While we wait anxiously for pictures of the real Madonna and child - Ms Ciccone is due to give birth this week - we will have to make do with this strange offering starring Neil and Christine Hamilton. After several unwise snaps in which Mr Hamilton was pictured taking unfeasibly large biscuits, various photo opportunities have arisen in the last week, but this intimate portrait of the Hamiltons tells us more than we want to know about their relationship.

While headlines scream: "A liar and a cheat", while opinion polls suggest that a majority of the public think he is not fit to be an MP, Neil gazes at Christine, his face tilted to the light in the photographic genre formerly known as "knitting pattern". Neil's dark lashes and white hair suggest matinee idol looks, a la Cecil Parkinson, that are said to appeal to women of a certain age but something is askew, not quite right about his mouth, his baby face. Further infantilised by the pose he looks like a child about to be fed, a naughty little boy come home to his forgiving mum.

How forgiving is she, this Tory wife? No longer subservient, no longer caught with the flashbulb stare we have come to associate with so many other betrayed Tory wives, Christine has the upper hand. Neil may have been naughty but he has not been unfaithful. Political corruption is not the same as marital betrayal and anyway Christine - wife, mother, confessor - knows the truth and the truth perhaps has put her husband in his place and within her grasp. Her reward for standing by her man is that she can stand over him. The more submissive he appears the stronger she does and underneath those markers of respectability - the string of pearls, the band of gold, the sensible stripes - she smiles benignly on her wayward boy.

But look at the hands, which while securing him are not actually holding him. Maybe she didn't want to show her claws, maybe her nails were not up to scratch, but her grip suggests not so much intimacy as restraint. We know already that Tory men like this sort of thing and that part of Margaret Thatcher's dominatrix appeal was her ability to keep her men in place. However, power for a politician's wife is a different ball game - maternal rather than sexual, devoted rather than domineering. We may believe that behind every successful man is a loyal wife yet, whatever its intention, this photo suggests that towering over Neil Hamilton is a woman with clenched fists. And who can honestly blame her?

Suzanne Moore

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