John Smith was at it this week, propelling two of his three glamorous daughters into the flashbulbs at a Scottish evening at the Labour Party conference. Mr Smith's legs were not something anyone wanted to see (he sensibly left the kilt at home and stuck to an accountants' approved-wear grey suit); but the Misses Smith could show off loads of black- stockinged thigh and creamy white shoulder and not look ridiculous at all. Quite the contrary.
Catherine Smith had even made her outfit herself. Daughters can do things like this, real things, that politicians have been too busy worrying about standing orders and committees to know much about. They can also wear flamboyant dangly earrings, like Jane Smith, and teased hair. You could almost see John Smith thinking: 'OK, I may be little, round and bald, but look at those two. Only a really virile bloke could produce that much hair.'
John Smith - dull name, dull guy - has quickly realised the advantages of daughters; he introduced his family to the public almost as soon as he became leader of the Labour Party. The Daily Mail carried a big picture of the daughters in bright outfits, and cooed, 'attractive and stylish, they may well turn out to be his greatest election aid'. And if only Smith had himself been tall and blond, the pictures might almost have been of Bill and Hillary, or Dan and Marilyn, and their kids. They screamed 'family values,' and 'I could be your President'.
Smith may not only have learnt about daughters from the Americans: the Tories have discovered them too. Chris Patten, or Fat Pang as he is known in Hong Kong, is using his three girls to manage relations with Chinese communism. For important reasons of state, Fat wants a higher profile than previous governors; he has discovered that if he goes out with Laura, 17, who has lots of hair and leg, a lovely face, and an enthusiasm for miniskirts, people report his activities. They don't even have to go out; photographers have apparently been climbing over each other to rent rooms overlooking the governor's swimming pool for swimsuit shots. Whereas on his own, poor old Fat could have strutted up and down in his trunks for as long as he liked, and there wouldn't have been a telephoto lens in sight.
Daughters are also useful if you are a barmy politician: they make you seem more human. John Patten may have seriously undermined his credibility by urging us all to worry more about Hell; but photographed with his pretty daughter, Mary Claire, he looks a regular dad, almost normal. Mary Claire may not be quite old enough to do the full thing with the hair and leggings, but she already has her political uses. John Patten has cleverly sent her to state school. This enabled him, when he became Secretary of State for Education, to say he was thinking about putting a notice on his desk saying 'Remember Mary Claire'. Cue lots of pictures of fond dad taking child to (very much above average) primary school. The captions told us in hushed tones that 'some of her fellow pupils have free school meals'.
John Gummer has had to have four children to mitigate the effects of his beliefs. Unhappily, two of these were boys (how different might David Mellor's fate have been, had he only managed to produce a long-haired daughter to push Antonia de Sancha off the news pages); but he has already put the girls to good effect. Cordelia was forced to eat a burger during the height of the BSE scare, thus proving that the man who thinks homosexuality is 'a disability', vegetarianism is 'wholly unnatural', and the food industry is 'threatened by witchcraft' also thinks humans don't get mad cow disease. Cordelia herself looked less than convinced.
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