Christina Patterson: Not everyone can play happy families like Dave, Gordon and Nick

The Saturday Column
Click to follow

Well, thank God. This time next week, the most uxorious election in British history will be over. And perhaps whoever gets to Downing Street can then shut up about their blissful marriage to their darling wife and the amusing antics of their charming children through whom they discovered the meaning of life. Perhaps, but I wouldn't bank on it.

Did Margaret Thatcher go on and on about how much she adored her husband and how it was her children, really, who made her life worthwhile? You bet she didn't. Did Ted Heath? For obvious reasons, no. John Major? Fortunately (in the light of later revelations) not. It was Tony "five times a night" Blair, of course, who thrust his conjugal activities, and photogenic family, in the public's face. Like so much of the Blairite project, it was a model that swiftly came to be regarded as a prerequisite for power. It was lucky for the "bloke next door" that by the time Blair stood down, he had somehow acquired a baby, a toddler and, of course, a wife.

Gordon Brown was nearly 50 when he married Sarah Macaulay, after a slightly awkward proposal on a beach. David Cameron was in his twenties when he met Samantha Sheffield, the drop-dead gorgeous daughter of a baronet. Even the star of the coolest TV series on the planet at one time begged to go out with her. "We were all crazy about her," said The Wire's Dominic West in an interview this week. But it was the slightly older Etonian who won. No wonder Cameron said in a questionnaire last week that he was happiest "on his honeymoon". The smell of victory, as he is once again discovering, is sweet.

In the same questionnaire, Nick Clegg, who is the same age as Cameron, also talked about his honeymoon. (Both men, incidentally, mention skiing accidents as their closest skirmish with death. We may be talking change, but we're not talking Che Guevara.) He met Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, the daughter of a Spanish senator, while they were both studying in Brussels. She is an international trade lawyer who happens to look a bit like Penelope Cruz.

Clegg is clearly besotted by his brilliant, beautiful wife. Cameron is clearly besotted by his. And Brown by his. All three are besotted by their children. Each prospective leader, when asked in the questionnaire where he "would most like to be right now", replied, in effect, "at home with the wife and kids". All very touching, all very loving, all very human, all very sweet, though it does rather beg the question why, if they're so in love with the domestic arena, they're quite so keen to run the country. There are, one assumes, jobs that offer a better work-life balance.

Actually, I'm glad Brown has his Sarah and his boys. It has been so agonising watching his derailment this week that I've felt like scooping him up and wrapping him in something soft and fluffy and stroking that corrugated brow and singing him lullabies, so I'm mighty relieved that there's a Sarah to do this for him and two little boys who think he's great. He has, you can't help feeling, earned it. And if he did bang on about the "hard-working family" with the zeal of a late convert (even, in that excruciating moment, praising Mrs Self-Righteous of Rochdale for her "good family"), at least you always had the sense that he knew that there were other ways to live a life.

With Nick and Dave (I'm sure they'd insist on first names, frequently repeated) you're not so sure. It is not, I'm afraid, just Dave who oozes entitlement. They both have the air of men who lucked out in life's lottery, in background, education, parenting, looks, intelligence – and love.

Because love is a lottery, too, boys. To fall in love at a suitable time, and sustain a deep romantic bond for many years, and combine it with career success for both partners, and children, without financial pressures, isn't quite as common, or easy, as you might think. A free soya latte for married couples a week won't make it so, and nor will gushing interviews about your wife's sexual attractiveness and the shared washing up.

Almost a third of the population of this country live alone. About a fifth don't have children. About a tenth are gay. A quarter of all families are now single-parent households. Of those that aren't, not all the fathers are rushing home to play football with their offspring, and not all the mothers are declaring that they're what give meaning to their life. The reproduction of the human species is a natural and fulfilling thing to do, but it's also often a process fraught with disappointment.

"The family," said David Cameron on Thursday night, "is the most important thing in our society." And if you haven't got one? Tough. "If you haven't got one," a former Tory MP told me at the weekend, "you won't even feature on his radar."

This time next week, it's likely that David Cameron will be prime minister. It's still not at all clear what this means for the economy, or much else. If you're a happily married couple with a gargantuan mansion you want to leave to your children, while making damn sure that not a penny of it can be used to fund a school or hospital, you can probably rest in peace. If you're poor, if you're single, if you're gay, or if, God help you, you're unemployed, you probably can't.

Of course families matter, and of course parents want to do the best for their children, and of course governments should help them to do this, but I'd like to live in a society that doesn't label you a second-class citizen if you don't conform to this norm, a society that's about bonds of care, not blood.

Spooky glimpse into the world of Goldman Sachs

Second most gripping spectacle of the week: the carnival parade of grotesques attempting to explain to Congress why the "shitty" deals they had cobbled together, which lost their clients millions, and which they themselves bet against, were not actually "shitty", but a thoroughly good thing all round. Staff at Goldman Sachs, it's clear, live in a parallel universe, where straightforward questions trigger semantic somersaults.

It's also a universe where what you say in an email bears no relation to fact. Fabrice Tourré, the young Frenchman whose emails to girlfriends have boasted of "intellectual masturbation", and "monstrosities" he created but didn't understand, calmly told the Senate that he "did not mislead" investors and would fight this "false claim" of fraud.

It's spooky, entertaining stuff, but then Goldman Sachs, according to an inside report this week, is not just a bank, but a cult. Employees are treated to weekly "mind bullets" on voicemail by its chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, who recently claimed to have "attained perfection". At night, they're encouraged to recite the firm's 14 "totemic principles". Like "Without the best people, we cannot be the best firm".

Can you imagine? I mean, can you imagine adult men, who might even have the odd qualification, doing this stuff with a straight face? Believing what their boss says, just because he says it? Believing that they're "the best"? Whatever that might be.We knew that the people who broke the economy were greedy. We knew that they were arrogant. But I'm not sure we realised they were stark, staring mad.

Go back to baking cookies and being a good wife, Laura

It's something of a relief to know that Laura Bush is alive, since she always had the air of an executive secretary who had been woken up after many years in a freezer. But she is, apparently, and she's now written a memoir, Spoken from the Heart. In it, she talks about a car crash that took place when she was 17 in which a school friend died. She was driving. She didn't go to his funeral. She was haunted by the guilt for years.

In relation to September 11, however, she says, "If your number is up it's up." This, presumably, is the kind of searing logic that her husband brought to his escapades in Iraq. I'm sure it will be of great comfort to the millions whose relatives have died.

Comments