… or how who you are married to makes you a news story…
In the week since the election was called the focus has (thank God) swung a little bit more away from the women that the leaders of the three most popular political party’s leaders are married to, and back onto policies.
Not that I’m actually that clear whether the parties have actually thought through the costs, feasibility and the practicalities of implementation of some of the things that they are campaigning on (may be they don’t have to – I guess that’s why there’s a much lambasted, primed for cutbacks but nevertheless non-political and permanent civil service) – but that a whole other issue.
We’ve seen the party leaders portraying themselves as family men. And that’s meant a focus on the wives, two of whom it is reported have their own press officers.
For the current Prime Minister’s wife that’s probably not too much of a change, after all, Sarah Brown has been acting every inch the political First Lady for a couple of years now, for example leading events for International Women’s Day.
So I guess it was the contrast that meant a lot was being made of the fact that Miriam Gonzalez, Nick Clegg’s wife, intended not to take a key role in the election campaign (and can’t even vote in it!).
But even this story was eclipsed by the coverage of Samantha Cameron’s pregnancy. More of which in a moment.
All three leaders’ wives are intelligent, successful women in their own right.
All three are probably entirely capable of saying interesting things in a debate on Mumsnet, although as a PR executive, tax lawyer and director of an upmarket stationers, it’s unlikely that they’d ever be asked to be the subject of one.
It’s the underlying messages that are interesting.
The coverage of Sarah Brown in recent months has pretty much been I-love-my-husband-he’s-great-and-handsome-and-that’s-why-you-should-vote-for-him-girls. I guess the message is the Prime Minister is portrayed many ways but he’s human and a decent person loves him. I agree with the Times article from the time of her Labour Party conference speech- this is patronising towards women voters, but good PR tactics and sadly (for feminists), terribly effective (ladies, we are our own worst enemies sometimes).
Sam Cam (as she has become known – I sympathise as someone with the first syllable of my first and last name identical!) has been a high profile political wife since David Cameron won the Conservative party leadership.
But she’s now having to endure a public pregnancy – bad enough that people feel they have the right to pat pregnant stomachs on mere mortals but to be publically pregnant through a stressful election campaign, with your own events calendar for the campaign, while being accused of timing it to be a publicity stunt and having still fairly recently lost a child? Not only not fun, but something you should never have to go through. And as for the look-how-viral-our-leader-is stuff from tories online… yuck.
I can’t work out how she’s got the time off work to do the election campaign… I’m pretty clear there’d be no special leave for my husband from his employer if I was a candidate. And certainly none the other way round given my job.
The Private Eye cover (“Leaders’ Wives”) called Miriam Gonzalez “the other one”. Well yes, as the one with the husband least likely of the three to be prime minister, that’s probably fair enough.
But The Austrialian news is interesting on this point – is getting-on-with-it, you’re not voting for me but for my husband attitude actually earning her respect? And if so, is it ironic given that attitude if that respect were then to be somehow transmuted to her husband?
As you can probably tell, I have a bit of an issue with the whole First Lady role.
Essentially we do not have a first lady in the UK constitutional set up. Nor tradition.
We don’t vote for a prime minister (see here and here ) no matter what the UK press seem to think, because we don’t actually have a Presidential electoral system.
And if we’re not really voting for the prime minister, we certainly shouldn’t be voting on what their wives say, think or do, or would or would not do as a ceremonial role were their husband to gain office.
There’s a lot of campaigning going on to get women more involved in politics – I can’t help but feel that “vote Dave, get Sam”, or “vote Gordon, get Sarah” undermines the getting women into power in their own right. No matter what Glenys Kinnock says about it all being ok.
But at least MPs will still be able to employ their partners as assistants (that’s a tradition going back to Mrs MacMillan driving prime minister Harold around in their car!)
But again, the UK political set up is actually very flexible. We do not have a written constitution, so if a prime minister wanted his wife to take on a First Lady role (or, if Caroline Lucas - the only female party leader – were by some incredible fluke make it to no.10, first gentleman) there’s no constitutional impediment to them so doing.
And even if you have a written constitution like the USA, it seems the role of the First Lady needn’t feature, can be defined by the President and his wife themselves but can still have public money spent on it. Of course that’s a whole discussion we still need to have here…
So a vote for Dave and Sam, or Gordon and Sarah, may well be a legitimate concept.
Even if it sets my (feminist) teeth on edge…