Glenda Jackson’s 5 greatest speeches

Glenda Jackson’s 5 greatest speeches

The iconic British actress and politician Glenda Jackson has died at the age of 87. 

After a celebrated career on the stage and in film, Jackson became the MP for Hampstead and Highgate in north London in 1992, a position she held for 23 years. She was appointed junior transport minister with responsibility for London after Labour won the 1997 election. 

She chose to step down in 2015, after a political career shaped by her commitment to human rights, in particular for the rights of people living in poverty and experiencing homelessness. She was outspoken, utterly unafraid to challenge the government, and undoubtedly one of the greatest public speakers Britain has had, likely in part thanks to her talent as a performer. Here we look back at five of her most brilliant, defining speeches. 

On the government’s cuts to benefits for parents and children

In 2011, the Conservative government had begun a campaign to reform the UK’s welfare system, which led to many cuts in benefits. Addressing MP David Gauke in Parliament, she said: 

“Will the Minister tell us how his government are helping the poorest in our society? Hundreds of families in my constituency are going to lose working family tax credit and will not be able to increase their hours. They are facing the possibility of losing their homes because of the cap on housing benefit, and of losing services because of the cuts to local authorities. The people who are most dependent on such services are inevitably the poorest in our society, yet his government seem quite deliberately to be attacking them, perhaps because they believe that there are no votes in that part of the country.”

Her position against the Iraq War

In 2003 Jackson had voted against the Iraq War, and ten years later, as fellow politicians commemorated its tenth anniversary, she continued to speak against it. 

“In my lexicon an anniversary is something to be celebrated. There is nothing to be celebrated about the Iraq war, the most disastrous foreign policy in my lifetime and possibly in the history of this country.”

On Margaret Thatcher: “A woman? Not on my terms” 

Her most famous speech came in April 2013, speaking two days after former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death. Attacking Thatcher’s cuts to healthcare, education, mental healthcare programmes, and social housing, she continued for eight minutes despite the braying of ministers from the opposition in Parliament. 

“Our schools, parents, teachers, governors, even pupils, seem to spend an inordinate amount of time fundraising in order to be able to provide basic materials such as paper and pencils; the plaster on our classroom walls are kept in place by artwork by pupils and miles and miles of sellotape.

“But by far, the most dramatic and heinous demonstration of Thatcherism was certainly not only in London, but across the whole country and metropolitan areas where every single shop doorway, every single night became the bedroom, the living room, and the bathroom for the homeless. Many of those homeless people have been thrown out onto the streets from the long term closure of mental hospitals.  We were told it was going to be called, and it was called, “care in the community”, what it was in effect was no care in the community, at all. 

“My honourable friend from Hackney [MP Diane Abbott] referred to the fact that although she had differed with Lady Thatcher in her policies, she felt duty bound to come here to pay tribute to the first woman Prime Minister this country had produced. I am of a generation that was raised by women, as the men had all gone to war to defend our freedoms. They did not just run a Government; they ran a country. The women whom I knew, who raised me and millions of people like me, who ran our factories and our businesses, and who put out the fires when the bombs dropped, would not have recognised their definition of womanliness as incorporating an iconic model of Margaret Thatcher. To pay tribute to the first Prime Minister denoted by female gender, okay; but a woman? Not on my terms.” 

On the government’s failure to reform the benefits system

In 2014 Jackson addressed Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith in Parliament over the decision to overhaul the benefits system in favour of a single payment called Universal Credit, and a new assessment system that meant staff from the Department of Work and Pensions had to conduct benefit eligibility tests that made it much harder for thousands of people with disabilities and long term illnesses to claim welfare. 

The move was criticised by charities and human rights organisations for leading to scandalous rises in the need for food banks and increasing levels of poverty. 

“We have all become used to the Secretary of State avoiding answering any kind of direct questions or actively engaging in any of the serious issues which have to do with the destruction of the welfare state and the total and utter incompetence of his department, by opting for a self serving, sanctimonious service, as opposed to any direct speech. 

“The Secretary of State who has stood at that despatch box, I’m going back now a very long way I see, avowedly taking exclusive responsibility for the delivery of everything from IT systems to Universal Credit to taking people out of poverty when in fact, he has actually plunged thousands and thousands of our fellow citizens in internalised abject penury.” 

On the lack of acting roles for women 

Jackson returned to acting after quitting politics. In this interview with PBS in 2018, she was asked by journalist Jeffrey Brown why she thought there was a lack of interesting roles for women in contemporary theatre. 

“You’re a man. You tell me. Why do men, who are in the main still the majority of contemporary dramatists, find us so boring? They just don’t seem to think that being a woman is either interesting or dramatic or challenging or dangerous, or any of the things that any woman in the world knows our lives can and not infrequently are.” 

Featured image: Glenda Jackson,July 2022. Photo: Raph_PH / CC BY 2.0

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