Saturday, April 04, 2009
It's safe to say that the outcome of the G20 last week was a surprise to everyone. Last November the Americans were expecting to sweep into London and dictate the agenda, while the French and Germans were expecting they would get to lecture everyone about how their economies had survived intact while the Anglo-Saxon economies had not. And both the Tories and the press were loudly anticipating a failure by the Brown government to get all the differing parties onto the same page right up to the eve of the summit.
As it turned out, Gordon Brown not only pulled it off, Britain was central in driving the agenda (the first time this has happened at these meetings in decades).
It wasn't just the official agenda that went right, the peripheral one of welcoming the Obamas on their first visit abroad went right too. We saw Sarah Brown again for the first time since Glenrothes, and again she was a hit. She managed to strike exactly the right note, from getting her friend JK Rowling to give a reading (thrilling not only the Obamas but the Medvedevs), to making tea in a cancer centre, she was pretty much the perfect representative for Britain.
Everyone likes Sarah. Part of it is that she isn't pushy like Cherie (who was vilified by the press) but not cringingly shy like Norma Major (who was bullied by the press). She is very much as middle England likes to see itself - kind, well-mannered, endearingly plump and sometimes a little frumpy. Cherie (and Samantha Cameron who fancies herself as a fashionista) would not have been able to resist competing with Michelle Obama in the fashion stakes. Sarah, who is the same age as Michelle, didn't bother to try, and her instincts were right. While the Americans and French supposedly don't mind seeing their leaders' wives spend thousands on couture in the middle of a recession, Brits are a different cup of tea.
It's a rare skill to be able to tap your country's mood without even trying. Sarah Brown turned out to be the big winner of the G20 summit.