A marriage made in Downing Street?

Political observers think that Gordon Brown's wedding to Sarah Macaulay was the final step in his plan to become Prime Minister
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The Independent Online

So now he's ready. The Iron Chancellor has added a touch of velvet. The Eeyore of the Cabinet has allowed himself to smile in public. The image of the moody loner obsessing over balance sheets in a bachelor pad strewn with pizza boxes is a thing of the past. Getting married has brought Gordon Brown closer to the love of his life, his heart's desire: the chance to become Prime Minister.

So now he's ready. The Iron Chancellor has added a touch of velvet. The Eeyore of the Cabinet has allowed himself to smile in public. The image of the moody loner obsessing over balance sheets in a bachelor pad strewn with pizza boxes is a thing of the past. Getting married has brought Gordon Brown closer to the love of his life, his heart's desire: the chance to become Prime Minister.

Ted Heath's election notwithstanding, British voters prefer their leaders married. Whether the 49-year-old Mr Brown wed Sarah Macaulay for that reason, only he and his 36-year-old bride can know (it does seem unlikely, but politicians are not like other folk). The truth is, though, that he has had his eyes on the long-term prize ever since agreeing to let his friend Tony Blair run unopposed for the Labour leadership back in 1994. And when the sudden, secretive wedding took place behind closed curtains at Drumcarling, his big Edwardian house on the Firth of Forth, last week, the Chancellor's personal campaign stepped up a gear.

Even before the presents had been unwrapped, MPs and commentators were reflecting on Mr Blair's miserable summer and reviving rumours of a planned succession half-way through a second term - should Labour get one. If and when his moment comes, the willing Mr Brown will now be more able to grab it.

The image is softer, and the support structure is in place. Like any other leader-in-waiting he has his court, a coterie of close friends who hope to go all the way with him. But this is not a man who entertains a thousand hangers-on. Only two dozen people were invited to the wedding, and most were family. Those few political figures who did get to sup Sainsbury's champagne with the prudent groom were the trusted ones.

The only minister present was Yvette Cooper, a former journalist for the Independent titles who now runs public health. At 31 she is one of the Government's fastest-rising stars and advised John Smith and Gordon Brown in her twenties. Her London ways might seem a little strange in her Pontefract constituency, but grandad was a miner. Her place in the firmament was secured in 1998 when she married wunderkind Ed Balls, a former Financial Times journalist. The 33-year-old was made chief economic adviser to the Treasury last year, and now has more influence than anybody in that position since the war. "Ed is like an extension of Brown," one Treasury insider has said. "You bolt on an extra server and increase the capacity."

The second most important woman at the wedding after the bride was Sue Nye, who has run Mr Brown's office for years. She used to buy all his clothes, but gladly handed that duty to Miss Macaulay after bringing the pair together at a dinner party in 1994. She remains invaluable, even letting the boss turn her son Ben's third birthday party into a photo opportunity three years ago. Ben was a page boy at the wedding, and his sister Rosie a bridesmaid.

The happy couple may have hoped for more than a toaster from Ms Nye and her husband, Gavyn Davies, the 49-year-old chief economist at Goldman Sachs, who made £15m on share options the day before the wedding. Already a multimillionaire, and a favourite of John Major and Ken Clarke despite being a Labour Party member, he is tipped as the next governor of the Bank of England.

The only other significant political figure at the wedding was the veteran Labour activist Murray Elder who used to go hillwalking with his boss John Smith and a young Mr Brown - and was there on the day that the future Chancellor accidentally put an ice-pick through his thigh. Lord Elder knew about the wedding plans but mentioned them to nobody, not even the Prime Minister. Ten years ago Mr Blair might have been best man or read a lesson, but he was not even at the ceremony, although he did offer congratulations on the phone.

Not long ago it looked as though Mr Brown's power base had been destroyed by the resignations of his spin-doctor, Charlie Whelan, and the Paymaster General, Geoffrey Robinson, and the removal of Nick Brown from Chief Whip to the Ministry of Agriculture. But his inner circle has now been reformed, fortified with such fresh faces as Douglas Alexander, the 32-year-old MP for Paisley South who is a fellow son of a Church of Scotland minister. Clean-cut and neat, he has been described as "very young, very moderate and very, very sure of his soundbites".

Other, more established figures continue to support Mr Brown. The current Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo - once nicknamed "Red Dawn" - and the Chief Secretary, Andrew Smith, are his allies in the Treasury. Alistair Darling, the Social Security Secretary, is close to him but keeps in with Mr Blair. Mr Brown also maintains links with Margaret Beckett and John Prescott.

Outside Parliament, his network stretches to trade union leaders such as the TUC head John Monks; "policy wonks" such as Geoff Mulgan, former director of the left-wing think-tank Demos, now in the No 10 Policy Unit; and the media, through his younger brother Andrew, editor of the Channel 4 politics show Powerhouse.

His most important ally now, however, in public as well as private, will be the PR specialist who is his wife. Her major triumph has been to persuade even those who thought they knew the Chancellor that it was all off, while simultaneously making wedding plans.

The new Mrs Brown - who has given up her maiden name - will have to put up with a husband who stays late at his laptop, rises about 6am and starts making calls straight away. His main passion is work; but then so is hers, and she is not expected to give up her directorship of Hobsbawm Macaulay, which works for the Labour Party and several charities.

Her new husband is still in love with prudence. His £800 wedding suit will undoubtedly be later used for work. After a cold buffet lunch and the £11.99 champagne, the couple left to honeymoon (economy-class tickets with an upgrade, of course) among the clapboard beach homes in windswept Cape Cod, New England - their regular summer haunt.

There they often play tennis together in the mornings, but this time the new Mrs Brown may hope that wedded bliss will distract the Chancellor from his usual afternoon vacation activities: work, and ploughing through a suitcase full of academic books. (Before they left, he had tried to get at a knockdown price yet another weighty economic tome, exactly the type known to have sparked rows between the couple on past trips abroad.) The Browns will find other distractions in the exclusive resort frequented by America's liberal élite: cycling, art gal- leries, beach walks. They may even bump into the Clintons, who are holidaying at neighbouring Martha's Vineyard.

A marriage certificate might not make much difference to the daily life of the Browns, who have been sharing a flat in Westminster for some time (although they are understood to have played that down in front of his elderly mother). Rather than try to change her man at this late stage, she has chosen to go to see football with him, and drink with his mates.

The bachelor Chancellor swapped homes in Downing Street with Mr Blair, moving into the more cramped living quarters at No 10, but he recently gave those up as well for the expanding Blair family - a decision he may regret if domestic convergence leads to his joining the parental community.

The new Mrs Brown used to enjoy making fun of the chintzy living areas decorated by Norma Major, and the bathroom which is still exactly as it was when the Thatchers used it. Now it seems more likely that the Browns will get to occupy No 10 in their own right, should Mr Blair fail horribly (at the election or in a referendum on Europe) or hand the baton on gracefully. With his tight-knit team in place and a new wife who can sort out his daily life at the same time as spinning his new image, Gordon Brown will be more impatient than ever for that to happen.