Blair Babe Brinton stung by derision cyber jibe

Click to follow
FOR Helen Brinton, one of the new intake of young female MPs tagged "Blair's Babes", the euphoria of entering Parliament was to be cruelly brief.

A political innocent, brimming with enthusiasm for the New Labour leadership, she heeded the calls for party loyalty so slavishly that she provided an easy target for newspapers. Within a fortnight, one paper speculated she had been programmed by Labour's HQ at Millbank.

The concept was swiftly taken up by other newspapers. But the epithet of "cyberborg MP" earned Mrs Brinton the derision of the very colleagues whom she had sought so eagerly to please.

In a book by Linda McDougall, wife of the veteran Labour MP Austin Mitchell, Mrs Brinton says she has been profoundly upset by her portrayal in the media. "It's been very hurtful," she says. The book, Westminster Women, is being published to coincide with a television series, beginning today.

It was Matthew Norman, the Guardian's diarist, who first put the spotlight on Mrs Brinton. Her mistake was to make a naively spirited defence of Peter Mandelson on Newsnight in May, saying: "We are all now speaking with one voice, and that is [his] greatest achievement."

"Many who saw her," Norman wrote, "are convinced she is a cybernaut under his remote control." He has returned to the theme repeatedly, describing her as an "alien life form designed in the Millbank lab ... to stay on-message for 1,000 years without new batteries."

The Financial Times began using "Brintons" as a measure of sycophancy among backbenchers. The Sunday Times wrote: "Is it a woman? Is it a robot? No, it's Helen Brinton, super-MP."

She told Ms McDougall in July that she dreaded fetching the newspapers in the morning."I feel sick and wonder what is going to be in there today. You look at your colleagues and think - have they read it? What do they think?"

The pressure has not let up. After she announced in October that her marriage was over - she said the strain of her new job was to blame - the News of the World reported that her husband had kept a "secret sex diary" in which he recorded having sex with three women, including her, in one day.

Rumours have also circulated about her conduct at Westminster, which is reported to have earned her the wrath of the whips. But Mrs Brinton says she will not be deflected. "I have got here and I intend to stay. I intend to do what I do for the constituency, for the party."