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Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 11:08 GMT
Nick Brown: From crisis to crisis
Nick Brown at Farmers Union Conference
Nick Brown has handled more than one crisis
There may be moments when Agriculture Minister Nick Brown looks wistfully back to the time when he wrote advertising slogans for fabric softeners.

Offering housewives a "softness and freshness they have never known before" must have been a great deal more peaceful than bouncing from one crisis to another in the farming industry.

From BSE, beef on the bone, to foot and mouth disease, his has been one of the more challenging briefs in recent months.

And Mr Brown has had to put up with some extremely personal attacks.

Most memorably when a young woman decided to "éclair him" at a meeting with farmers.

A young Nick Brown
Starting out with fabrics
Even less pleasantly, his love life was the subject of headlines when a former partner approached the tabloids.

At the ministry of agriculture he has proved a robust performer coping with Labour's historically uneasy relationship with farmers which has been fuelled by crisis after crisis in almost every area.

When he was moved there, in the July 1998 reshuffle, the wisdom at Westminster suggested that he was being punished for co-operating with the biography of Gordon Brown by Mirror journalist Paul Routledge.

The book dealt with the fall out from when Tony Blair stamped on Gordon Brown's ambition to be leader of the Labour Party in the wake of John Smith's death in 1994.

Mr Brown (as in Nick) had been the government's chief whip which gave him a great deal of access to Labour's parliamentary footsoldiers and as a Brownite (as in Gordon) that was a dangerous thing for Mr Blair.

Nick Brown is hit in the face by a chocolate eclair
The eclair incident
It was Nick Brown who was set to run Gordon Brown's leadership bid - it was said he had already begun collecting the signatures of MPs before he was called off.

As one wag remarked it seemed an exercise in humour to send an urban anti-foxhunting MP to run the agriculture portfolio but Mr Brown has survived - so far.

That has a lot to do with the perception that he is diligent and in good command of his brief.

He is also an excellent Commons performer.

As chief whip he would have honed his skills as a behind the scenes fixer and there is little doubt that his tenure at MAFF has been far more successful than that of his predecessor, Jack Cunningham.

Despite being dubbed "Newcastle Brown" the agriculture secretary was, in fact, born in Kent.

His politics is said to be a reaction to the "extremism of the 1968 generation" when he joined the Labour Party.

Nick Brown
Time is taking its toll
Apart from his stint working for Proctor and Gamble writing advertising slogans he became a legal adviser to the GMB union.

In 1980 he was elected to Newcastle city council and in 1983 secured what was one of the best results at one of Labour's worst elections taking what was then the Newcastle East constituency.

He quickly became a junior opposition spokesman on legal affairs before joining the late John Smith's shadow treasury team in July 1987.

He went on to fill a variety of roles such as junior shadow health spokesman and deputy chief whip under the late Donald Dewar before finally securing the chief whip post in government.

Mr Brown's father was a clerk with the south eastern electricity board.

He was educated at Tunbridge Wells technical high school and Manchester University.

See also:

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