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In the latest extract from the explosive memoirs of Labour Party veteran Hugh McCallion, we lift the lid on Edwina Currie’s time as a Birmingham councillor. Today, the former Health Secretary’s legendary appetite at the buffet table (and there’ll be more Edwina revelations tomorrow.)

Some politicians who passed through the Council on their way to Westminster, did so after a constructive period at local level. Some - like Edwina Currie for instance - passed through like a lingering dose of salts which, for better or worse, certainly left a lasting impression.

When she arrived on the scene, no one was in any doubt from day one that she was using the Council as a stepping stone to Parliament and she didn’t mind who or what she stepped on to achieve her goal. She never missed an opportunity to pontificate whether in the Council chamber, the media or at public meetings.

Her main assets were that she was bright, she had a hide like a rhinoceros and took insults as compliments. She also had a superb capacity for gimmickry and her ability to sensationalise and distort facts was difficult for more conventional politicians to handle.

There are many stories about Edwina’s time in Birmingham, some of which may well have been manufactured, but some I know to be true from having witnessed them or even being personally involved.

There was one notable occasion in the Council chamber when Edwina was lecturing us for about the fifth time and an exasperated Labour member jumped to his feet and said, “Lord Mayor, one good thing about having Edwina Currie on the Council is none of us ever need to take a laxative.” She smiled sweetly and said, “Thanks for appreciating my interest in health matters.”

Edwina’s capacity for food was legendary. On one occasion a group of eight was due to visit an Urban Renewal office. For convenience and speed, eight separate plates of sandwiches were prepared. However, only six members turned up. Edwina devoured two plates of sandwiches and put the other one in her bag. There was nothing surreptitious about this, she did it quite openly.

On another occasion when she was at a reception in the Council House for voluntary workers, she proceeded to fill a large plastic bag with left-over food. One of my Labour colleagues remarked, “You must have a big dog.”

Completely oblivious to the surprised looks she was getting from some of those present she said: “I haven’t got a dog. These are for my husband and kids”.

Edwina and I were invited to be part of the audience in the filming of an ITV programme called “Meet The Boss.” The subject of the first programme was Tom Jackson, the General Secretary of the Post Office Workers Union (he of the handlebar moustache). From memory I think I managed one question but Edwina, as is her wont, got at least three.

After the programme she collared the producer and demanded a fee. He explained that fees were not payable for audience participation but that wasn’t good enough for the lady from Liverpool.

She argued and wrote letters for months until they finally surrendered and sent her £17.00 - possibly nuisance money. As my dear old mother would have said: “She’d wrestle a ghost for a farthing.”

The antics of Edwina whilst she was a back bencher were small beer to how she behaved when, after four years on the Council, the Tories allowed her to take the chair of social services.

She ran around like a demented demon trying to be everywhere at once and set up a virtual conveyor belt to churn out stories calculated to boost her image and enhance her CV.

The departmental press officer was David Hallam who later became a Member of the European Parliament. Trotting after Edwina and issuing press releases that were very often contrived nonsense was obviously good training for his future role.

It must have been good training for Edwina as well for she hadn’t been long in Parliament before she was lecturing the elderly on knitting woolly hats and jumpers for the winter and giving dietary advice to Geordies - which they appreciated of course.

(Tomorrow - The Day Edwina showed her knickers. To read part one of Hugh's memoirs, about current Tory cabinet member Len Clark, click here)

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