Hodge was created Minister for Children in 2003 before becoming Minister of State for Culture and Tourism in 2005. On 9 June 2010 she was elected Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, in succession to Sir Edward Leigh MP. She served until 30 March 2015.
Born Margaret Eve Oppenheimer, she was known as Margaret Eve Watson from 1968 to 1978. She was styled Lady Hodge after her second husband, Sir Henry Hodge, was knighted in 2004, until her appointment as DBE in 2015 when she became Dame Margaret Hodge.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Islington Council
- 3 Parliamentary career
- 3.1 Children's Minister
- 3.2 Boosting the BNP
- 3.3 Remarks on Blair's foreign policy
- 3.4 Housing policy
- 3.5 Richmond and Bushy Parks controversy
- 3.6 Gordon Brown's ministerial appointments
- 3.7 Public Accounts Committee
- 3.8 London Garden Bridge Project
- 3.9 Views on Jeremy Corbyn
- 4 Titles, styles and honours
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
She was born in 1944 in Cairo, Egypt, to Jewish refugee parents Hans Oppenheimer (1908–1985), and his wife Lisbeth (née Hollitscher). Hans Oppenheimer left Stuttgart in Germany during the 1930s to join his uncle's metals business based in Cairo and Alexandria, where he met fellow émigrée, Austrian-born Lisbeth Hollitscher. Married in 1936, Hans and Lisbeth went on to have five children: four girls and a boy.
At the outset of World War II, the couple and their eldest daughter were rendered stateless, effectively stranded in the kingdom of Egypt for the duration of the War. They decided to leave Egypt in 1948, concerned that antisemitism had increased in the Middle East during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The family moved to Orpington, London, where the Oppenheimers started their family-owned steel-trading corporation, Stemcor. It is one of the world's largest privately held steel companies, with an annual turnover of over £6 billion in 2011. Hodge is a major shareholder, listing her holdings in the Parliamentary Register of Members' Interests. Stemcor was run by her brother, Ralph, until September 2013.
When Hodge was ten, in 1954, her mother died of stomach cancer. Hodge attended Bromley High School, followed by Oxford High School as a boarder. She went on to study at the London School of Economics, graduating with a third-class degree in Government in 1966.
She married Andrew Watson in 1968; the couple had one son and a daughter, Lizzi Watson, a BBC journalist who was appointed deputy editor of BBC news at 6pm and 10pm in February 2018. Hodge and Andrew Watson divorced in 1978 and in the same year she married Henry Hodge (later Sir Henry), by whom she had two more daughters. He was a solicitor who was appointed as a High Court Judge in 2004. He died in 2009.
Hodge was first elected as a Councillor for the London Borough of Islington in 1973. She soon became Chairman of the Housing Committee. This was an important post in a local authority which had one of the worst set of housing statistics in London during a period when London boroughs were required to be housing providers and managers. Hodge's tenure as Housing Chairman oversaw the continuation of a large new housing programme. There was a change of emphasis to the refurbishment of sound older buildings (e.g. Charteris Road, Alexander Road areas), in response to a paper published by the Islington Housing Action Group.
At one point, Hodge's Deputy Chairman was Jack Straw, who later became Foreign Secretary and also a key member of PM Tony Blair's government. The Islington Labour Party was badly affected by the defection of members and elected representatives to the Social Democratic Party. Hodge emerged as Council Leader in 1982, a post she held until 1992. Hodge was appointed MBE in 1978. However the end of her service on Islington council prior to her entering Parliament was marred by the emergence of serious child abuse allegations concerning Council-run children's homes in Islington. She apologised several times since the emergence of the scandal in the 80s that directly linked her council tenure with what she admitted was a "shameful disgrace".
