Dame Margaret Beckett, Britain’s first female Foreign Secretary, has announced that she intends to retire at the next general election, after serving as MP for Derby South for 38 years.
Derby Labour Party announced today that the 79-year-old politician would not be running for re-election in 2024 at the forthcoming general election, marking the end of a long and illustrious career in the Labour Party that has seen her hailed as a ‘legend‘.
First Female Foreign Secretary
First elected as MP for Derby South in 1983, Beckett was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party, and also served as acting leader in 1994 after leader John Smith suddenly died. She then ran to lead the party full-time, but lost to future Prime Minister Tony Blair.
When Blair was elected as Prime Minister in 1997, Beckett would serve in his Cabinet throughout his tenure, becoming the first woman in Britain to hold the position of Foreign Secretary – a role now held by Liz Truss.
‘Four decades of resolute dedication’
Beckett, who is also the UK’s longest-serving female MP, before holding the seat of Derby South, was the MP for Lincoln between 1974 and 1979.
At this time, there were only 27 female MPs – there are now 220. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today show, Beckett said she would still recommend a career in politics to young women: ‘It wouldn’t put me off because what I felt when I was considering being an MP is I think equally true today.’
“If you think things should be changed and you want to have a say in changing them and you don’t have wealth and power, there’s a very limited number of routes that you can use and this is the biggest of them.”
This announcement has been met with an outpouring of praise for Beckett, who has been seen as a pillar of the Labour Party. Deputy leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner noted Beckett’s ‘many years of dedication to public service and to better politics‘, with current Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer praising Beckett for ‘four decades of resolute dedication to Derby South‘, calling her ‘a legend of [the Labour] Party’.
He added: ‘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.’