Gordon's with Sarah, Robin's with Gaynor - it's full of young women. That's new

At Brighton, a new sight: a governing party that is living life as normal human beings know it. A senior cabinet minister with a girlfriend is a man with a girlfriend, not a national sensation and, for the first time in government, young women are affecting the ether.

In yesterday's Daily Mirror, signs of the times. Set aside for the moment the fact that they are so New Labour they don't even mention Peter Mandelson's NEC defeat on the front page. Turn to page five - two huge pictures: one of Gordon Brown with his girlfriend, Sarah Macaulay, and the other of Robin Cook with Gaynor Regan, for whom he left his wife last month. But no apocalyptic headlines. A discreet caption under the Robin Cook picture explained that the Foreign Secretary was taking "a leisurely stroll near the seafront at Brighton". And no tooth-sucking over the presence of the Chancellor's girlfriend: Mr Brown was named hero of the day for his hard hitting speech on the economy.

The diary of the Daily Mail, most prurient of tabloids and fervent upholder of family values, described Ms Regan as "quite fanciable". And added: "Come on, Mr Cook, let's see much more of your new love." Clearly we are not in the same era where Cecil Parkinson saw his ambitions torpedoed because his former secretary was pregnant with his baby. That was 14 years, and a whole world away.

During the summer, Jane Kennedy, a Labour whip, separated from her husband and Angela Eagle, Minister of State for the Environment, announced that she was gay. Neither caused more than the mildest stir. Mr Cook remained top of the poll in his party's National Executive elections this year despite his marriage break-up, even increasing his vote by several thousand.

Tony Blair is a conservative on moral matters and yet the modernising culture of new Labour has somehow pervaded even this area of our lives. When Cabinet meetings are run on a first-name basis, and we are encouraged to see our statesmen and women as human beings, revelations about private lives do not create the same waves.

Events which would have created shock-waves even in the dying days of the Conservative government pass by with barely a ripple.

A cynic would say that Labour's strategists had worked this one out in advance, of course. That watching the drawn-out agonies of the Conservative Party through scandal after prurient revelation, they realised they had to prevent similar damage being done to a future Labour government.

Allowing the new Cabinet to be seen as real, modern human beings with real, modern problems and traumas was a perfect pre-emptive strike. Those bygone Tory figures only suffered such messy falls because of the height of the pedestals on which they stood. But it would be too simplistic to imagine that even Labour's very clever image-makers could have manipulated their subjects to quite such an extent.

It would also be pointless to even begin to suggest that they could ever have presented the stern, remote public face which served the Tories so well for so many years, even if they had wanted to try.

The fact is that these are just a very different bunch of people and there is nowhere better to observe it than at Conference. The standard Tory greeting may have been a restrained handshake, but here the sight of ministers - mainly the female ones, it has to be said - greeting acquaintances with lavish hugs and cries of "Darling!" is a common one in the hotel lobbies of an evening.

Old Labour were different again, of course, but their public face was just as remote. And this is less thanks to the modernisation of politics than the feminisation.

The Labour conference, like the House of Commons, has changed its face in recent years. About four fifths of the delegates in Brighton are first- timers, many of them under 30, and a substantial majority are female. Although Labour's 102 women MPs only make up a quarter of the total, they do help to humanise their party's public face.

To suggest that this is their main virtue would be an outrage, of course. Even to say that Labour's women are necessarily more approachable than their male colleagues would also be wrong. But their presence does help to contribute to the public perception that times have moved on.

None of this means, of course, that never again will Labour politicians find their private lives emblazoned across the front pages of the newspapers. But when they do, the chances are the whole business may well be a one- day wonder.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine