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- Listening Length: 14 hours and 52 minutes
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- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Random House AudioBooks
- Audible.co.uk Release Date: 15 Mar. 2011
- Language: English
- ASIN: B004SBNH3O
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Behind the Black Door Audiobook – Unabridged
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Ten years later, in late June 2007, Gordon Brown, and his wife Sarah, were welcomed into N° 10 by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O' Donnell, and they walked through to be greeted by tradition of staff clapping their new PM in. She felt a frisson in the air perhaps because it was immediately after goodbyes had been said to the previous tenants (not mentioned), and perhaps it was because another Labour crowd was moving in. For Brown, what was different was he was the first Chancellor of the Exchequer since Herbert Asquith, and his wife Margot, to move into N°10 from next door. Also as Brown's predecessor had a large family, and required greater living space, it had been agreed that Blair would live in the flat in N°11, whereas the Browns already resided in the flat above N°10 and once inside they were met as if at home by their two young boys, three year old John and 11 month Fraser.
Just as there had existed discontent since 2001 between the two men The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World: Blair and Brown, there had been bitchiness between the women, with Cherie hinting Sarah was pushing Gordon on Speaking For Myself: The Autobiography. Truth? Sarah denies everything, by saying nothing. Cherie admitted she let Tony know firmly her opinions about policies being carried out, whereas Sarah claims she never troubled Gordon over policy which was outside her portfolio.
After a brief honeymoon period throughout the silly season until early September 2007, including his popular response to the flooding and the terrorist attempts at Glasgow airport, Brown's entire tenure involved settling the growing financial international meltdown. He was realistic that however successful he would prove (first, over Northern Rock, then, HBOS) he and Labour would encounter great opposition, because as after 1993, it was a time for change. Funnily, however, Brown never gave any credit to Labour's early successes in Parliament to the state the Tories left the economy, because he could never credit the Tories with anything.
In contrast, Sarah's love and support held no bounds, stating on every occasion each speech at Party conferences, to national audiences and on international platforms was excellent, well prepared, delivered, and treated each time as "perhaps his best", while the media's response seemed cruel, unfair, biased, and down-right offensive. Thin skinned, yes, but she was not totally wrong.
All her comments are based on a diary style report, compiled months after their departure from N°10 in May 2010 after the Labour defeat, appear very selective, and is understandably partisan towards Gordon, and Labour, and against their opponents - whether against top civil servants, such as O' Donnell himself, leaking horror tales of his tetchy "Stalinist" behaviour against subordinates; the media reporting his angry "misunderstood" comments, and his "bigot" outburst against Mrs Gillian Duffy in Rochdale, during the General election, and not stressing his lovable, sensitive, and approachable side even after the death of David Cameron's disabled son, Ivan, or of their own baby daughter Jennifer who lived for ten days until January 2002; or against his political opponents not mentioning any growing support either for the Lib Dems, and in particular to leader Nick Clegg, after the first leaders' debate, or Brown's refusal to treat the Lib Dems even handedly in the coalition discussions 22 Days in May: The Birth of the Lib Dem-Conservative Coalition by David Laws Published by Biteback (2010), much less even breathing the name of the wicked Tories.
To show, however, that she was not impartial, she then happily supported her friend Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, not because she is a modern independent, care free woman, but because she too is New Labour, and a councillor to boot. If she causes her hubby John, a Tory, any embarrassment, one should expect three merry cheers. If that's what you think Sarah, don't be afraid to say it!
Cherie Blair liked repeating that being working class she was unprepared or informed of the duties of the Premier's spouse, but neither was her predecessor, the Conservative middle class former schoolteacher Norma Major. Like Sarah, they all only learnt what was off-limits; but neither Norma, nor Mary Wilson or Audrey Callaghan, or Sarah again made a fuss here; they just got on with their lives. Is Sarah making a point, or sharpening her knife against the previous spouse?
