As staged events at press conferences go, Miriam Gonzalez’s intervention this week was one of the more memorable, and she certainly made her point with clarity. Her husband, Nick Clegg, feigned surprise when she raised her hand to ask a question during the launch of Cityfathers, an organisation for working fathers in the City of London, and claimed to be “terrified” about what she might say.
She said: “There are many, many dinosaurs that still think that a man who takes care of his own children, he is some kind of less of a man. So if you and other modern working fathers could start saying not only loudly, but also proudly, that taking care of your own children and being responsible for those children does not affect your level of testosterone – and that men who actually treat women as equals are the ones with more cojones.”
It was that last word “cojones” that rang out. If she had used the English equivalent – “balls” – she would have invited faux outrage in unfriendly quarters, but even the Daily Mail could not work up any indignation about that reversion to her native tongue.
It was unusual for the woman often referred to as Mrs Clegg to intervene so directly on a political occasion. During the 2010 general election, when Samantha Cameron was constantly at her husband’s side, and Sarah Brown had an established public profile, it was noted how rarely Nick Clegg’s wife was seen on the stomp. Asked about her absence, she is reported to have replied: “I don’t have the luxury of having a job that I can simply abandon for five weeks, and I imagine that that is the situation for most people in the country.”
That was not something that the Liberal Democrat election strategists had planned, but it turned out, as one put it, to be an “accidental masterstroke”. The public liked the sound of this semi-invisible wife, sticking with her day job and domestic affairs while hubby was out pitching for votes, and who even, in a poignant touch, fractured an elbow while shopping in the middle of the campaign.
Later coverage was not so pleasant. Miriam Gonzalez – who does not call herself Clegg – is a highly successful lawyer, who was head of international trade law at the global law firm DLA Piper until 2011 when she switched to another global firm, Dechert, as head of EU trade, on a salary reputed to be £500,000. Certainly she is on several times what her husband is paid to be Deputy Prime Minister. She is also a woman with strong opinions on feminism, on the role of women in the workplace, and of fathers in the home. “Of course every man who has children should be involved in their lives… If they don’t want to be involved, they shouldn’t have them,” she once remarked.
Asked in 2011 by Grazia magazine how she managed to combine motherhood with a high-pressure job, she replied: “I always get very surprised when I’m asked this question because, you know, I have three children, I have a busy career and I have a very busy husband. Yet my husband has three children, he has a much busier career than I have, and he has a busy wife.”
She is a Roman Catholic, whereas her husband is an atheist. When they were married in her home town of Olmedo, in the Valladolid region of Spain, he had to agree that their children would be brought up as Catholics. Their three sons, who all have Spanish Christian names, go to Catholic schools. The eldest is at the London Oratory, where Tony and Cherie Blair sent three of their four children. Nick Clegg even drew political flak by hinting in a radio interview last year that they might opt for private education, making it pretty clear in passing which of the two parents is taking the lead in deciding how the children are educated. “I never have sought to impose a decision on my wife as well as my son for political reasons,” he said.
On another occasion, nearly two years ago, he said: “I worship the ground Miriam walks on. She’s forthright and doesn’t let me get away with much at home.”
A forthright, high-earning professional woman who does not allow her husband to “get away with much” – the material was all there for the sort of people who once revered Margaret Thatcher to start attacking the Deputy Prime Minister’s wife as a bossy female, and a Spaniard sticking her nose into British affairs. When Nick Clegg belatedly ordered an inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct made against the Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard, it was instantly reported that he was following orders from his wife, a report the couple flatly denied.
“What has it even got to do with her?” the Daily Mail’s Jan Moir demanded, in response to Ms Gonzalez’s “cojones” comment. “Bad enough that Miriam interferes in British public life, but sometimes she seems like another one of those high-powered supermums who does not practise what she preaches. She may lecture City bosses about gender roles within the family, but what exactly is happening at Clegg Towers?” A woman on Ms Gonzalez’s salary is bound to have a nanny, and a housekeeper and others perhaps, to relieve them of domestic responsibilities, Ms Moir assumed.
Though she has never been a practising politician, Ms Gonzalez was familiar with the political world before she and Nick Clegg first met. The Deputy Prime Minister paid tribute in a speech last year to his father-in-law, Jose Antonio Gonzalez Caviedes, who was a senator and the first elected mayor of Olmedo in 1979, as Spain moved to democracy after the death of the dictator General Francisco Franco. It was quickly pointed out that Senator Gonzalez, who was killed in a road accident in 1996, started his career under the dictatorship and was appointed mayor of Olmedo in the dying days of the Franco regime, before he stood for election – but there is a square in Olmedo named after him, in tribute to the benefits he brought to the town.
Born in Olmedo in 1968, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez graduated from Valladolid University, then took a post-graduate course in Bruges, where she was persuaded by fellow students to give classes in flamenco-style dancing. When a British student, Nick Clegg, turned up for her classes, she took it as a declaration of love.
By the time they married, he was a member of the European Parliament, so she knew she was committing herself to the semi-public life of a politician’s spouse, though she may not have anticipated being married to the Deputy Prime Minister. In that position, she was going to invite condemnation whatever path she chose.
Last October, she made a rare foray into print, writing an article for The Daily Telegraph to publicise a campaign to bring girls together with role models. In it, she wrote about the stereotyping of women: “If we do not have children, people assume we are ‘frustrated’. If we stay at home taking care of our children, it is said we are ‘not working’. If we have a job, we are portrayed as just ‘part-time mums’, and sometimes even as bad parents. If we succeed in our professional lives, we’re branded ‘scary’.”
Undoubtedly, there are men who still think that women like Miriam Gonzalez are scary: but as she would put it, they are the men without cojones.
A life in brief
Born: 31 May 1968, Olmedo, Spain.
Family: Her parents were teachers, and her father was senator for Valladolid. She is married to Nick Clegg, and they have three children.
Education: Studied law at University of Valladolid, and then won a scholarship to the College of Europe in Bruges.
Career: Worked for the EU for 12 years, and was a partner at DLA Piper for six years. Now a partner at Dechert, where she is head of the EU trade and relations.Reuse content