Gordon Brown: Blair allies tried to smear me as gay during Labour leadership battle
Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has alleged that supporters of Tony Blair tried to smear his sexuality when they were both vying for the Labour Party leadership.
Mr Brown made the revelation in his book My Life, Our Times, which was published last month.
He opened up about the 1994 Labour leadership contest eventually won by Mr Blair – in which Mr Brown was initially touted as the ‘modernising’ candidate but withdrew as part of a pact with Blair.
Of a meeting with Mr Blair prior to the pact, the Labour politician explained: “Tony added two reasons why he, rather than me, should be leader at the next election.
“I was Scottish, he said, and I was unmarried. You could not, he said, have two leaders in a row from Scotland.
“I reminded him that he too was Scottish, born in Scotland of a father raised in Glasgow, and educated at a school in Edinburgh. The only difference seemed to me that people knew I was Scottish and assumed he was not.
“The ‘being single’ charge was more insidious. At least one or two of Tony’s adherents went out of their way to imply to the press that they knew more about me than the public did.
“In conversations with colleagues, some MPs were persuaded to raise questions or cast aspersions about my private life. In the dark world of rumours and counter-rumours that swirled around Westminster, people believed what they wanted to believe, and what suited their purposes.”
He added: “This was echoed in a low moment for the BBC two years later, when I was interviewed for Desert Island Discs, and the presenter Sue Lawley insinuated that being unmarried meant I was gay. I was not.
“But the insinuation was born of prejudice: that somehow there was something wrong with being gay. These allegations were as untrue as they were unworthy, but during these years, damage was done.”
Inquiring about Mr Brown’s marital status during a 1996 episode of Desert Island Discs, Lawley had asked: “People want to know whether you’re gay or whether there’s some flaw in your personality that you haven’t made a relationship?”
Mr Brown icily responded: “I’m not married because I’m not married/ It just hasn’t happened yet.”
The Labour politician later tied the knot to wife Sarah in 2000 and the pair have two children together.
It is not the first time allegations of gay smears against Mr Brown have been made.
Lord Levy, a Labour peer who served as the party’s chief fundraiser under Mr Blair, previously referenced the row in his own book, A Question of Honour.
Of an attempt to mend the relationship between Mr Brown and close Blair ally Peter Mandelson, he wrote: “Gordon was friendly, at least until I explained my mission.
“‘Make up with Peter?’ he hissed in an angry whisper. Then, his voice gradually rising first to dispatch-box volume and then to a near-shout, he exclaimed: ‘Peter? He’s been going around telling everyone that I’m gay! And I am NOT GAY!’
“Dozens of MPs looked around in astonishment, no doubt assuming that I had just tried – and thankfully failed – to proposition the chancellor of the exchequer!”
Much of the UK’s most important LGBT rights reforms took place during the successive premierships of Mr Blair and Mr Brown, between 1997 and 2010.
The period saw an equal age of consent, the introduction of same-sex civil partnerships and same-sex adoption, the repeal of Section 28, the Gender Recognition Act, and the Equality Act – which outlawed anti-LGBT discrimination.
However, he later spoke out frequently for equality – and became the first sitting Prime Minister to take part in a Q&A with PinkNews in 2007. He was also the first Prime Minister to host an LGBT-themed event at 10 Downing Street – a tradition that David Cameron and Theresa Mave has continued.
In 2009, his wife Sarah Brown made headlines when she marched in London’s Pride parade, alongside Labour’s Michael Cashman.
Mr Brown raised eyebrows again in 2013 when he missed the Commons vote on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill due to a UN trip – though he had spoken out in favour of the legislation.
Mr Brown said while same-sex marriage was being discussed: “I understand the strong feelings in the current debate but I take the view that it is now timely to agree to end another source of discrimination by legalising the right to marriage and I will support the legislation in the UK Parliament and when it comes to the Scottish Parliament.”