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MP believes her resolve will see her triumph

Jun 19 2003
Windsor and Eton Express
Less than a week after she was made a Home Office minister by Tony Blair, Slough's MP has chosen to talk candidly to her constituents about her battle with cancer.

Fiona Mactaggart, 49, is no lightweight when it comes to a fight, be it personal or political.

Nine years ago, she was diagnosed with the degenerative disease multiple sclerosis, but that never stopped the former teacher and Wandsworth councillor from being elected to parliament in 1997 to represent the people of Slough.

As an MP she has not been afraid of speaking out even if that means criticising her own party on occasion.

Since entering parliament, she has urged a speedier reduction in the backlog of immigration and asylum appeals and campaigned for an easier process by which the Pakistani relatives of some of her constituents would be allowed to visit Britain.

In announcing publicly for the first time that she has ovarian cancer and that in recent months she has been undergoing intensive chemotherapy, Miss Mactaggart explained that she felt her constituents had the right to know about her illness.

In her typical matter of fact style, she said: "Yes I have this very serious illness. Yes I have had fantastic treatment from the National Health Service, and I am planning to be around for a while longer."

On a more personal note, Miss Mactaggart talked of the stress felt by her and her family as a result of the disease and why the treatment made it hard for her to talk about her illness in public.

She said: "The chemotherapy made me very emotional. It was hard for me to speak about it [the illness] because people think their MP should be quite strong.

"I have managed to do that while I was doing my job, but I am not sure I could do that while I was talking about my illness."

Turning to the future and her new job as Parliamentary Under Secretary for race equality, community policy and civic renewal, Miss Mactaggart said: "I am planning to beat this, but it is one of those things you have to deal with day by day.

"Clearly the Prime Minister thinks I can beat it or he wouldn't have given me this job."

Notified of her new post just last Friday, Miss Mactaggart has had her feet under her new desk for only a couple of days, after sticking to her original weekend plan to go walking in the Cotswolds with her ramblers group.

But she has already started working at her new portfolio. Much of Tuesday was spent discussing how better to engage with Muslim women in the UK with Cherie Blair and Mrs Musharif, the wife of the Pakistani president.

To start with there is much work to do, but once the new minister has got her head round exactly what needs to be done she has promised to deliver a race equality strategy to be proud of.

She added: "The thing that's really exciting me is that the reason I wanted to become the MP for Slough is my history of campaigning against racism. And now I have a chance to make that part of government policy.

"I am really excited about it; too often people learn their jobs after they get posted. I have already been informed by my constituency on my job - so I can hit the ground running."

Copyright © 2003, Trinity Mirror Plc.