Janet Street-Porter: He disregarded his wife's career in order to protect his own

David Mills has shown himself over and over again to be a ruthless operator
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The Independent Online

I was disappointed by Tessa Jowell's feeble admission that she had not asked her husband for details of the mortgage loan that he had asked her to sign. It seemed inconceivable that someone designated Minister for Women could demonstrate such a lackadaisical attitude to joint domestic finances. Her statement that she left paying the mortgage to her husband just sent out all the wrong messages, reinforcing the notion that men are naturally better than women at balancing the books or dealing with complicated things like buying a house. In a week when a government committee made far-reaching proposals about how to redress the discrimination most women see in their pay packets, the intense media focus on Ms Jowell's domestic arrangements seemed an unwelcome distraction. Instead of fighting for other women, she was fighting to save her own skin. And, by the way, this woman who can't get her head around her mortgage is the same one who's in charge of a government department spending billions, as well as masterminding the Olympics in London.

As far as I'm concerned, Tessa Jowell has always carried out her ministerial duties efficiently and courteously, not exhibiting the patronising tone often adopted by some of her male counterparts such as Messrs Prescott and Reid. Although some of the press (generally male) like to mark her out as a nanny or a nurse without a bedpan, or a bossy head girl, the truth is that she has always been charming, open and ready for a chat every time our paths have crossed in public.

It was a shame that her great friend Baroness Jay told the radio programme The World at One on Wednesday that she thought Tessa was a victim of a media obsession with attractive women they wanted to cut down to size. In this case, it just wasn't true. Prejudice undoubtedly exists in the way female politicians are written about in the press. Double standards prevail in government, which means that men often get away with behaviour that female ministers cannot, from dishing out gongs to their mates and employing their cronies as "advisers". All this means that women in politics have to set higher standards, especially important at a time when public cynicism about politicians has never been higher, and all parties need to attract more women to stand for office.

Tessa Jowell may have been so engrossed in her demanding job that she turned a blind eye to the convoluted business affairs of her husband, who in the 1990s was involved with more than 100 different companies both here and abroad. He is currently a director of 46 businesses. He may or may not have accepted a bribe from the Italian Prime Minister for protecting him during two corruption trials in Italy in the late 1990s. But letters published last week show how he traded on his wife's position in order to try and drum up business in Dubai, where he had been refused permission to practise as a lawyer. No wonder that she must have found it hard to understand what exactly he was up to, when they met for muesli in the mornings.

In any marriage, there has to be one element that keeps couples together: trust. Most women don't truly think that their husbands tell them the truth the whole time, but we expect enough of the truth so we can get on with our lives without feeling uncomfortable. I've never thought men know how to be completely honest, especially ambitious businessmen. David Mills has shown himself over and over again to be a ruthless operator, capable of saying anything it took in order to get the result he wanted. And if he has admitted that he did this in court, then why are we surprised that he probably did it at home, too?

Most women in Tessa Jowell's position would surely feel betrayed as each day has brought fresh examples of her spouse's extraordinarily complicated business activities, many of which are highly embarrassing to her. Mr Mills has disregarded his wife's career in order to protect his own. The trust that she has shown him has been woefully lacking in return, and there is no thought for her in his wilful refusal to understand the demands of the public office that she holds.

I'm not surprised she dumped him - she had no choice. It's not about saving her own skin, but about serving the public who have voted for her. Tessa Jowell deserves to be left to get on with her job in peace, and to deal in private with the misery of having fallen for such a shameless bounder.