After marrying Gordon Brown, Sarah gave up her full time career in a single charity organization, but remained active first in two bodies: PiggyBankKids, and the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory at Edinburgh University, and after entering N°10 a third, championing the cause of maternal health in her role as Global Patron of The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and co-founding of the Maternal Mortality Campaign.
What is not said in this volume was that such ventures were not unique, but in the style of a earlier radical PM spouse, Catherine, wife of WE Gladstone, except while Mrs Gladstone operated as a local activist Prime Ministers' Wives - and One Husband, Sarah was kept fully occupied all hours nationally and internationally when her husband was laying out his personal and the British government's position on a variety of political and economic themes.
If Sarah behaved unnaturally frivolously at the national level, regularly patronizing London Fashion Week on stage with the famous models and British designers Julien MacDonald, Ozwald Boateng and Matthew Williamson, dressed in recent designer haute coiture and high heeled, she also worked very hard to spread the voice of her major concern so as to attract much ever needed financial support.
It is expected, these days, that the spouse joins forces at the international level with fellow First Ladies, like Laura Bush until 2008, and Michelle Obama, and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy after, in order to further like minded causes, the last on board being shepherded and calmly schooled how best to obtain good results unobserved. Unsuspectedly, such social deeds were acceptable to both Gordon and Labour because they work indirectly within, and advance the policies of the Ministry for International Development.
Occasionally, she was furthermore happy to state she had managed to persuade other foreign leaders, such as US President George W. Bush, to push her cause of educational and maternal care within the Millennium Development Goals up the policy agenda despite the financial crisis, or even trying, interestingly enough, to influence others to support her husband's project to promote Tony Blair's candidature, in 2009 as President of the European Council only to learn through Angela Merkel's husband, Joachim Sauer, that the leaders Sarkozy, Merkel, and Berlusconi, of France, Germany, and Italy, huddled conspiratorially in a dark corner, had high hopes that Brown himself would agree to jump ship from Westminster and join the lucrative European gravy train. She never explains the reason why Gordon was considered so popular and appropriate by these persons for such a position, when in Britain he was being described as stick in the mud, though she knew for sure what Gordon's answer would have been. Whether Sarah Brown realised she was working voluntarily and unpaid as a political animal for the Labour Government, she never complained, enjoying herself immensely as it meant her man would finally benefit and receive his due deserves.
One irritating thing about this book, however, in this digital world is the absence of an index. It is useful for any student, and of course reviewers - I won't hold this too much against the author, though the publisher should know better.
Over the 35 months many ordinary people were invited across the threshold of N°10 Downing Street because Sarah felt it was a public building for all the public. Behind the Black Door treats frocks, some bitchiness, and a lot about Gordon. It is first written for women, those interested in politics, and in particular for Labour voters. Since it was written very quickly over a few months, it is an informative and useful guide to the Brown years before Gordon decides to deliver his own version of the truth by someone close to the decisions.
Remember, however, in a world where Labour lost two elections, first in 2010, and then five years on, in May 2015, and is trying to find itself an identity that is not entirely Blairite nor New Labour (but neither one that was thought a failure in 1983 and kept Labour in the wilderness for a decade), this book appears warmer towards its hero, the longest Chancellor, a historian, and a scholar of the economy, than one by a regular contributor of the Guardian, and somewhat unnecessarily over critical of herself. She would admit she would never be defined as the second Cherie Blair, just the first Mrs Brown, mother of Jennifer, John, and Fraser, without whom Gordon would still be half a man; an Englishwoman, now happily living in Scotland as part of a traditional British family.
How disappointed I was! I put it down after just a couple of chapters of 'Today Gordon was off doing important things and I had tea and scones with such-and-such and I was wearing a lovely blue hat'.
Unfortunately, this book boils down to little more than inane chit-chat, statements about Being A Mother, and name dropping.
Unless the whole tone and writing style change completely after the little that I read, it is with great regret that I cannot recommend it at all.
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