THE House of Commons has largely abandoned the use of embellished forms of address. It was a surprise, therefore, during Monday’s tributes to Prince Philip when Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle announced: ‘We will now hear from the Mother of the House, the Right Honourable and Learned Harriet Harman.’
Learned? As Harman went on to demonstrate, one thing she has yet to learn is how to put aside, even for a few minutes during a solemn occasion, her pettifogging feminism.
Hansard’s transcription of her full speech can be read here.
Harman praised Prince Philip for having been ‘ahead of his time on the environment . . . on young people, with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme . . . [and] as a husband’. Focusing on him as a consort, the excerpt below is the final 90 seconds of her speech, a summation of which is the line: ‘It takes a remarkable man to be a leader, but an even more remarkable man to support a woman leader, and that is what Prince Philip did.’
Harman evidently approves of Prince Philip having been a husband who, from 1952 onwards, played second fiddle; she moans that this situation was at the time ‘profoundly counter-cultural’. The above segment had been preceded by her further griping: ‘The expectation was that to be a man was to be head of the family, and particularly in the public domain it was the man who would play the leading role, and the wife who would support him. If that – sadly – still remains largely true today, how much more of an iron rule it was 70 years ago.’
Instead of sticking to non-contentious facts, Harman could not resist editorialising by scornfully inserting – and emphasising – that ‘sadly’ there is still a tendency for wives to have what she negatively presumes to be the inferior role in a marriage. In Hattie’s head, a husband being the subordinate spouse is desirably progressive whereas traditional roles are to be derided and deplored.
In reality, couples generally muddle through by mutually developing a domestic arrangement which best suits their circumstances. Even today, many a wife cheerfully chooses to be the family’s primary carer and prioritises not just her children but – horror! – ungrudgingly supports her husband’s being the principal earner.
Anything resembling a traditional division of roles is of course anathema to haughty Hattie. She is entitled to her feminist disapproval, but her ‘sadly’ expressing complaint during the Commons tributes to Prince Philip was an inconsiderate indulgence.
Her inapt opinion and feminist folly was particularly crass in the context of the royal couple. The Queen became an exemplary head of state in spite of having been a naturally diffident and socially awkward young woman: it has often been written that the most contented period of her life was the five years of marriage before her accession, spent as a young mother and, yes, supportive naval wife.
And according to former royal correspondent Jennie Bond, although Her Majesty publicly held top rank, in private she deferred to her late husband: ‘The Queen was incredibly wise as a woman that she allowed Prince Philip to wear the trousers at home. He could run the estates to allow him to be proud and to be the man of the household and I think that was terribly clever of her.’
Strangely, that is a quote which arch-feminist Harriet Harman chose not to use.