Child abuse controversy
In 1985, Demetrios Panton wrote to Islington Council to complain about abuse suffered while in Council care during the 1970s and 1980s. Panton received an official response in 1989, in which the Council denied all responsibility. In 1990, Liz Davies, a senior social worker employed by the borough with her manager, David Cofie, raised concerns about sexual abuse of children under the care of Islington Council. Correspondence between Hodge and the then Director of Social Work indicates that Hodge declined a request for extra investigative resources. Instead, the Cofie–Davies investigation was dismissed by council officials in May 1990 after the police declared they had found insufficient evidence of abuse; despite this, the two social workers continued their enquiries. In 1992, the Evening Standard resumed reporting allegations of abuse in the Islington Care Homes. Its initial report was slated by Hodge as a "sensationalist piece of gutter journalism", although she has since apologised, claiming that her officials had given her false information. In 1995, the "White Report" into sexual abuse in Islington Care Homes confirmed that the Council had failed to adequately investigate the allegations, claiming that its doctrinaire interpretation of equal opportunities created a climate of fear of being branded homophobic.
In 2003, following Hodge's appointment as Minister for Children, Panton went public with his allegations that he had been the subject of abuse in Islington Council care and that although he had repeatedly raised the matter he had been ignored. He identified Hodge's complacency as being ultimately responsible for the abuse that he alleged he had suffered. Liz Davies simultaneously went public regarding the concerns she had previously raised while working for the Council. Following a media campaign by several national newspapers calling for Hodge to resign from her new post, she wrote to Panton, apologising for referring to him as "an extremely disturbed person" in an earlier letter to the BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies, which had been broadcast on Radio 4's Today programme. A formal apology to Panton was made in the High Court on 19 November 2003 by Lady Hodge's barrister together with a financial settlement of £30,000.
Hodge has served as the Labour Member for Barking since the by-election on 9 June 1994 following the death of Jo Richardson. While still a new MP, she endorsed the candidature of Tony Blair, a former Islington neighbour, for the Labour Party leadership, after the sudden death of John Smith.
Hodge was appointed Junior Minister for Disabled People in 1998 and was promoted Minister for Universities in 2001, in which capacity she piloted the controversial Higher Education Act 2004, remaining in post until 2003 when she became the inaugural Children's Minister. She was sworn into the Privy Council on 22 June 2003.
In 2003, Hodge was appointed to the newly created high-profile role of Children's minister, which included responsibility for special Education, early years education and childcare, the young people's unit, teenage pregnancy, the family policy unit, and general responsibility for child welfare.
At a keynote speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research on 26 November 2004, Hodge defended the concept of greater state regulation of individuals' choices, asserting only that "some may call it the nanny state but I call it a force for good".
In 2004 Fathers 4 Justice-campaigner Jonathan Stanesby handcuffed Hodge, stating he was arresting her for child abuse. Fathers 4 Justice targeted Hodge perceiving her as the "bogeywoman of family law, who doesn't even believe in equal parenting". Stanesby and collaborator Jason Hatch were acquitted of the charge of false imprisonment which they successfully defended as a reasonable form of political protest.
In 2005 Hodge was moved to become Minister of State in the Department for Work and Pensions with primary responsibility for employment. On 17 June 2005 she was criticised for saying that the former workers of MG Rover would be able to obtain jobs at Tesco, a local supermarket. Later, she claimed that this was not what she meant, rather that she had empathy for those losing their jobs, and was pointing to a new Tesco supermarket as an example of new jobs being created in the face of the redundancies at the car manufacturing plant.
Boosting the BNP
In April 2006 Hodge commented in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph that eight out of ten white working-class voters in her constituency might be tempted to vote for the British National Party (BNP) in the local elections on 4 May 2006 because "no one else is listening to them" about their concerns over unemployment, high house prices and the housing of asylum seekers in the area. She said the Labour Party must promote "very, very strongly the benefits of the new, rich multi-racial society which is part of this part of London for me".
There was widespread media coverage of her remarks, and Hodge was severely criticised for giving the BNP publicity. The BNP went on to gain 11 seats in the local election out of a total of 51, making them the second largest party on the local council. It was reported that Labour activists accused Hodge of generating hundreds of extra votes for the BNP, and that local members began to privately discuss the possibility of a move to deselect her. The GMB wrote to Hodge in May 2006, demanding her resignation.
The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, later accused Hodge of "magnifying the propaganda of the BNP" after she said that British residents should get priority in council house allocations. In November 2009, the Leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, announced that he intended to contest Barking at the 2010 general election. In spite of the unions' position, Hodge was returned as Member for Barking in 2010, doubling her majority to over 16,000, whilst Griffin came third behind the Conservatives. The BNP lost all of its seats on Barking and Dagenham Council.
