Happy 2015. And happy election year. There are 123 days to go before the polling booths open and so, as inevitably as hangover follows eggnog, the Parade of the Political Wives has begun. The Liberal Democrats are first out of the blocks, with a four-page interview with Miriam Gonzalez Durantez in a women’s lifestyle magazine. Published yesterday, it put paid, dispiritingly early, to any wistful notion that 2015 might be the year that political WAGs become an irrelevance.
Puffed on the front of Red as an encounter with “the thinking woman’s girl crush”, the profile is headlined with an inspiring quote from Gonzalez Durantez. “I believe that every single woman can choose what they do with their lives – as men do.” To prove it, the high-earning international lawyer and campaigner for women’s rights has chosen to share the first 15 minutes of her interview with her husband, Nick Clegg.
They sound like a nice couple, they look like a nice couple, they have nice children and super jobs. If politics was simply a matter of voting for the couple you most like the look of in a glossy magazine, then the Liberal Democrats might just walk it. But a wife, however dazzling, does not cancel out a generation stymied by tuition fees.
Still, when Gonzalez Durantez is permitted by Clegg’s press officer to complete the rest of her interview on her own, she acquits herself very well. There is the usual guff about her looks, her age and her orange suede high heels to get through. (Perhaps 2015 will be the year that male politicians’ shoes get a mention in profiles? Or not.) But for the rest, she is articulate about her upbringing, her career and feminism, and she is clearly committed to the Inspiring Women campaign to connect teenage girls with older female role models.
Lib Dems: policy focus
Lib Dems: policy focus
1/6 GEOFF PAYNE English Party representative, Federal Policy Committee
“The Tories have been seen over the last week for the nasty party that they are. I would go on the offensive to justify our record and ruthlessly exploit those differences over things like the benefit cap and scrapping the Human Rights Act.”
2/6 GARETH EPPS Co-chair, Social Liberal Forum
“We need to make it clear that we’re not in it for our mates, like the Tories. Some of the successes, like shared parental leave, would never have been there with only the Tories.”
3/6 DAISY COOPER Candidate, party president
“A lot of people do know that raising the tax threshold is a Liberal Democrat policy. We just need to keep telling the public that.”
4/6 JOHN PUGH Southport MP, rebelled against leadership on tuition fees
“We need to say that issues of social inequality and justice are equal priorities to economics. We must return to a traditional funding of the NHS.”
5/6 LORELY BURT Solihull MP, former deputy leadership candidate
“It does seem that we’ve been the repository of all the best ideas and that nice Mr Cameron has pinched our income tax policy and Labour the mansion tax policy.”
6/6 BARONESS PARMINTER Former chief executive, Campaign for the Protection of Rural England
“We have got to be very clear where we have stopped the Tories implementing changes that would have been detrimental to the environment.”
Gonzalez Durantez is a terrific role model herself, who talks sense about women in the workplace and about equal parenting – she famously interrupted a speech by Clegg last year to say that fathers who share childcare have “more cojones”. She is using her profile to do and say good things, while maintaining her own high-flying career and bringing up three young sons.
If she was a politician, I’d be tempted to vote for her, provided her policies matched up to her pronouncements. But she is not a politician, she is a lawyer and, at home, a politician’s wife. Just as she is using her profile to give a boost to the things that matter to her, her husband is using her intelligence and appeal to boost his electoral chances. To what end? The electorate is surely beyond awkward photocalls with Ed and Justine, and deconstructions of Dave and Sam’s leisurewear.
The idea that women might vote for a male leader because they like the look of his wife is as disrespectful as it is dumb. No other job – Ryder Cup golfer aside – requires a wife to show her support for her husband in such a public manner. There is another way to engage female voters: show them more women in power.
It is not a given than women vote for women – nor should it be – but more equal representation might at least demonstrate that the Government’s interest in women extends beyond a debate over the most appealing high-street frock for the party conference. Gonzalez Durantez would surely prefer that. “I sometimes get tired with all the talk,” she tells Red, when asked about feminism. “We need to match it with some actions.” In other words, fewer kitchen photocalls, more legislation.
If this all seems a bit right-on, picture Philip May. It is not an easy thing to do. He is the husband of Theresa May, who is easy to picture, being the most senior female in the House of Commons, only the second woman to be Home Secretary, the fourth to hold one of the four great offices of state, and one of five females to be a full Cabinet member. Of Philip, not much is known other than that he met Theresa at Oxford University, he is a banker, and – thank you, Desert Island Discs – he sometimes enjoys a spot of Abba. There is no reason for the public to know any more than that because he is not a public figure. If you are good at your job, you don’t need a family entourage to back you up. And if there must be Miriams in politics, let them stand centre stage, not to one side, laughing at their husband’s jokes in a carefully chosen dress.Reuse content