European Movement 1995 - Vice Chairmen L to R: Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Edwina Currie MP, Prof Alan Watson, Giles Radice MP, Peter Mandelson MP, Emma Nicholson MP.
Aware and proud of her grandparents’ origins in Poland, Edwina has always been
pro-European. In June 1994 she was Conservative candidate for the European Parliament for
Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes, but it was a bad year for the Conservatives who lost all
but 18 seats. From 1995-97 she was Chairman of the Conservative Group for Europe, and
1995-99 was Vice-chairman of the all-party European Movement alongside Peter Mandelson
and Emma Nicholson. With other backbenchers, she was active in the Future of Europe
Trust and was its joint Chair; it helped train young politicians and hopefuls in the
newly-democratised countries of the former Warsaw Pact, as preparation for their serving their
country in their national parliaments. She visited Poland (three times), Hungary, Bosnia,
Romania, Estonia, Germany and Russia, and hosted several international conferences at
Lancaster House, London.
Edwina Currie was a Birmingham City Councillor (1975-86) and Chairman of the Central Birmingham
Health Authority and served as MP for South Derbyshire from 1983 to 1997. She entered Parliament on
the same day as both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
One of only 23 women in the House on election (out of 656 Members), she quickly became one of the
nation’s best-known MPs. In December 1988, Edwina was runner-up to Mrs Thatcher in BBC
Radio 4's "Woman of the Year" poll; the following year she came 6th in the same poll
(between Mother Theresa and Raisa Gorbachev). In 1990 she was voted "Speaker of the Year"
by the Association of Speakers' Clubs and in 1994 was chosen "Campaigner of the Year" in
the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year Awards for her work on gay equality.
1988 Dept of Health Ministers and regional chairmen
From 1985-86, Edwina was PPS (aide) to the Secretary of State for Education and Science, Sir Keith Joseph;
from 1986-88 she was a government Minister at the Department of Health and Social Security (later the Department of Health)
under Margaret Thatcher, with responsibility for campaigns on women’s health and the promotion of healthier lifestyles.
Her greatest achievement was bringing in nationwide screening systems for breast cancer and for cervical cancer,
with associated treatment services, all free of charge on the National Health Service, making Britain the first
in the world to have both. Independent research has shown that many thousands of women’s lives have been
saved in the years since. Her roles also included membership of the first UK team to tackle HIV/AIDS in 1986,
and the introduction of the triple vaccine MMR (measles, mumps rubella) for children in 1988. She was also the
first UK health minister to take a close interest in End of Life, sending out the first circular to the NHS
requiring them to work closely with local hospices and to pay for beds used.
29 Jan 1993, Any Questions from Co Durham with the late Nick Clarke
Edwina wrote her first book, “Life Lines – Politics and Health 1986-88” about these busy
years of achievement. It was published by Sidgwick and Jackson in 1989. Three of her novels are set in
Parliament – see Writing page.
In December 1988 Edwina resigned from government after warning about food safety in eggs. Mrs Thatcher’s
successor as Prime Minister, John Major, invited her to rejoin the government in 1992 as a Minister of State,
but she declined and thereafter worked from the backbenches.
A supporter of Stonewall and of TORCHE (the Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality), Edwina
took the lead in proposing legislation to give equal rights of consent to gay men, calling a
debate in February 1994, the first in the House of Commons in 25 years. The House voted to
reduce the age of consent for gays in Britain, which had been 21, to 18; it has since been
lowered to 16, the same as other groups in British society. Edwina is delighted at the substantial
improvements in the rights of her fellow citizens which have occurred in recent years, and
welcomes the change since the prejudice which greeted that first debate in 1994.
Trafalgar Sq Jan 1994 Gay Rights rally with Tony Banks MP and daughter Debbie
Other campaigns included support for our military personnel who returned from the first
Gulf War in Iraq in 1991 suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. She set up a multi-agency team
with the Royal British Legion, SSAFA, Combat Stress and others, and successfully pressed
Ministers to accept responsibility and to compensate the victims and their families.
During the 1990s she championed the cause of people with learning disabilities who had been
abused, following a famous case in her constituency which resulted in the trial and imprisonment
of a care worker. To help witnesses and victims she set up a registered charity, VOICE UK,
with funding from the Department of Health and the Home Office.
She lost her seat in the 1997 General Election. Thus were completed 22 years of elected public service.
Edwina has been a member of the Conservative Party now for half a century and continues to be
actively involved, alongside John Jones (“JJ”) her husband, who was councillor on
Reigate & Banstead Borough Council in Surrey. She is in much demand for fund-raiser and
speaker events for party members and sympathisers throughout the UK and abroad, and mentored
several new MPs into the current Parliament. She says, “I am a fan of the new modern
party under David Cameron’s leadership. I particularly applaud his efforts to have far
more Tory women MPs in future.”
Much of her time is devoted to non-partisan community work, for example as Patron of MRSA Action (UK)
mrsaactionuk.net and as a member and former trustee of the charity
Patients Association (www.patients-association.org.uk).
These groups campaign on behalf of patients, particularly for cleaner hospitals and the avoidance of
acquired infections through "superbugs" such as MRSA and clostridium difficile.
A fourth career is emerging, as a campaigning pensioner.
For two years till 2014 Edwina was a member of the Greater Life Advisory Board of McCarthy & Stone, builders
of 70% of the UK’s retirement apartments for owner occupation. In October 2013 she presided over the
Housing for Older People awards annual event at the National Motorcycle Museum. She was on the Mental Health
Foundation’s inquiry into baby boomers, mental health and ageing well entitled “Getting On.. with Life” published May 2013. In November 2016
she will give the Annual Lecture at the National Osteoporosis Society in London, and she speaks regularly on “Growing Old Disgracefully.”
“As an economist and a
pensioner, I worry that too few people think about the challenges of getting older – where to live, how
to arrange finances, how to ensure help is close at hand when it’s needed,” she says. “Governments have
turned a blind eye for too long to the rapid increases in the elderly population, a large proportion of
whom live alone. Yet our older generations are a vital source of knowledge and experience. We
already have more citizens over 85 than youngsters under 16, but it’s taking too long for planners
and families to catch up on this important fact.”