Editor-At-Large: A woman's place is on the platform

Bright women should be in power, not simpering at their men
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The Independent Online

Who are we being asked to vote for at the next election? British politicians are shamelessly emulating the Yanks, offering voters not just the name on the ballot paper but spouses as a bonus. That's why Sam Cam's wardrobe has been the subject of more scrutiny than any Tory policies. Until now, the job of running Britain has been the job of one person. But since Obama offered himself as a multifaceted package – the well-dressed, cool, intelligent wife and two cute girls, a wholesome photogenic first family – our politicians have opted for US-style presentation. And it's not just the Brits – on the other side of the Channel, Sarkozy's opportune marriage to Carla Bruni has increased his international profile, and given him loads of photo opportunities. In spite of her limited artistic skills and lack-lustre vocal talents, Carla makes a short, vain bloke interesting.

Over here, once both Brown and Cameron said their wives weren't for public consumption – but these are desperate days and things are different. They realise how disenchanted the public is, and how the expenses scandal was the final straw. In the battle to rekindle our interest, the wives are the key weapons. Sarah took centre stage to speak for her man, the bloke who comes across in public as emotionally threadbare. She gushed about Gordon, letting us know that he had hidden depths only she could tell us about and implying that she – unelected to any office – had the best interests of voters at heart.

Last week the Tories fought back. Sam Cam appeared daily on the front pages wearing clothes from the high street – and the message was loud and clear. Tories do austerity. Don't think for one minute Mrs Cameron threw a few frocks in a suitcase. Forget personal shoppers or stylists, she was dressed by the spin doctors. She's posh, she goes to fashion shows and she likes luxury – that's how she earns her living, running a company that makes extraordinarily costly diaries. A family of four could live for weeks on the price of a Smythson leather-bound year planner, and the chic handbags she designs cost more than my monthly mortgage payments.

So, while George Osborne talks how we're all in it together, and how we must face up to the pain of a new age of frugal living with rampant cost cutting and pay freezes, Sam Cam is carefully dressed in jeans and cheap shoes, looking the part. Sadly, this blatant opportunism fools no one. It is as nauseating as Sarah Brown's warm-up act. Normally, Sam Cam wears dresses by Prada, Vivienne Westwood, and Alberta Ferretti, costing well over £600 a throw. Her shoes are by Rupert Sanderson at more than £300 a pair. So don't think that £55 Marks & Spencer frock is anything other than a new Tory mission statement.

Her husband told us the Tories place the family at the centre of everything. No problem there. But he laid on the schmaltz with a trowel: "I know what sustains me most. She is sitting right here and I'm incredibly proud to call her my wife." I'm afraid I had to turn the telly off at that point and reach for an out-of-hours drink. What happened to real blokes who lead from the front? Now they all have to say they couldn't do anything without their bloody wives.

If the Tories really cared about women – all women, not just the ones they marry – there would have been more females on that conference platform. Sadly, politics in the UK continues to be the domain of white M people – middle class, male, middle aged. And mediocre. Both leaders' wives are highly intelligent. Which is why it's so depressing they are allowing themselves to be used as marketing tools. Feminism means standing up for all women, putting them first, making sure they achieve their potential. Sam and Sarah should ask themselves why so few women have real power in Britain. They're not helping the sisterhood.

The rotten branch of Michelle's family tree

As far as I know, my ancestors were poor Welsh villagers who were labourers or quarry workers, or poor white Londoners. Nothing really sexy there. I can't watch those telly programmes where someone bursts into tears when they discover their family history – it always seems horribly phoney as the celebrity in question tries to "imagine" how a distant relative felt centuries ago.

Genealogy is big business on the internet, and I often wonder why. Many Brits find it difficult to find the time for friends, let alone relatives, and we're not known for the kind of family gatherings other countries (like the Italians, for example) regularly enjoy. If ever anyone wrote to me claiming to be a distant relative, my mum would always tell me they were after money, and I should chuck the letter in the bin.

But I can see that tracing your ancestors has a real poignancy and is helpful for thousands of African Americans as they achieve a much-needed sense of identity. The New York Times has discovered that Michelle Obama's background includes white as well as black blood – she is descended from Melvinia, a black slave girl who produced a mixed-race child when she was 15, probably as a result of being compelled to have sex with her white owner. We're told this man was a devoted Christian.

I wonder if the paper would have been quite so proud of the story if darker secrets had been uncovered. Good job Bruce Forsyth hasn't been asked for a "humorous" comment on Michelle's racial mix.

Museums shudder as the MP twitters

Can someone explain how Secretary of State for Culture Ben Bradshaw finds the time to twitter regularly about the BBC's "biased" coverage of the Tories' conference, and to make tasteless remarks about the NHS. As museums all over the country face savage funding cuts and worry that the recession might mean the re-imposition of admission charges, Mr Bradshaw could stop twittering and start doing the job he's paid to.

I'm just potty about Grayson

This week London hosts the Frieze Art Fair and dealers and collectors are flying in from all over the world. They can ignore the turgid nominees for this year's Turner prize to see British art at its eccentric best by paying a visit to the Victoria Miro Gallery in Islington, where Grayson Perry has just unveiled his latest opus, a contemporary take on Bayeux – an incredibly complex 41ft tapestry depicting consumerism in all its many forms. A smaller version will be on display at Frieze (just 21ft long, but still out of my price range). There's also a terrific pot which is a homage to the Westfield shopping mall. If you want to own a Grayson Perry, the Tate is selling a hilarious silk scarf he's designed, an acerbic comment on the art scene. Perry, like Damien Hirst, has a prodigious output. He shows no sign of running out of ideas, either. A new version of the Canterbury Tales next?

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