discernible characteristic. [...] The rules are silent as to how many contemporary motions can be taken and I passed the rule book to Hodgson. McDonagh responded: "It is a rule, but it is not written down." [9]
Blair and McDonagh [10]

An article in The Guardian stated that McDonagh's departure from the NEC followed a fallout with No 10 when she refused to authorise nearly £500,000 to fund a big rise for the PM's aide, Anji Hunter, forcing the then Prime Minister Tony Blair to lobby the NEC members to overrule her. [11]

Later a World Socialist Website article reported that McDonagh "had written confidentially to broadcasters" stating that she had "growing evidence that broadcasters have been inciting and colluding with protesters at campaign visits by senior politicians". McDonagh said: "This behaviour by broadcasters is putting at risk the safety of Labour party staff, politicians and the public."[12] The article says that McDonagh's letter was timed to coincide with a stage-managed walkabout at a Birmingham hospital, when postmistress Sharron Storer, whose partner was seriously ill with cancer, waylaid Prime Minister Blair, angrily berating him about the state of the National Health Service. [13]

As Andrew Gimson said in The Spectator, this conjectures a mind set where the "British public which is thought so spineless that it is incapable of protesting without a television producer to stage-manage the event." Gimson adds that: "There is a nation out there which, in the space of only four years, has become invisible to our rulers." [14]

McDonagh, money and elections in Iraq

McDonagh’s ‘management style’ saw her portrayed as the embodiment of the party’s obsession with ‘control freakery;’ but what does that term really mean? Her recent work has been with BBM, a London based firm of consultants assisting the Trinidadian United National Congress (UNC) [15] whose objective is to win the election at all costs. If this sounds familiar, Philip Gould noted, of the Clinton election of 1992, that:

Margaret McDonagh, Hohn Braggins and Alan Barnard, who were to hold senior positions in the 1997 election campaign, were all working in one capacity or another for Clinton. Jonathan Powell, then working for the British Embassy in Washington, now Tony Blair’s chief of staff, was observing the Clinton campaign at first hand and building links that were later to prove priceless. Out of all this was born Millbank Tower and the ‘war room’ it housed; rapid rebuttal and the Excalibur computer; an obsession with message… [16] According to The Guardian, McDonagh was taught to use Excaliber by Bob Mulholland, a figure who 'has played a key role as Labour has remodelled itself on cut-throat US politics' and, according to Mike Madrid, specialises in 'destroying opponents personally and driving down voter turnout.' [17]

McDonagh, Braggins and Barnard now make up BBM. According to Seymour M. Hersh, McDonagh was directly involved in election rigging in Iraq concerning Iyad Allawi, who had worked both for Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat and for Western intelligence agencies. At first the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was used, but then backed off, then the activities were kept, in part, “off the books” and were conducted by retired CIA officers and other non-government personnel:

Several weeks before the election, Margaret McDonagh, a political operative close to Tony Blair, showed up at Allawi’s side in Baghdad, and immediately got involved in a last-minute barrage of campaigning, advertising, and spending. (McDonagh did not respond to a request for comment.) These efforts, and Allawi’s own attempt to present himself as a forceful Prime Minister, apparently helped to raise his standing. [18]

In an interview with Amy Goodman for Democracy Now!, the journalist Seymour Hersh says:

McDonagh, with a man named Mendelsohn [sic. - presumably Peter Mandelson], was sort of the — they were the geniuses of the Labour Party. They were the people who moved the Labour Party to the center and helped Blair get elected and re-elected.... it’s my understanding that McDonagh and others were, when Blair first began as the build up to the Iraqi war began, they were involved in doing some of the early white papers inside the British government, making the case for Saddam having WMD. Later that activity was taken over by 10 Downing Street, the professionals, but she and others on the outside were doing early drafts of that stuff, very close to Blair. And she was just there at his side in his office, seen by people in his office, not publicly known, but there’s no question that she was playing a major role as a political adviser to Allawi in the end. [19]


  1. "Margaret McDonagh's speech", BBC News, 27 September 1999, accessed 15 April 2009
  2. "Minutes and Order Paper - Minutes of Proceedings Tuesday 13th July 2004", UK Parliament website, accessed 15 April 2009
  3. "How Labour tried to hide Desmond's donation", PR Newswire, undated
  4. Robert Harris, 'Labour's our thing, says the owner of Skinny and Wriggly', The Daily Telegraph, 14 May, 2002.
  5. John Kampfner, 'The riddle of the porn baron's cheque', New Statesman, 20 May, 2002.
  6. 'Welcome to my nightmare', Chartist, accessed 29 April, 2009.
  7. "Eligo International hosts New Year Reception in London. January 2007", Eligo International website, accessed 15 April, 2009.
  8. Tim Sharp, "Standard Life appoints New Labour peer as Hylands and Stewart depart", citywire, 1 March, 2007, accessed 15 April 2009.
  9. Liz Davies, Through The Looking Glass, excerpted in "Labour pains", The Guardian, 29 March, 2001, accessed 15 April, 2009.
  10. 'McDonagh to quit', BBC website, 21 June, 2001.
  11. Matt Wells and Kevin Maguire, "Woman behind Labour landslides gets job at Express", The Guardian, 12 October, 2001, accessed 15 April, 2009.
  12. Julie Hyland, "Britain's general election: Labour pressures media to censor election coverage", World Socialist website, 23 May, 2001, accessed 15 April, 2009.
  13. Julie Hyland, "Britain's general election: Labour pressures media to censor election coverage", World Socialist website, 23 May, 2001, accessed 15 April, 2009.
  14. Andrew Gimson, "Another victory will defeat Tony Blair", The Spectator, 26 May, 2001, accessed 15 April, 2009.
  15. 'Baroness McDonagh', PINKINDUSTRY, accessed 29 April, 2009.
  16. Gould, P. (1999) The Unfinished Revolution: How the Modernisers Saved the Labour Party, Abacus, 176-177.
  17. Ed Harriman, 'Putting the dirt back into politics', The Guardian, 31 May, 2001.
  18. Seymour M. Hersh, 'Get Out the Vote: Did Washington try to manipulate Iraq's election?' The New Yorker, 18 July, 2005.
  19. Seymour Hersh, "Bush Authorized Covert Plan to Manipulate Iraqi Elections", Democracy Now!, 19 July, 2005, accessed in Google cache 15 April, 2009.