Editor-At-Large: So, farewell Sandra Howard, Mother Teresa of the Tories

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The Independent Online

A tale of two wives. One of the most delightful outcomes of the general election is the cessation of the beatification of Sandra Howard. I think I have met Mrs Howard only once, briefly, several years ago at a race meeting, when her husband and I presented some trophies. She made no impression on me whatsoever. I have racked

A tale of two wives. One of the most delightful outcomes of the general election is the cessation of the beatification of Sandra Howard. I think I have met Mrs Howard only once, briefly, several years ago at a race meeting, when her husband and I presented some trophies. She made no impression on me whatsoever. I have racked

my brain to try to recall some of the astonishing qualities that seem to have so enthralled the press of late, but all I can remember is a pleasant, unassuming woman.

A key part of the rebranding of Michael Howard for this election was the marketing of Sandra as a woman unlike any other - a combination of Mother Teresa, Sixties hippie, and love slave. According to Geraldine Bedell in The Observer Sandra was "the human and utterly lovely face of a party that used to be nasty". She was "intriguingly contemporary" - whatever that might be. Another harpie wrote that unlike other political wives such as Cherie or Hillary, Sandra had no ulterior motives. She's been eulogised as selfless, a proto It girl, someone who sits at the back, gets stuck into the washing up. Tory writers such as Bruce Anderson and Max Hastings swooned over her. Even female writers claimed that her extraordinary looks reduced men to jelly. In short, Sandra was a perfect 10, with her sale-bargain clothes, hopeless second-hand car and devastatingly simple, flicky hair. A wry smile and a stammer. What a stunner!

Now I am sure that Sandra Howard is a thoroughly nice person and I appreciate the unpaid work she does for a charity dealing with addicts. But isn't it fascinating that she's got no real job, unlike nearly every other woman in Britain today? Having rejected the possibility of going to university in favour of the Lucy Clayton charm school, Sandra never felt the need to pick up any qualifications and failed at her attempt to become a magistrate. She was a successful model 40 years ago. She once wrote a slushy novel but described it as "a bit of an amateur effort". Now, as a result of her recent time in the spotlight, Simon & Schuster has offered her a two-book deal. Presumably they have an editor who will sort out the journey from amateur scribbler to professional romantic author.

Mrs Howard, like me, has been married four times (and my goodness the last time I got divorced the Daily Mail pilloried me, but then I had not graced the cover of American Vogue two months running, decades ago). She is said to have started her affair with Mr Howard while she was still married to hubbie No 3. But no one has ever accused Sandra of being anything other than gorgeous. Her only crime of note is not infidelity, but a tendency to be a bit late. All this is of course in sharp contrast to the university educated and superbly qualified Cherie Blair who is still devoted and very much in love with husband No 1. She has a strong faith and a close-knit family. Although her children were paraded outside Downing Street on Friday, they are not normally packaged up for media consumption, whereas Mr Howard got the whole lot, grandchildren and all, on the stage with him in Brighton. Cherie has never stopped work as a barrister, often accepting civil liberty and human rights cases which could potentially embarrass her husband. She's intelligent, well qualified, professional, and driven.

But it sticks in the craw of most media commentators to praise Cherie. Our first lady is trashed for writing books, pilloried for giving lecture tours, derided for seeking alternative therapies. Sandra, on the other hand can witter on about the 1960s being great, and it's just cool, baby. I am sure that Sandra Howard entered the spotlight reluctantly, but her undoubtedly photogenic cheekbones have dimmed our eyes to the fact that the camera-shy Cherie, whether we like her or not, represents a far better role model for women today. OK, she might display dodgy dress sense and a tendency to pick up the odd freebie for the kids. But I'd rather have a glass of wine with a brain than a bimbo any day of the week.

Mind you, being the wife of any leading politician is a thankless task. Sensibly, Charles Kennedy's wife produced the sprog at a key moment and then kept her head down. Sarah Brown, another successful career woman, also kept her mouth firmly shut as she stood one step behind the great man at the count on Thursday evening. Isn't it about time we allowed the wives of politicians to get on with their lives away from the spotlight? We don't expect Mr Margaret Beckett to share his shopping tips with us or Mr Ruth Kelly to reveal how he changes nappies and loves a spot of aromatherapy. A set of double standards prevails, where wives are expected to be assets first and intelligent beings in their own right second. However long Cherie Blair remains in Downing Street, is it too much to hope that HER third term in office is marked by a winding-down of the hate campaign? I sometimes think some of the press won't be happy until Cherie and Victoria Beckham are sectioned.

The eBay trap

The case of the teenager who has been convicted for selling non-existent goods on eBay is a chilling tale of our times. I freely admit to being addicted to flogging stuff on the internet, and spend hours going through cupboards and cardboard boxes to come up with collectables (notice I use that all-important buzz word) that someone else might be tempted to purchase. Phillip Shortman, however, was in a different league, amassing £45,000 by tricking ebay shoppers into shelling out for goods that existed only in his imagination. The other week I hit the jackpot selling a Swatch watch to a woman in Thailand for £500, and a Clarice Cliff pepperpot for £90, but a plate shaped like a fish went for a fiver. I've sold 1960s luggage, cruet sets, clothes and even a 1970s tiara. The only trouble with eBay is that you can find yourself recycling your new cash back into someone else's coffers, and on Friday I had to ruthlessly stop myself buying a 1971 vinyl sofa complete with built-in acrylic magazine rack. Do you think that there's one gigantic set of junk in the world that is being endlessly bought and sold? And what price a Charles and Camilla wedding mug?

¿ The most entertaining documentary about pop for years was on BBC1 the other night. Brothers in Arms was about musical siblings who fell out. From the Knopflers to the Everlys to the Bros boys to the Gallaghers, it was one long heartfelt whinge. Only the Kemps (Gary and Martin) appear to still be speaking, but then Spandau Ballet is no more. Don Everly, now a podgy doughnut, was unrecognisable as the heartthrob I lunched with in 1973 and in whose presence I couldn't eat for hopeless adoration.

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