Remarks on Blair's foreign policy
On 17 November 2006 it was reported by the Islington Tribune that Hodge described the Iraq War as a "big mistake in foreign affairs". This report, relayed by BBC News, appeared to cast doubt on Hodge's confidence in Tony Blair's foreign policy since 1998. A Downing Street spokesperson responded by pointing out that "Margaret Hodge voted for military action in Iraq. Since then, she has always spoken in favour of it."
Writing in The Observer on 20 May 2007 Hodge argued that established families should take priority in the allocation of social housing over new economic migrants, stating that "We should look at policies where the legitimate sense of entitlement felt by the indigenous family overrides the legitimate need demonstrated by the new migrants." Her comments were condemned by the Refugee Council and other representative bodies.
Richmond and Bushy Parks controversy
In January 2010, Hodge announced that Royal Parks, which manages Richmond Park and Bushy Park in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames among others, was to be allowed to charge car drivers £2 per visit. This announcement sparked protests in South London and was opposed by local politicians including Zac Goldsmith, Sir Vince Cable and Baroness Kramer.
Gordon Brown's ministerial appointments
On 27 June 2007, Hodge was reappointed Minister of State in the Department for Culture by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. As Minister of State for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism, she was quick to criticise Britain's foremost classical music festival, The Proms, for not being sufficiently inclusive, instead praising popular television shows such as Coronation Street.
Following the Cabinet reshuffle of 3 October 2008, it was announced that Hodge was "temporarily leaving Government on compassionate grounds of family illness and will return to Government in the Spring". While she was absent from government, she was temporarily replaced as Minister of State by Barbara Follett. Hodge was reappointed Minister of State responsible for Culture and Tourism on 22 September 2009,.
Public Accounts Committee
Hodge was elected by MPs to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee on 10 June 2010 in the fifth round of voting using the single transferable vote system. According to Peter Riddell, under Hodge's leadership, the PAC has held Civil Servants to account using procedure contrary to established practice. Gus O'Donnell, then head of the Civil service, accused her of presiding over a "theatrical exercise in public humiliation".
The Oppenheimers' family company, Stemcor, which had been founded by Hodge's father, Hans Oppenheimer, was run by her brother, Ralph, until September 2013. In November 2012, Helia Ebrahimi, The Daily Telegraph's City Correspondent, raised the issue of Hodge's suitability as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, reporting that her family's company "pays just 0.01pc tax on £2.1bn of business generated in the UK". This led to an investigation into the tax arrangements of a number of US companies operating in the UK.
In April 2015, The Times reported that Hodge had benefited from the closure in 2011 of a Liechtenstein foundation which held shares in Stemcor, using the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility, a legal means of returning undisclosed assets to the UK with reduced penalties. Hodge gained 96,000 shares worth £1.5 million as a result. Hodge said she had played no part in administering or establishing the scheme. She explained: "All I could do as a shareholder in a company not run by me, and over which I had no influence or control, was to ensure that any shares I held were above board and that I paid all relevant taxes in full. Every time I received any benefit from the company this happened."
Hodge has since written a book about her time as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee entitled Called to Account.
London Garden Bridge Project
In September 2016, London Mayor Sadiq Khan asked Hodge to review the Garden Bridge project. Hodge was tasked with determining whether value for money was achieved from the taxpayers' £60m contribution to the bridge, as well as investigate whether transparency standards were met by public bodies.
In April 2017, Hodge's review was published. Hodge recommended that 'It would be better for the taxpayer to accept the financial loss of cancelling the project than to risk the potential uncertain additional costs to the public purse if the project proceeds.' The report found that:
- Decisions on the Garden Bridge were driven more by electoral cycles than value for taxpayers' money
- There was not an open, fair and competitive process around two procurements
In response, the BBC's transport correspondent, Tom Edwards, reported that 'I can't remember reading a report so damning of a transport project.'
In June 2017, Andrew Boff, a Conservative member of the London Assembly, criticised Margaret Hodge’s report on the Garden Bridge, and claimed that she broke Parliamentary rules during her research. In December 2017, the Parliamentary Standards Committee found that Hodge had breached the MPs' code of conduct. The code states MPs should use public resources only "in support of parliamentary duties". The committee ruled that because the review had been commissioned by an outside body it been not been carried out as part of Hodge's parliamentary activities.
