The European Elections: Laughter and kisses on the 'Valleys' campaign trial: Glenys Kinnock represents a new woman, with horizons beyond the home, emerging from South Wales, writes Sandra Barwick

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The Independent Online
IN THE old mining valleys of south-east Wales, women are beginning to gain in power and influence outside the house. More women now hold jobs there than men. The Pride of Pontllanfraith, Glenys Kinnock, is a fine example of this trend.

As her husband's political career has passed its crescendo, Glenys has begun to play her own tune. Weeks after her husband's hopes of becoming a European commissioner were crushed, she decided to go for the Euro- seat of South-East Wales.

Properly speaking, the former Labour leader ought to be up early, brushing her suits, and smiling loyally from the background as she speaks. But on Wednesday he was at a National Exective Committee meeting as Glenys was canvassing in Gwent. She expects him to help at the weekends. Not that it is much like canvassing. Her progress is more relaxed, more like a multi-location tea party. There is a great deal of kissing, a fair amount of hugging, and a quantity of sisterly exchanges. A particularly warm embrace took place on a council estate that 'Glen', as she is known in the valleys, referred to as 'Up the Pants'.

'I've just lost my second husband,' said her embracer. 'I don't think I'll have any more. I don't seem to have much luck.'

The canvassing team erupted. There is a lot of laughing on the Glenys Kinnock trail. She has good reason to be so relaxed. Her majority is not likely to be less than 82,000. In this constituency, Labour voting is written into the DNA code.

'My father was always Labour and I'll always be Labour,' said Marie English, summing up local feeling Up The Pants. 'If my arse was studded in diamonds, you'll never alter me.'

Mrs Kinnock, 49, has stored up this phrase for her acceptance speech. 'All human life is here,' she said, whipping round the back of a house to shake hands with Michael Booton, a former miner, now unemployed, where she was introduced to 22 budgies and a tame duck called Daffy.

Her prime concern, she said, is unemployment, and there is no question that that concern is genuine and warm, though she did not, when asked, know the figure for unemployment in the constituency. But she knows her constituents intimately. 'They lived here,' said Kathleen Powles of Pontllanfraith. 'She'd be there in the shop with her trolley, and Neil in jeans, like one of the boys. She understands how we live. She knows all our problems.'

Empathy and sympathy are natural to Glenys. 'People will think we in the Labour Party are not nice persons]' she said, as Doreen Waite informed her that she hated Tories so much she wanted to see them dead. But she smiled. Glen is the woman who, for her 40th birthday party, is said to have arranged a cardboard cut-out of Mrs Thatcher for guests to pelt with wet sponges.

Only one aspect in Glenys' political life has changed. 'I arrive at things and I think, right, where's the candidate? I'm so used to supporting people,' she said. 'And then I realise - heck, it's me.'

Many, particularly among Conservative circles, used to suggest that Glenys was always the candidate, and Neil the cardboard cut-out up front, a slur resented by both partners. But her commitment to the politics of the left was so strong that she used often to be asked to stand herself. Then Neil lost his job and the Euroseat came up. 'One day I said, dammit, I'll do it,' said Glenys.

Why not a Westminster seat? The style of the European Parliament, she said, seemed likely to suit her better, less adversarial, more consensus. And it covers more global issues, which ties in with her Third World interests and the development agency she co-founded, One World Action.

It seems tailormade. Part of the constituency covers her husband's seat of Islwyn. In Brussels she can see her son, Stephen, who now works there. Their daughter Rachel is at the University of the West of England in Bristol, reading Media Studies, as though the Kinnock family has not had its fill.

At Risca Comprehensive School, near Newport, Glenys gazed at a prize-winning exhibit on the EU, and told the children that EU tariffs on Third World products like processed pineapples are unfair. She tripped into a language class and addressed the startled pupils in fluent Welsh. Behind her a schoolgirl stared hard at this model of the modern liberated female. 'Mrs Kinnock' she said, 'is enjoying this.'

(Photograph omitted)