Dame Margaret Eve Hodge, Lady Hodge, DBE (née Oppenheimer; born 8 September 1944) is a British Labour politician, who has served as Member of Parliament for Barking since 1994.
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 influential Public Accounts Committee, in succession to Sir Edward Leigh MP.
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. After her appointment as DBE in 2015 she became Dame Margaret Hodge.
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 his 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 anti-semitism 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. This is still a privately held company, which is today one of the world's largest privately-owned steel companies, achieving an annual turnover of over £6 billion in 2011. Dame Margaret is still a major shareholder, listing her holdings in the Parliamentary Register of Members' Interests. Stemcor was run by her brother, Ralph, until September 2013.
Hodge is very proud of her status as the daughter of immigrants, and her upbringing in Orpington, saying in 2015: "I’m an immigrant ... My father was German-Jewish and had a very heavy German accent, and I remember going home with a black boyfriend and being lambasted by my parents. I’ve grown up with the notion that immigrants very quickly become settled and turn their anger and hostility on the following wave. I get that in Barking."
Margaret's mother died from stomach cancer on Christmas Day in 1954, when Hodge was aged ten. She was educated first at Bromley High School before attending Oxford High School as a boarder. She went on to study at the London School of Economics, graduating with a third-class Government degree in 1966.
From 1966 to 1973 Hodge worked at Unilever in market research and in PR at Weber Shandwick where her boss was Jo-ann Goldberg. From 1992 to 1994, she was a Senior Consultant at Price Waterhouse.
She married Andrew Watson in 1968; the couple had one son and a daughter. They divorced in 1978, and Margaret went on to marry Henry Hodge (later Sir Henry; died 2009) by whom she had two more daughters: he was a solicitor, fellow Labour Borough Councillor and Chairman of the National Council for Civil Liberties before being addressed as Mr Justice Hodge after he was appointed as a High Court Judge.
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 confessedly 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 pursued their own further enquiries. In early 1992, Davies (not to be confused with the barrister and former Islington Councillor) resigned from her post and again requested that Scotland Yard investigate the allegations.
In 1992, the Evening Standard resumed reporting allegations of abuse in 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. Shortly afterwards Hodge resigned to pursue a career with Price Waterhouse. In 1995, the "White Report" into sexual abuse in Islington Care Homes confirmed that the Council had failed to adequately investigate the allegations, blaming 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 a Junior Minister 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.
Support for the Iraq War
Hodge voted in favour of invading Iraq in 2003 and against investigating the Iraq war.
Hodge was appointed Minister for Children when the post was created for her in 2003, but she soon ran into difficulties when the Islington controversy erupted again; her resignation was repeatedly requested by the media and parliamentary adversaries and she was eventually transferred to less visible posts.
Privacy International awarded Lady Hodge the 2004 Big Brother Award for "Worst Public Servant" for her backing of controversial initiatives including the Universal Child Database. 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 by the English Courts of the charge of false imprisonment which they successfully defended as a reasonable form of political protest.
In 2005 Hodge was transferred to Minister of State in the Department for Work and Pensions with primary responsibility for Work. 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.
Fighting 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. Local Labour activists attempted to blame Lady Hodge, and it was reported that moves were under way to deselect her (as PPC). The GMB wrote to Hodge in May 2006, demanding her resignation as a scapegoat for those election results.
The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, later accused Hodge of "magnifying the propaganda of the British National Party" 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 "moral imperialism", citing her grave concerns over British 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. 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 amongst 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 caring for her terminally-ill husband, Sir Henry Hodge, she was replaced as Minister of State by Barbara Follett MP.
On 22 September 2009, Hodge was reappointed Minister of State responsible for Culture and Tourism.
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, claiming 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."
Shortly after the 2015 general election it emerged that Hodge would not be standing for re-election to the Public Accounts Committee. She was succeeded as Chair in June 2015 by Meg Hillier.
Margaret Hodge has since written a book about her time as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee entitled 'Called to Account'
2016 Letter of no confidence in Labour leader
Together with Ann Coffey she submitted a letter to the Parliamentary Labour Party chairman requesting a vote on a motion of no confidence in the party leader Jeremy Corbyn in June 2016.
Names, titles, styles and honours
- Miss Margaret Oppenheimer (8 September 1944 – 1968)
- Mrs Andrew Watson (1968–1973)
- Cllr Mrs Andrew Watson (1973–1978)
- Cllr Mrs Henry Hodge (1978–1978)
- Cllr Mrs Henry Hodge, MBE (1978–1992)
- Mrs Henry Hodge, MBE (1992–1994)
- Mrs Henry Hodge, MBE, MP (1994–2003)
- The Rt Hon. Margaret Hodge, MBE, MP (2003–2004)
- The Rt Hon. Lady Hodge, MBE, MP (2004–2015)
- The Rt Hon. Dame Margaret Hodge, DBE, MP (2015 onwards)
Hodge was appointed Member (MBE) in 1978 and promoted Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the Dissolution Honours List of 27 August 2015.