The committee recommended that Hodge apologise to the House of Commons for the breach on a point of order. Hodge subsequently apologised and said "I carried out this inquiry in good faith and in the public interest. "I think all MPs would benefit from greater clarity in the rules governing the use of offices." Hodge later repaid £2.97, which represented the cost of House of Commons stationery, after the Committee's report found that should not have used Parliamentary resources for her review.
In response to the findings of the Parliamentary Standards Committee's investigation, Andrew Boff said the Committee's findings left "a sour taste", and claimed that he found it 'hard to believe [Hodge] was unaware of the rules."
Views on Jeremy Corbyn
Vote of no confidence
In July 2018, following the National Executive Committee (NEC) adoption of a new code of conduct on antisemitism which modified some of the examples of IHRA's working definition, Hodge confronted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in parliament and called him "a fucking antisemite and a racist", Hodge subsequently said that Labour's refusal to adopt internationally recognised measures of antisemitism "make the party a hostile environment for Jews. It chose to entrench antisemitism".
Following the incident, Corbyn initially initiated a disciplinary investigation against Hodge, a Corbyn spokesperson saying that "The rules of the Parliamentary Labour Party are quite clear, that colleagues have to treat each other with respect and not bring the party into disrepute and that is why action will be taken." Shadow Secretary of State for Defence Nia Griffith said she thought it was unlikely the investigation would go ahead and that "the idea that Jeremy would want to set up an atmosphere in the party where people couldn't go and say things to him is completely absurd". Following fears that the investigation would split the party, with additional MPs set to quit the party had the investigation continued, the investigation was terminated. A Labour spoke person said that Hodge "expressed regret" for her remarks, however Hodge said that there were "no apologies, on either side".
In a Sky News interview in August, Hodge warned against the "cult of Corbynism" which she contrasted with the populism of Trump, and said that the investigation against her for challenging Corbyn over antisemitism, made her think about "what it felt like to be a Jew in Germany in the 30s". A party spokesperson called the comparison "so extreme and disconnected from reality it diminishes the seriousness of the issue of anti-Semitism". In a subsequent interview in September, Hodge said that while she had defended Corbyn against charges of antisemitism in the past, recent revelations led her to change her mind. According to Hodge, passing the IHRA definition in full would not resolve the antisemitism crisis in Labour as "The problem is that Jeremy Corbyn is the problem". However, Hodge asserted she would remain in the party and fight as it is "my Labour Party" and "the party is bigger than Corbyn".
Titles, styles and honours
- 1944–1968: Miss Margaret Oppenheimer
- 1968–1973: Mrs Margaret Watson
- 1973–1978: Councillor Margaret Watson
- 1978–1992: Councillor Margaret Hodge, MBE
- 1992–1994: Mrs Margaret Hodge, MBE
- 1994–2003: Mrs Margaret Hodge, MBE, MP
- 2003–2004: The Right Honourable Margaret Hodge, MBE, MP
- 2004–2015: The Right Honourable Lady Hodge, MBE, MP
- 2015–present: The Right Honourable Dame Margaret Hodge, DBE, MP
Hodge was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1978, and promoted to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the Dissolution Honours List of 27 August 2015.
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- 2015 Dissolution Honours List, gov.uk; accessed 11 February 2016.
- Dame Margaret Hodge MP Official constituency website
- Barking Labour Party
- Debrett's People of Today
- Profile at Parliament of the United Kingdom
- Contributions in Parliament at Hansard 2010–present
- Contributions in Parliament during 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09 2009–10 at Hansard Archives
- Contributions in Parliament at Hansard 1803–2005
- Voting record at Public Whip
- Record in Parliament at TheyWorkForYou
- Profile at Westminster Parliamentary Record
- Articles authored at Journalisted
- Appearances on C-SPAN
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
| Member of Parliament for Barking
| Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People
| Minister of State for Children
| Minister of State for Work
| Minister of State for Culture and Tourism
| Chair of the Public Accounts Committee
|Party political offices|
| Chair of the Fabian Society