It’s toe-curling enough when politicians wheel out their wives to win votes. When they shove their babes in arms into the public glare it’s discreditable.
You’d have thought in this age of aggressive feminism that politicians would be a tad embarrassed about so blatantly using their spouses for added political attraction, as they did this weekend. It is doubly ironic that these Oh so liberated ladies with high flying careers – Justine, Miriam and the no longer so shy and retiring Sam Cam, who gave her first ever in depth interview – appear so happy to play the game.
Ever since that golden couple, JFK and Jackie, the king and queen of Camelot, political spin doctors have seem convinced that spouses can add to a politician’s vote-winning appeal. History has proved it far from a dead cert.
The full on feminist first ladies, Hilary Clinton and Cherie Blair alike, were more pilloried than praised for promoting their competing political agendas and attention-seeking on the back of their husbands’ fame.
In fact, in the UK the public has seemed to prefer reticence to showing off in political spouses. Mary Wilson, Denis Thatcher and Norma Major are all looked back upon with affection and respect, not least for their ability to keep out of the public eye and let their spouses get on with the job. Mary Wilson only crept into the limelight in later years (and well after her husband had retired) with her poetry. Likewise, Norma Major only sought the public eye when she published her biography of the great Australian opera singer, Joan Sutherland.
As for Denis Thatcher, he would not come within ten miles of a journalist if he could help it – unless it was his trusted friend Bill Deedes.
All this was to change when Cherie Blair arrived on the scene – clearly seeing herself as part of a modern political golden couple. It was all about Tony and Cherie from the start. She quite deliberately used her position for her own agenda. She was forever hob-nobbing publicly with celebrities and enjoying the limelight. Public tolerance for her diminished each time she yawned at the next ceremonial or national occasion (why didn’t she just stay at home if she was so bored and it so offended her socialist sensibilities?) and with each new coarse revelation, dodgy friend or deal. Far from being an asset to her husband, she became a liability.
The arrival of David and his retiring wife Samantha at Number Ten was more than a welcome change. It was a huge relief. Sam Cam ‘worked’ for Dave because she was not only content but determined to play a minor, largely non-speaking, role and stay firmly in the background, keeping their children out of the public glare. Since then, however, they have not been able to resist the holiday photo ops – some more embarrassing than they were worth. But at least they were with the children out of sight of the camera.
So what on earth persuaded her to go against the grain and disport herself and her young children across the pages of the Mail on Sunday this Easter weekend? Her husband’s political desperation can be the only answer. However engaging the pictures were – their baby in the ministerial red box was without doubt cutely reminiscent of Anne Geddes’ flowerpot babies – this and ever more Ivan stories were not just toe-curling but exploitative.
Whereas I can just about understand poor Justine Thornton’s desire to project her husband, Ed Miliband, as normal, no doubt provoked by weeks, nay months, of negative press portrayal as a weirdo, Sam has no such excuse.
But neither political family can be excused dragging their children before the media in stage-managed photo-ops this weekend. Do they not realise how unfair this is on their children? Bad enough I would have thought growing up as a politician’s child without having your face stuck in front of the camera to boot – and all to give the impression of family normality, to say they are like us.
Well they are not. Most of us are simply not that ruthlessly ambitious for power and its trappings that we will do whatever it takes to seize them.
Can they now complain about the infringement of privacy when the press demands a return match? In my view No, and that is hard on their children.
What makes this doubly insulting is that though the Camerons and Milibands are so determined to play happy families for the nation – neither party leader is pushing to make this the norm for the rest of us – neither will commit to the tax polices that would make their blissful domestic lives available to all.
The feminists might well decry the exploitation of spouses as sexist. The media, who love all this stuff, will excuse the wives because they have careers and are ‘ not just’ mothers and housewives. They have it all – which makes everything all right it seems.
Frankly, I don’t give a damn what pathetic political PR games these adults play in the hope of strengthening their electoral chances provided they keep their children out of it. I am just surprised they think the voters are so naïve as to be taken in by such gimmicks.