British Labour Politician
Dawn Primarolo has been the Member of Parliament for Bristol South since 1987. Formerly known as 'Red Dawn', and once the darling of the British Left, she is now a respectable supporter of New Labour and the Minister of State for Public Health at the Department of Health.
She was born Dawn Gasson on the 2nd May 1954 into a working-class background in London and spent most of her childhood in Crawley where she attended the Thomas Bennett Comprehensive School. After leaving school she briefly worked as a secretary and advice worker at a Law Centre in East London, before getting married in 1972, at which point she became Dawn Primarolo, and followed her husband to Bristol in the following year. There she was employed as a secretary at Avon County Council, but the marriage did not last and the couple were divorced in 1979, leaving her to bring up their only son born earlier in 1978. Despite being a single mother, in 1981 she decided to enrol at Bristol Polytechnic (now the University of the West of England) where she studied for a Social Science degree, following which she attended the University of Bristol and began work on a doctoral thesis on the subject of Women and Housing which, as things turned out, was never completed.
Dawn joined the Labour Party in her twenties; although accounts differ as to whether this took place before or after she moved to Bristol. In any event, during her early political life was regarded as a card carrying member of the 'loony left; commonly known as 'Red Dawn' she was a member of the Socialist Campaign Group and known as a contributor to the Labour Herald, a front organisation for the Workers' Revolutionary Party.
Her first of political office came in 1985 when she was elected to Avon County Council, where she acted as vice chair of the Equal Opportunities Committee. However perhaps of more significance was her position as secretary of the Bristol South-East Constituency Labour Party, represented in Parliament at the time by one Tony Benn. Unfortunately a boundary reorganisation meant that the two Labour held seats of Bristol South-East and Bristol South-West were to be merged into the single constituency of Bristol South. In the event Benn lost out to his right-wing rival Michael Cocks in the selection contest, a result which disappointed the left, particularly since Cocks was the opposition Chief Whip for Neil Kinnock, and therefore fairly obviously a dangerous counter-revolutionary. The local party activists began a campaign to get rid of him and in 1986 Cocks was deselected, and a local candidate with the appropriate revolutionary credentials was chosen to succeed him. It was in this manner that Dawn found herself thrust into the House of Commons in 1987.
As a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Dawn supported Tony Benn for the Labour leadership in 1988, and Bryan Gould in 1992, opposed One Member One Vote, and took up a prominent role in the anti-poll tax campaign and refused to pay her own poll tax assessment. At one point she was on the verge of being imprisoned for non-payment of said tax when a well-wisher paid off her liability. (Or as the cynics suggested, arranged for some stooge to pay it on her behalf rather than see the inside of HMP Pucklechurch.) Her left wing credentials were therefore sufficient to see her elected to the Shadow Cabinet in 1992 when John Smith appointed her as the Shadow Minister for Health, but for her the decisive moment came following Smith's death in 1994 and the election of Tony Blair as Leader of the Labour Party. The Socialist Campaign Group put forward a conference motion citing Gordon Brown's lack of "socialist commitment", and whilst Red Dawn might have once been sympathetic to such views, she now declined to support the motion because she "didn't want to be in opposition when she was in government". Gordon Brown subsequently offered her the position of opposition spokesman on Treasury and Economic Affairs, quite possibly because he believed that employing an "articulate left-winger" on his Treasury team was one way of demonstrating some "socialist commitment".
After Labour's victory in the 1997 General Election she became Financial Secretary to the Treasury on the 4th May 1997, an appointment that surprised many, since few people thought that Brown would actually give her a real job. It would seem that Mr Brown at least believed that her performance in that role was more than satisfactory as, following the resignation of Geoffrey Robinson, she was promoted to Paymaster-General on the 4th January 1999.
As Paymaster-General her main responsibility was that of the "strategic oversight of taxation as a whole", although she would principally be remembered for what might be called the Tax Credits Fiasco. This related to the system of Child and Working Tax Credits, dreamt up by Gordon Brown as a way of paying means-tested benefits to working parents that counted as 'negative income' rather than government spending, and therefore remained under Treasury control rather than under the control of the Department of Social Security. Unfortunately the system was dogged by problems from the beginning, and in 2003 the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee drew attention to "a catalogue of administrative failures", citing a backlog of hundreds of thousands of unsettled claims. Dawn blamed the software; "The system has not been working as well as we expected, and there had been unscheduled downtime as a result", but confidently asserted a few months later in September 2003 that the whole tax credits system was a "huge success". It subsequently emerged that the agency had overpaid a total of £1.9 billion to some 1.8 million families during the 2003-2004 financial year. In February 2005 she assured everyone that the system was "stable and performing very well", only to find that Tony Blair was forced to apologise for the whole mess four months later in June 2005. As a result there were consistent and repeated calls for her to resign over the issue, and scarcely a month went by without someone, somewhere, complaining to the press about some incomprehensible letter they had just received from the authorities demanding the repayment of thousands of pounds that they didn't have.
