Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Sarah on the Stump: The Prime Minister's Wife Has Been out Pressing the Flesh and Leavening the Brown Brand as Labour Struggles to Repel the SNP in Yet Another Knife-Edge Scottish By-Election

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Sarah on the Stump: The Prime Minister's Wife Has Been out Pressing the Flesh and Leavening the Brown Brand as Labour Struggles to Repel the SNP in Yet Another Knife-Edge Scottish By-Election

Article excerpt

Unlocking his car in Carden Castle Park, John Martin had no idea that the Prime Minister's wife, Sarah Brown--together with her entourage of supporters and minders--was about to descend on this small, quiet estate on the edge of the Fife constituency of Glenrothes in Scotland. And yet, unprompted, he suggested that a visit from Mrs Brown might just make the difference in a seat that Labour had held since 1950 but was in danger of losing to the Scottish National Party (SNP) at the by-election on 4 November. "Gordon's a bit stony-faced," said Dr Martin, a lifelong Labour voter. "If his wife comes up she'll open a few doors for him. There was something about that speech she gave at the Manchester conference; she's got something about her."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Soon afterwards Sarah Brown was walking down this same street, together with the Labour candidate, Lindsay Roy, the present headmaster of Brown's old school of Kirkcaldy High (motto: "Usque conabor", or, in Brown's translation, "I will try my utmost"). Wearing a blue skirt, black boots and a jacket pulled close to her against the bitter wind, she was smiling as she knocked on doors and introduced herself to bewildered locals. Meanwhile, from adjoining houses, people were watching what was going on from upstairs windows. Opening the door of 99 Carden Castle Park, Joni Doig, 34, could only say, "Oh my God" as she was confronted by Mrs Brown, Roy, and Iain Gray, the leader of Scottish Labour. Her son, Kori, had once met Gordon Brown at a Raith Rovers match, she said. "He's a good man," was Mrs Brown's quiet response.

Later in the week, the Prime Minister himself arrived in the constituency, which Labour held at the last general election with a majority of more than 10,000 (19,395 votes to the SNP's 8,731). With a population of just under 40,000, Glenrothes, a former coal-mining area, is, or at least once was, a working class Labour stronghold. It borders Brown's own constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

The daughter of a Scottish father, who was a publisher, and an English mother, who was a teacher, Sarah Brown (nee Macaulay) went to Camden School for Girls in north London and studied psychology at Bristol University. After graduating she worked in marketing and public relations, and set up the firm Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications with her school friend Julia Hobsbawm. It was while organising Labour events in the 1990s that she met Gordon Brown. Such was their deepening friendship that, at the 1998 Labour party conference, John Prescott, then deputy prime minister, said, while speaking on stage: "Gordon, forget prudence and name a date for Sarah. She's a lovely lass."

Two years later, they married in Fife. Although Sarah Brown "never does interviews", according to a Downing Street spokesman, she is suddenly seen as an electoral asset after an emotional introduction to her husband's speech at this year's Manchester conference. "We want to get her out more, but Gordon and she are reluctant," says a party source. "She will probably have to do an interview at some point, but not yet."

That Sarah Brown was out in Fife last week is a reminder of just how high the stakes remain for the upcoming by-election, which is necessary because of the death in August of the MP John MacDougall, and it follows the traumatic loss of Glasgow East to the SNP in July.

Brown has regained some of his personal standing in the country in recent weeks, and the most recent poll in the Independent put the Tories' lead at just 8 per cent (they were 20 per cent ahead before the Manchester conference). Lots done, in other words, but lots more to do.

However, it remains a delicate situation for Brown, summed up by Marina Stewart as she emerges from Clydesdale Bank in the Kingdom Shopping Centre in the centre of Glenrothes. A middle-aged nurse with red hair, Stewart says she has been a Labour supporter all her life. And now? …

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