Nicholas Hugh Brown (born 13 June 1950) is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Newcastle upon Tyne East since 1983. He has served as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State for Work and Pensions and Deputy Chief Whip. He has also served three separate terms as the Labour Party's Chief Whip, from 1997 to 1998, 2008 to 2010, and from 2016 to the present. His terms as chief whip have spanned periods in both government and opposition.
Brown was born in Hawkhurst, Kent, and brought up in nearby Tunbridge Wells, attending Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys before studying at the University of Manchester. After graduating, he worked in advertising for Procter & Gamble, but in 1978 he moved to be legal adviser to the Northern Region of the GMBATU, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1980 he was elected to Newcastle City Council, representing Walker ward. His role in the union gave him a role in maximising the union's influence in Labour Party selections.
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When Mike Thomas, the sitting Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne East, defected to the SDP, Brown was chosen as the new Labour Party candidate for the seat, easily retaining it for Labour at the 1983 general election. He joined Labour's front bench in 1985 as a spokesman on Legal Affairs; from 1988 he was a Treasury spokesman and from 1994 he shadowed Health.
Originally elected to the Commons in the same year as Gordon Brown and Tony Blair he was initially close to both men but over time he became his namesake Brown's staunchest ally, though the two are unrelated. In the 1994 Labour leadership election he acted as Brown's unofficial campaign manager, and according to Gordon Brown's biographer Paul Routledge, advised against him pulling out of the contest in Blair's favour.
In 1995 he was appointed Deputy Chief Whip and played a central role in the close Parliament in trying to defeat the Conservatives. After Labour's election victory in 1997, he was appointed Chief Whip, but stayed there only for a year, and was moved to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1998. This change, which followed the publication of the Routledge biography earlier that year, was widely seen as a demotion, and ascribed to his close connection with Brown.
His tenure at MAFF saw several animal health crises ending with the 2001 foot and mouth crisis. Brown's handling of the outbreak, which some in the media and politics used to attack the government, was criticised, though throughout he maintained the support of the farming and food industries and the veterinary profession. Suggestions that a vaccination strategy should have been practised in preference to the culling of hundreds of thousands of animals, made with the benefit of hindsight, did not help his cause, and he was demoted out to be the Minister of Work, with non-voting Cabinet rank, at the Department for Work and Pensions after the general election of 2001. In June 2003, he was dropped from the Government altogether, receiving news of his sacking by Tony Blair during the course of a party held to mark his 20 years as an MP.
Brown remains closely allied to Gordon Brown. In 2004 he was one of the organisers of a rebellion over the government's proposals for student finance, but hours before the vote announced that he had received concessions from the Government and would now support it. It was suspected that the Chancellor had ordered him to back down, but the affair cost him some credibility. On 29 June 2007 he was announced as Brown's new Deputy Chief Whip and Minister for the North East. Following a government reshuffle, he was returned to his original government position of Government Chief Whip, retaining his position as Minister for the North East.
In 2009, Brown was put in charge of investigating questionable expense claims by Labour MPs. According to The Daily Telegraph, between 2004 and 2008, he himself claimed a total of £87,708 for his constituency home including £18,800 for food. Allowances sought, without submission of receipts, included £200 a month for repairs, £200 a month for service and maintenance and £250 a month for a cleaner.
Brown's mortgage interest repayments for 2007-8 totalled £6,600, but he also claimed a total of £23,068, just £15 below the maximum allowable amount for the year. The claim included £4,800 for food – the maximum allowable amount – £2,880 for repairs and insurance, £2,880 for services, £897.65 for cleaning, £1,640 for phones and £1,810 for utilities. Brown, however, has said that he saved the taxpayer a considerable amount of money by turning down a Government car and driver upon being made Chief Whip, the annual cost of which would have been around £100,000.
On 29 January 2010, during the News of the World phone hacking affair, Brown said that his landline may have been bugged in an "amateurish attempt" in 1998, around the time of his outing. He was also contacted by police in the West of England in 2003 who told him that they were pursuing a phone-tapping prosecution and he was one of those who may have been targeted. The case collapsed when it reached court and full details of the allegations were never disclosed. Brown said that: "Given that it was near [Prince Charles' home] Highgrove, my assumption was that this might involve the Royal Family. But I was never explicitly told that."
On 6 October 2016, Brown was re-appointed Labour Chief Whip, under Jeremy Corbyn, with whom he had an unlikely personal friendship, and he went on to play an important role in the Parliamentary debates and votes over Brexit during 2018 and 2019. This included the largest ever defeat suffered by a government, on Tuesday 15 January 2019. This reappointment means that Brown is the only person to have held the job three times, under three different leaders, and in three different decades. From a position in 1997 of trying to ensure Labour's dissident factions supported Tony Blair's New Labour policies, from 2016 he has been charged with trying to ensure Labour's rebellious Blairites support Jeremy Corbyn's policies.
Nick Brown is openly gay and came out in 1998 whilst in the cabinet; this was controversial due to tabloid coverage of Brown's sexual orientation. In 2001, he was granted the freedom of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne, on the same day as Alan Shearer. Brown is a supporter of Humanists UK, and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speedway racing.
- "Honorary Freemen". Newcastle.gov.uk. 14 December 2017. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
- "Number 10 Press release". Number10.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 25 January 2010. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- "Nicholas Brown - Parliamentary candidates". Ukpolitics.telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- Rayner, Gordon; Swaine, Jon (19 May 2009). "MPs' expenses: Nick Brown claims £18,800 for food without receipts". The Telegraph. London.
- Green, William (12 May 2009). "MPs' expenses: North East Minister opens up". Evening Chronicle. Newcastle upon Tyne. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- Milmo, Cahal (29 January 2011). "My landline was bugged as papers tried to 'out' me, says Nick Brown". The Independent. London. Retrieved 29 January 2011.
- "Ed Miliband asks chief whip Nick Brown to step aside". BBC News. 29 September 2010. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- ">Bush, Stephen (13 October 2016). "Watch out Corbynsceptics, Nick Brown is Coming to Get You". The New Statesman. London. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
- "BBC News Cabinet rallies around gay minister". BBC News. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
- "Gay minister speaks out". BBC News. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
- "Rt Hon Nick Brown MP". humanism.org.uk. 22 October 2013.
- Nick Brown MP official constituency website
- Profile at the Labour Party
- Profile at Parliament of the United Kingdom
- Contributions in Parliament at Hansard 2010–present
- Contributions in Parliament during 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09 2009–10 at Hansard Archives
- Contributions in Parliament at Hansard 1803–2005
- Voting record at Public Whip
- Record in Parliament at TheyWorkForYou
- Profile at Westminster Parliamentary Record
- Articles authored at Journalisted