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.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
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
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
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: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

    £16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

    £9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

    Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn