Why do these otherwise intelligent political wives allow themselves to become talking handbags?

I've had enough of these regressive conjugal stunts


Ed Miliband was introduced at the recent Labour fundraising dinner, but before speaking he completed a presidential circuit of the platform with his wife Justine on his arm, both waving to the guests as if they were on the steps of Downing Street or the White House.

Justine was participating in a nauseating little charade – as shameless as when Sarah Brown, a highly intelligent former PR, decided to step into the limelight and on to the platform to introduce Gordon at the Labour Party conference in 2009. Even Sarah’s soapy soft sell couldn’t rebrand her hubby, so will Justine fare any better?

How can such talented, intelligent, ambitious and successful women allow themselves to be turned into talking handbags? It’s enough to make me weep. Feminists should be disgusted. Justine is betraying everything we’ve ever fought for. This isn’t the US, where the First Lady has a high-profile role and the electorate see the president’s spouse as a key player, as long as he or she doesn’t do anything too controversial.

In France, President François Hollande said he didn’t want to copy predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy and install a wife in the Elysée Palace. Nevertheless, Valérie Trierweiler had staff and an office, and received a pay-off when she was dumped.

Hollande then had a chance to show that a president doesn’t need a sidekick in a frock, that if he wanted to signal a new era, he could do the job alone and have a mistress. So what’s he doing? Considering marrying his actress girlfriend, who will be First Lady, if not in title, certainly in the eyes of the public.

Politicians on this side of the pond have decided that to win female votes, they need Political Wives. David Cameron uses Sam as arm candy for key photo shoots and party conferences – but cannily she’s said little. Whether that will change in the coming months will be fascinating.

My legal friends tell me Justine Thornton is highly regarded, and good at her job. Ed, on the other hand, is regarded as television poison – still compiling a shortlist of people willing to burnish his television image for a salary of £80,000, which doesn’t buy top talent.


If Justine went into politics, she’d be good MP material, better qualified than the bunch of sons and daughters of Labour grandees currently grovelling around for a safe seat. But Justine isn’t asking for our vote – she’s asking us to vote for her husband, limbering up by campaigning for the No camp in the Scottish referendum.

She has presentational skills, acted in the cult kids’ telly series Dramarama and now – hold the front page – Ed cleverly admits his wife was a “troublemaker” at school, breaking loads of rules … hoping that she comes across as cool, even if he’s a geek through and through.

I’m not buying the crap that Justine is campaigning about Scottish independence only because she feel “strongly” about it. Mark my words: this week is a rehearsal for the Battle of the Top Birds, one that will not win a single vote from female voters, and worse, sets feminism back a couple of decades. The Political Wife – powerless but beautifully groomed and so caring – is a traitor to my sex.

Some boys can bring me to tears – for the right reason

My first trip to the Proms was as a Fulham schoolgirl in the 1950s, and I’ve been back most years ever since, but last Thursday marked a first. A few years ago, I tricked Neil Tennant into accompanying me to a Prom performance of (my favourite Baroque composer) Rameau’s opera Les Boréades. It ran three and a half hours (at least), and as Mr Tennant does not share my passion for courtly music, he was not that happy afterwards.

On Thursday, Neil was on stage, making his Proms debut, with a new work written with Chris Lowe celebrating the life of code‑breaker Alan Turing. The Pet Shop Boys’ 2011 ballet, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Most Incredible Thing, revolved around clocks, machines and time – themes which reappear in this work recounting the tragic story of Turing, who played a key role in the Second World War, only to be chemically castrated for homosexuality.

Juliet Stevenson narrated from an ugly white sound booth – a genius stroke, as it looked like a period prop. Her cool, calm tones measured out the key moments in Turing’s life, against a Greek chorus. By the end, announcing that he had been pardoned in December 2013, she had shifted fractionally away from her studied Radio 4 neutrality.

I’m biased, of course, but it was a hugely successful evening for two men who are still brave enough to think big and take risks – unlike most musicians of their generation. I hope it’s performed again soon.

Earlier, Chrissie Hynde singing Angelo Badalamenti’s arrangement of “Love Is a Catastrophe” brought tears to my eyes. Yes, even hard-bitten JSP weeps (sometimes).

Gilbert and George – the Samuel Pepys of our time

In a back room at the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey, two smartly dressed men of a certain age (not the Pet Shop Boys) were making no concessions to the scorching heat. Gilbert and George were sitting at a kitchen table, with immaculate white shirts and ties tucked into thick mustard tweed trousers, busily signing posters for their new show, Scapegoating Pictures. Their matching jackets were hung up neatly behind them.

G and G had already embellished 200 posters and were on top form, thrilled by the review in this paper the previous day. This duo live on the front line in Whitechapel and are the Samuel Pepys of our time, carefully chronicling the minutiae of their rundown neighbourhood with its transient population of poor working people less than a mile from the financial powerhouse of the UK.

Over the past 30 years, the pair have assembled an important social history of modern Britain, far more revealing than any documentary or news bulletin. Also – and this is really important – they are utterly democratic. This is, to coin their phrase, “art for all”. They do souvenirs, from swear boxes to T-shirts and bags. Some 2,800 people turned up on their opening night.

G and G have become the reality stars of the contemporary art world, something they probably anticipated when (as students) they coated themselves in metallic paint and sang Bud Flanagan’s “Underneath the Arches” back in 1970. These works are monumental, crass, vulgar, and confrontational – getting their message across in a way politicians can never achieve.

Operation Big News Management!

I wrote last week about the police and news management – how they often seek to bury bad news. On Thursday, it was announced that there is to be a criminal investigation into an alleged cover-up of child abuse involving local politicians and policemen in Rochdale, linked to the late MP Cyril Smith. A former detective had also alleged on Newsnight that he was removed from an inquiry into alleged abuse in children’s homes in Lambeth, after he produced a list of politicians and celebrities said to be involved.

My friend works for the Met and tells me that its much-publicised Operation Big Wing days, when it announces a sweep on one type of crime, is used as a way of generating good publicity. The police routinely save up arrests and warrants and planned searches and then carry them all out on one day to give the impression of frantic activity. On Wednesday 25 June, we were told that this Operation Big Wing was targeting knife crime: 160 warrants were issued; there were searches at stations and bus stops, and a total of 900 “activities” took place. By lunchtime that day, the Met announced 140 arrests. Good planning or news management?

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