Photography by Harry Potts
Dame Margaret Beckett MP is Britain’s first female foreign secretary and the first woman to lead the Labour Party. She is also Britain’s longest serving female MP, first elected to the House of Commons to represent Lincoln in 1974.
Margaret Beckett in her role as British Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York City, 2006
Margaret Beckett was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire (now Greater Manchester) in 1943. Her mother was a teacher and her father a carpenter whose early death precipitated family poverty. Aged 9 Margaret moved with her family to Norfolk and returned to Manchester to study at University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) where she took a degree in metallurgy. She was an active member of the Students' Union and served on its council.
In 1961, Margaret joined Associated Electrical Industries (formerly Metrovick) in Trafford Park as a student apprentice in metallurgy. She became a member of the Transport and General Workers Union in 1964 and joined the University of Manchester in 1966 as an experiment officer in the Electron Microscopy department. In 1970 She went to work for the Labour Party as a researcher in industrial policy.
Margaret Jackson - later Beckett- in her office just after her selection as a Labour Parliamentary candidate for Lincoln in 1973
Deputy Labour Leader Margaret Beckett alongside the late Labour leader John Smith, 1992
In 1973, Margaret was selected as Labour candidate for Lincoln, winning the seat in the 1974 general election, going on to hold junior positions in the governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. She lost her seat in 1979, but returned to the House of Commons in 1983, this time representing Derby South. She was appointed to Neil Kinnock's Shadow Cabinet shortly afterward; she was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in 1992, becoming the first woman to hold that role. When Labour Leader John Smith died in 1994, Beckett became the first woman to lead the Labour Party, although Tony Blair won the election to replace Smith shortly afterwards and assumed the leadership.
Margaret & Prime Minister Tony Blair outside 10 Downing Street
Margaret with US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, following her appointment as Foreign Secretary
After Labour returned to power in 1997, Beckett became a member of Tony Blair's Cabinet initially as President of the Board of Trade. She later served as Leader of the House of Commons and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, before becoming Foreign Secretary in 2006, the first woman to hold that position, and—after Margaret Thatcher—the second woman to hold one of the Great Offices of State. Following Blair's resignation as Prime Minister in 2007, in-coming Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed her to his cabinet as Minister of State for Housing and Planning in 2008.
Margaret is a legend of our party. As the UK’s first female foreign secretary, and Labour’s first female leader, she is a trailblazer. Margaret, I thank you for everything you’ve given, and achieved - Keir Starmer, Labour Party Leader
Margaret holds the record for Britain’s longest serving female MP and is the only sitting MP who served in the Labour governments of the 1970s. She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2013 New Year Honours for public and political service.
Margaret has announced that she will retire at the next general election, nearly 50 years since first elected as a Labour MP.