Comment: The blonde leading the bland

I PICKED up the papers on Friday morning and thought, for a surreal moment, that William Hague had got married again. There he was, leading a blonde woman out of a register office, both of them wearing the kind of embarrassed smiles which are usually confined to a wedding album. It seemed unlikely that Mr Hague could have divorced and re-married quite so rapidly, but then I realised that the "bride" was the same blonde woman he married 14 months ago.

This was not another twist in the fascinating saga of Tory politicians' private lives - admittedly the latest, the unusual domestic arrangements of MEP Tom Spencer, takes some beating - but a feeble stunt to publicise the party's new proposals to encourage marriage.

I suppose Mr Hague cannot be blamed for parading his wife Ffion, given that Tony Blair wheels out Cherie at every opportunity. But don't these women have more important things to do than hang on their husbands' arms, not saying a word and throwing them adoring glances? One of the most irritating features of Mr Blair's administration is the way in which Ms Booth, a successful barrister and part-time judge, has been turned into a trophy wife, as though the party's spin doctors are uneasy about a marriage between two ambitious people who simply get on with their own jobs. Anything that works for Mr Blair is likely to be copied by the increasingly embattled Mr Hague, whose poll ratings remain dismal. So when the Conservative leader turned up at Westminster register office last week with exciting news about tax incentives, his wife Ffion was obliged to clutch a posy of red flowers and grin as though she was rapturously re-living her own nuptials. This might be more convincing if Mr Hague did not look like a man who has hurtled from precocious adolescence to premature middle age, without discovering the fun bit in-between. But if the couple's image was a throwback to the Fifties, Mr Hague's ideas were even worse.

Reversing his party's policy under Margaret Thatcher of not favouring married couples over single people, Mr Hague wants to use tax breaks and the benefits system to promote marriage. At a moment when more people than ever are remaining single or divorcing, this does not seem a sensible move, or indeed a fair one. Marriage is now optional in this country, as it is in much of Western Europe, and I do not think it is the business of government to make moral judgements about people's relationships through the tax system. Why should a gay couple pay more tax than Mr and Mrs Hague? Should I face fiscal penalties because I happen not to believe in marriage?

Children are another matter, but putting their interests first means not discriminating between the offspring of married and unmarried parents. Mr Hague's foray into this dangerous area reminded me of a piece of inept PR by his predecessor during the 1997 general election campaign, when John Major and his entourage descended on a hapless couple from Derry who had just tied the knot at Gretna Green. After delivering a lecture on the way in which his party intended to help state-approved unions, Mr Major asked the happy couple how they would be voting. "Sinn Fein", was the prompt reply.

This is a cautionary tale for politicians about the folly of muscling in on other people's weddings, not to mention their private lives. On Thursday, it was the turn of the recently-married Heather and John Hookway, who appeared in their bridal finery at the launch of National Marriage Week, to share a big moment with the Tories' PR machine. Sadly for the Tory leader, the pictures of the two couples appeared in Friday's papers above a Gallup poll showing that the Conservatives have comprehensively failed to dent Labour's popularity.

A radical re-think is required and the means is at hand, assuming Mr Hague has the imagination to go for it. Forget the cheesy wedding photos and the Stepford wife. What the party needs to modernise its image is a series of full-colour posters on hoardings all over the country of Mr Spencer, the disgraced MEP, and his family. It is a PR dream, embodying the most inclusive vision of family values that any political party in this country has ever dared come up with: the Tory, his Wife, his Boyfriend, her Lovers and their Daughters.

ON THE subject of PR stunts, the Tories could take a leaf out of the book of Prince Edward's fiancee, Sophie Rhys-Jones, who was pictured last week at a toy fair, holding a model of a piece of earth-moving equipment. A caption in the Times sang the praises of the manufacturer, adding at the end that its PR is handled by the company set up by the lovely Ms Rhys-Jones. This follows a recent evening outing at which she opened her coat to reveal a daring decolletage, having first positioned herself under the logo of another company for which she acts. In today's Britain, falling in love is merely the start of a long and happy photo opportunity.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk