Harriet Walker: Who cares whether a political leader is married or not?

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in charge of the Labour Party must be in want of a wife. How can Ed Miliband compete with the likes of Cameron and Obama without a cutesy Stepford missus to parade around when things get tough?

Radio 2 listeners (that tolerant bunch) want answers, having besieged Miliband during a phone-in earlier this week to complain about his lack of wedding ring. Quite right too: we need our politicians trustworthy and we need them married. A man who can treat a wife properly must surely be able to treat a nation well, after all. Just look at JFK, Bill Clinton – even Henry VIII.

It's disappointing, when the public has no say in the changes being made in its name by a Coalition that fails to represent even half the people who voted for it, that the thing we're on air whingeing about is the leader of the opposition's marital status. Miliband isn't a bigamist, a Mormon, or even a confirmed bachelor. He's a young, successful father in a stable, long-term relationship with the (also young, also successful) mother of his children.

Another complaint was that Miliband was not named as father of his first child, Daniel, on his birth certificate. Well, now he is. But it actually makes sense not to be because, in a feudal and farcical quirk of the system, an unmarried father named on a birth certificate must re-register his paternity if and when he marries the child's mother. Complicated? Not half as tricky as our reaction to unmarried parents.

Who is this dastardly, scurvy knave in charge of the Labour Party? And what does he mean, polluting the Commons with his roguish modern ways? Heaven forbid we have a leader who represents a vast segment of society. The marriage rate is less than three quarters what it was 10 years ago; fewer of us are getting hitched. That's not to say we the unwed are about to skip out on our partners at the drop of a hat. The modern testament to commitment, love and honour is the fact that people choose to stay together and have children without the confetti, the religious drone and the slip of paper.

Just before the leadership vote, I saw Ed Miliband at St Pancras, kissing his partner and son goodbye; they looked like a happy family. The only possible cause for gripe is if his partner Justine Thornton particularly wants to get married. No one likes a commitment-phobe. But she probably wouldn't have stuck around if she felt that way.

So perhaps these callers don't understand why Miliband is forgoing the amazing tax perks awarded by Cameron's government to those who tie the knot. They're essentially the same people who had misgivings about Disraeli being our first Jewish Prime Minister; you don't hear anyone asking Ed about that. And similarly, these current complaints will seem just as pig-ignorant and parochial in time.

Politicians' private lives are now as open to us as any celebrity's. But where Alexa Chung may exist to be photographed and scrutinised, MPs actually have stuff to get on with. If any of them were hiding ex-wives in the attic or burying bodies in their backyards, then I suppose I'd like to know. These are things that indicate character traits and dispositions. How must Miriam Clegg feel, for example, with the knowledge that her husband has no qualms about breaking vows, whether made in front of God or the voting public?

Remember Tory sleaze, the bed-hopping and brown envelopes; look again at the student protests, the U-turns, the systematic hardening of the governmental heart towards those in need – and then decide if Ed Miliband's naked fourth finger is enough to put you off him. Like marriage, politics isn't just about the guy in the suit at the end of the aisle on the big day: it's what happens after you cut the cake that really matters.

h.walker@independent.co.uk; Twitter.com/harrywalker1

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