At an event she spoke at tonight, I asked the veteran female MP what she thought of the Prime Minister and his opponents trotting out their respective wives on the campaign trail. Was it not demeaning, I asked, for Sam and Sarah, perhaps even Miriam, to be banded around like sparkling trophies testifying to their partners’ political prowess?
Widdecombe echoed my disgust, expressing her regret for the emergence of the ‘first lady’ of British politics.
Yet it seems unlikely her protestations, or my own, at the ‘wife factor’ will get anywhere. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen Sarah and Sam affirm to television audiences just how good their other halves are. Campaign strategists are beside themselves with glee about these so called secret weapons.
I’m not, and I suspect most female voters won’t be swayed by such a patronising play.
True, there is something intiguing about the woman behind the man in charge. We are fascinated by Jackie Kennedy and her latest incarnation in Michelle Obama. We want to know less about what Hillary’s aims were when she sought healthcare reform in the early 90s, and more about how she put up with that scoundrel Bill. Even Cherie had a perverse grip on the nation.
But just because I’m interested to hear the secrets behind Michelle’s wardrobe (J Crew all the way, apparently), doesn’t mean I take that as any reflection on her husbands political fortunes.
We live in the age of celebrity. It’s the nature of our tabloid taste that we care whether Gordon is a bully, or whether Sarah is not. That’s fine; some may lament the personal and private becoming so political, but that ship has long since sailed.
But an interest in the trivial doesn’t automatically discount one in the topical.
Educated, intelligent and engaged women can read OK magazine and marvel over Carla’s fading beauty, but that doesn’t mean they’re not smart enough to appreciate the details of Nicholas’ economic policy.
Give us some credit. Politics might be tedious at times, but that’s true whether you have an x or y chromosome.
If men can understand the difference between tax and spend, private or public sector, big or small government, so can women. These interviews with the wives, the campaign appearances, tell us little but insult a great deal.
We don’t need to know what Miriam Clegg says about Nick’s saucy past to figure these things out. And if women aren’t going to vote based on the issues, do handbags or hairstyles really make them more likely to have their say?
For the record, I met Sarah Brown once at a charity event and she was as pleasant as she appears; eloquent, well-presented and down to earth.
But she could have been a total horror, and could have made the whole lunch of middle-aged ladies splurt out their expensive soup.
It wouldn’t make the slightest bit to difference to whether I vote for her husband though.