Neil is, as it happens, now a European Commissioner and works in a building just round the corner. Together the Kinnocks certainly earn an enviable whack. She gets a British MEP's salary plus expenses. He gets pounds 103,000 plus a pounds 40,000 expense allowance, which makes him far better paid than, say, Tony Blair. Their combined income must be around the pounds 200,000 mark, which, for a couple of defeated old socialists who were out of jobs in 1992, isn't bad going. There are some who even say they have hit the Euro jackpot and have got very posh and fat and rich and Hello! I, however, would say this was unfair. I try desperately to take Glenys down the "bugger socialism, let's all go to Prada route", which would most certainly be an EEC directive if I had my way, but she won't have it. "Bananas," she says. Pardon? "Look at this banana!" she cries.
We are in one of the parliament's coffee bars. The bananas are for sale on the counter. She is waving one furiously in the air. "Look at it," she repeats. I say it looks like a nice banana. Sort of yellow and crescent- shaped, which, to my mind, is just how a banana should be. "But read the sticker," she cries. "Where is it from?" It's from Ecuador. "Exactly," she says. "We should not be buying bananas from Ecuador. We should be supporting the Caribbean banana growers." Should we? "Yes. Yes. They are being squeezed out by the Americans. I have written memos saying only Caribbean bananas should be on sale here. I shall have to write another." Yes, you shall, I concur, affecting great outrage. I even add: "It's terrible that they should sell Ecuadorian bananas here. It's a disgrace!" God, I'm a hopeless and despicable and cheap old fake. I don't think Glenys is, though. Her concern, I'm sure, is genuinely and passionately felt. In many ways she might have always been rather too good for us.
Certainly, she and Neil were always the real thing, rather than the Islington thing, as far as Labour were concerned. And, it occurs to me, this is actually what did them in. They just weren't swish or superficial enough for the self-interested, GTI-driving, a-banana-is-just-a-banana sort of people we became from the Seventies onwards. Glenys, I think, would agree. She even says: "I wonder, now, if someone from Neil's background can ever be Prime Minister."
"Because of snobbery. Because he's the son of a steelworker from Wales."
"So Labour, in order to get in, had to appear classier?"
"Yes. It had to adapt."
"But how much of the `New Labour' adaptation has actually been capitulation?"
"Well, there is no point sitting around cherishing an ideology if you can't get elected, is there?"
"OK. Did you mind Tony Blair sending his child to a selective school outside his borough?
"It's not something I would have done, no."
"Did you object to the reduction in the single-parent benefit?"
"I did write to Harriet Harman, saying I didn't agree."
"So, in short, would you say New Labour were actually still Labour?"
"I would say the nuances are different, but the principles remain the same. And I think Tony would say that too."
So, no, she won't be drawn along the "New Labour are rubbish route", either. It is to her credit, of course, but, still, it can make her appear a bit tedious and Stepford Wifey at times. It would be nice if, occasionally, she got worked up about something that had nothing to do with bananas. But I don't think that's her, really.
Anyway, into the parliament's restaurant for lunch. It is the sort of place that tries to be smart but isn't. I order the "vegetarian dish of the day", because Glenys does and I'm a hopeless and despicable old sycophant on top of everything else. The vegetarian choice turns out to be a sort of nasty, Linda McCartney veggieburger covered in something closely related to Heinz salad cream. It might even be Linda McCartney, now I think of it. They are served to us under huge silver dome thingies that the waiters whip off at the same time. "I do wish they wouldn't do that," hisses Glenys, mortified. She adds: "Lunch is usually a bowl of cereal at my desk."
The Kinnocks commute between their house in Wales and their house in Brussels which, she says, "is just a little place 10 minutes away, and not some great palace". I ask her what the most extravagant thing she's ever done is. She says she can't think of anything. Does she like shopping at all? Oh yes, she replies, "but it's mostly Marks & Spencer or Jaeger". Neil, it transpires, is even more hopeless. "He's very utilitarian. Just CDs and books. You can leave him in a bookshop and collect him hours later." What do they spend their money on, then? Well, she says, they do have nice holidays. It was Mauritius last Christmas, and Tuscany with John and Penny Mortimer in the summer. "Penny and I went shopping in Sienna. She bought a gorgeous coat. But when we got it back, John said: `Yes, Penny, it's very nice, but you already have an overcoat.' " That's men for you, I say. "Yes," says Glenys, "but they are good at taking the rubbish out." No they're not, I protest. All they're good at is compacting it down so that they don't have to take it out. "And then there is that," she agrees. We are beginning to bond now, I think.