Of course the modern Labour Party is full of radical tub-thumpers who once preached revolution and now espouse the creed of market forces, but few have carried out such a complete volte face as Red Dawn. From being one of the loudest critics of Britain's involvement in the First Gulf War
, she later tamely acquiesced in the country's involvement in the subsequent Iraq War
, and there are at least some in the Labour Party who regard her as the archetypal betrayer of socialist principles. Indeed back home in Bristol it has been claimed that she was even barred from the South Bristol Labour Club
in protest at her abandonment of the cause, not that this will have caused her too much discomfort since the Labour Club has since been demolished to make way for a Morrisons
After a decade spent at the Treasury, she was appointed Minister of State for Public Health at the Department of Health in July 2007, following Gordon Brown's elevation to the status of Prime Minister. There she has the "responsibility for health improvement and health protection issues including such areas as tobacco, obesity, drugs and sexual health, as well as international business, pharmacy and research and development". In some ways this must have been a disappointment as she might have expected preferment to Cabinet status given her long years of faithful service to the Brown cause. The issue here might well have been her (alleged) lack of intellect. Once known as 'Dumb Spice', it was claimed that Brown only gave her a job because she would carry out any order he gave her without thinking. It has since been said that she has become known to the Civil Service as Dim Prawnorolo, and is also variously known as Prawn Dimarolo, or indeed the Dim Prawn, particularly in the world of computer contractors who object to her imposition of the IR35 regulations.
As the Minister of State for Public Health, Dawn emerged in November 2007 to inform the public that the real problem with alcohol abuse in the country wasn't the hordes of binge drinking youths that overwhelmed the nation's city centres each weekend, but rather those middle-aged couples who sat drinking too much wine at home, whilst in the aftermath of the Datagate fiasco she was forced to admit that personal data had been similarly lost by no less than nine NHS trusts, but that she didn't have a clue what data had actually been lost.
Although no information appears to be available regarding the identity of the elusive Mr Primarolo, she has continued to use his name despite her divorce in 1979, acting in the apparent belief that her maiden name of Gasson was unsuitable for a politician. She has since retained that name despite re-marrying in 1990, her second husband being one Thomas Ian Luft who is a trade union official with Unison. She has also succeeded over the years in becoming the object of lust for a number of her fellow MPs. As the Mail on Sunday revealed on the 13th May 2007 she was once propositioned by John Reid during an All-Party Defence Study Group visit to Germany in 1989, and again in 1994 when he informed her, "I want to have sex with you, I want to fuck you, you want it as well." It was apparently this last incident that inspired Read to give up drinking.
When she is not working at the Ministry for Health Dawn apparently enjoys gardening, cooking, cinema and opera.
- ‘PRIMAROLO, Rt Hon. Dawn’, Who's Who 2008, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007 (http://www.ukwhoswho.com/view/article/oupww/whoswho/U31480, accessed 10 Feb 2008)
- About Dawn from http://www.dawnprimarolo.labour.co.uk/ViewPage.cfm?Page=2021
- The Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo MP
- Dawn Primarolo, BBC News, 21 October, 2002
- Duncan Parrish Instant Expert Kit - Dawn Primarolo, New Statesman, 8th January 1999
- Jane Merrick, Blair sorry for tax credit fiasco, Daily Mail, 23 June 2005
- Isabel Oakeshott, A fan of the opera who now faces the music, Evening Standard 22.06.05
- Simon Walters, The day leadership rival John Reid propositioned the young Brown ally Dawn Primarolo - and never drank again
Mail on Sunday, 13th May 2007
- Patrick Wintour, Primarolo admits ignorance over data losses by nine NHS trusts, The Guardian, December 24 2007
- The Dim Prawn is to be found at http://www.pukiemon.com/dimprawn.htm