Glenys, who was elected to the European Parliament as the Labour member for Wales South East four years ago, likes being an MEP very much. "Although, when I was first approached for the job, I thought `no, no, no!' It's not my bag." Why not? "Because, over the years, I'd been conditioned to stand on the sidelines. And I've never been personally ambitious. But then I thought: Why not throw my hat into the ring?" It has taken her a long time, she says, "to realise I was the person who was meant to be in the photographs". She talks a great deal about the issues she is concerned with. Aside from bananas, there is Namibia, Third World poverty and a factory back home which is faced with closure and makes "semiconductors". What, small people who wave batons in front of orchestras? I ask, undoing all my good bonding work in a single, foolish moment. "No. It's to do with electricity," she replies. Anyway, it's been rumoured that she might take on the Ron Davies job. True? All she will say is: "It's up to the Welsh executive what happens next." Does she know Ron? "I've known him since the Sixties. I feel the deepest sympathy for him."
I don't think, actually, that she is personally ambitious. Or was ever a kind of Lady Macbeth, urging her husband on, which is how the press always saw it. "I was always vilified as a manipulative harridan, in the most misogynist way." Yes, she wanted Neil to succeed. But, I think, she wanted him to succeed not for success's sake, but because she thought he would be genuinely good for the country and deserved it. She has yet, I think, to forgive the British press for their treatment of him, either. "They said he was weak. Yet his first job was to clear out the people who were being destructive, who weren't interested in the greater good and were just feathering their own nests. There was a lot of misery and infighting, but he did what had to be done, and that's not weak, is it?" Neil did, indeed, do the bulk of the work when it came to modernising Labour, and yet he never made it to the promised land. How disappointing, I say. Yes, says Glenys, it was.
"It would have been nice if he could have reaped the benefits. He'd have made a good Prime Minister." How did it feel, after the '92 defeat? "I took it very badly. I cried for days. It had been such a major part of our life. But then
I went on a diet and wrote a book and just got on with it." And how did you feel when, on 1 May last year, you saw Tony and Cherie waving from the doorstep of Number 10? Did you want to machine-gun them? "No. No. It was wonderful. I'd worked very hard for it. It was a great joy. The idea that I could feel resentment..."
As I said, she is a much better person than most of us.
Glenys Parry was born in 1944, into a family of working-class socialists, Her father, a railway signalman, was chairman of the Anglesey Labour Party. As a child, she was taken canvassing and developed an early taste for the political fray. She was a bright girl and a big reader. "My friend Lynn and I were always going to the library to get stories out. The librarian was a funny little lady who looked like Margaret Rutherford and kept her dog in a drawer. She wasn't meant to have the dog there, so every time we came in she'd slam the door shut. She started us on historical novels then got us on to biographies." Glenys is still a big reader. She has just "finished a Beryl Bainbridge" and is about to "start a Rose Tremain". Neil, she says, likes political thrillers, which she can't do with at all. "Even at the end, I still don't know who's done it. I'm the same at the cinema. I see Harrison Ford and I think, well, he's usually good, but he looks a bit wicked in this one... it's just so mystifying."
She met Neil at Cardiff University, in her first week. It was in the canteen, where he was handing out socialist literature. Their first proper date was at a student union do, where Neil drank too much and was sick. "It was a case of me taking him home rather than the other way round." They married in 1967. She refused to accept a gold wedding ring from Neil in case it contained South African ore, so they agreed on a silver one. They had two children, Rachel, now a production assistant in the film industry, and Stephen, who works for the British Council in Denmark.
Glenys largely stayed at home for her children, working part time as a primary school-teacher. She doesn't regret this in the least. Her children have always been her greatest joy, she says. And now she has Johanna, a two-year-old grand-daughter born to Stephen and his Danish wife, with whom she is besotted. I am shown many photographs of Johanna, who looks very blonde and blue-eyed and Scandinavian. I say you never know, one day she may grow up to present Gladiators. Glenys looks perplexed. I don't think she's into Gladiators. She is into Tellytubbies, though, because Johanna is. "She loves them, although, I must say, I do worry about Tinky Winky. All that mincing with his handbag." I agree. Tinky Winky is frightfully disturbing. He might even, I say, be as disturbing as Peter Mandelson. She says: "Oh, I knew Peter when he worked at LWT. He is very good company, bright and perceptive."
Anyway, she has to go. She has a meeting with someone from the Royal College of Nurses. Somehow, I don't think that they will be talking lipsticks. Glenys has not become a posh Eurocrat. She's just doing what she's always done. She's just helping people to fight their fights. It's something that's in her blood. She's not the most scintillating of women, but she is a good one. I'd be quite put to shame, if I had any.Reuse content