Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Spare us the victim's tears, Cherie

Why didn't she persuade Tony not to stand again if she felt unable to live in Number 10 any longer?
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The Independent Online

As far as I know, no goldfish ever willingly chooses the bowl it wants to reside in. Cherie Blair, though, is absolutely convinced that the partners of past, present and future Prime Ministers of Britain - her own good self most of all - were or have been turned into moronic goldfish.

I am trying to empathise, but drat it! Scepticism and pedantry trip up my caring side. Previous incumbents of 10 Downing street weren't unexpectedly snatched from peaceful, familiar waters to struggle briefly in small plastic fishnets; and, when desperately confused, dumped into a strange place which slowly maddened them as the world watched. But perhaps we all need to try harder and imagine what these consorts go through.

Been too mean to buy and read the book, The Goldfish Bowl, written by Mrs Blair and Cate Haste? Now, at least you can watch the movie (Channel4 Married to the Prime Minister, tonight) if only to understand why this is the worst job in the world. For Cherie, hell began on the morning after the best night ever, when her husband won the right to walk into the Prime Ministerial abode, cheered on by a nation relieved and grateful to be saying farewell to the sleazy Tories.

Flowers arrived at the Blair household early in the morning; Cherie took them, looking exhausted in her nightdress with her hair a frightful mess. Photographers snapped her and a lunacy was born. She confesses candidly: "I thought, oh my God, Tony's going to kill me. I shut the door and that's when I realised I was living in a goldfish bowl."

Tony would kill her for showing the public that she sleeps and wakes up looking dopey and dishevelled? Is this her being worryingly over-sensitive or is her husband really that ferociously image conscious? The top New Labour couple obviously is a combination of both - paranoia and ruthlessness - and, like too many other advantaged people out there they are also unashamedly self-pitying.

Cherie Blair wept on camera when her eldest son was going off to university. Then she was apparently upset that many women in particular found the tears intensely annoying and contrived. The boy was going an hour and a half down the road with all the support and protection she herself would never have had in her own life as she moved up from her impecunious background to become a top lawyer and iconic, glittering figure.

Fiona Millar, her erstwhile PR woman (partner of Alistair Campbell) writes stirringly about other such tribulations of the first lady: "Being the partner of a political creature can be a very lonely business, something which often takes courage to admit. Private emotions and beliefs often have to co-exist with the sometimes more worthwhile goals such as winning elections, changing the country and making other peoples' lives better ... [Cherie] is a woman from a working-class background who reached the pinnacle of her profession, yet also enjoyed a close and loving marriage." Yes, precisely, so why should we feel sorry for her?

Or for Lady Wilson, who is saddened that after her husband became PM she lost some friends and "acquired a lot of people" she didn't care for. She apparently had a friend in London who would console her with smoked salmon sandwiches and champagne. What unbearable agony that must have been.

Tory whingers are no better. Norma Major moans: "When I arrived there was absolutely nothing to support me at all. There were holes in the wall and the curtains were torn." Bloody slum, obviously. We must await the next instalment. Perhaps it will be the very bright Sarah Brown or the photogenic Samantha who at present show no fears of the future and appear terribly keen to accompany their ambitious men into the bowl.

The moaning minnies are seen among the crop of wannabe PM's too and those who never will be again. Iain Duncan Smith and John Major seems unable to speak these days without a whine breaking into their voices. They clearly believe they were unappreciated and condemned to obscurity by the press and Tory party.

True enough in some ways, but that is the game. Get over it and enjoy all that money the directorships bring in. William Hague has made himself rich and successful since his failed attempts to be the leader who put the pride back into Conservatism, but even he still gives off a whiff of petulance. In his tabloid column this Sunday, (for which he is paid handsomely) Hague advised any future Tory PM not to forget how lucky he is.

Then came this bitter paragraph: "On the day you have flopped in the Commons, been written off in the press, received a bag of hate mail and had a rotten egg thrown at you, just remember that lots of people want your job and when you really want to get your own back, you can let them."

It is easily done, this descent into privileged self pity. Lord, the number of two-homes people you meet these days who want to share their anxieties about inadequate pension provision. Poor me, poor me, is the refrain from folk who really do have just about everything. I find myself falling into the pit of doom myself, feeling dreadfully hard done-by because some out there resent my presence and voice. But heck, I am doing a job I love and am respected and paid for it. I should give it up if it really is that intolerable.

Why didn't Mrs Blair persuade Tony not to stand again if she felt unable to live more years in the bowl? How come none of the spouses in her book chose to leave the politically over-ambitious partners who dragged them into misery and frustration? Was it because the role gave them kudos and other advantages which they were loath to lose? Or were they incredibly loyal and felt they had to stand by their man, or woman in the case of Denis Thatcher? Either reason would have provided enough succour, I imagine, for a few years in the public eye.

We needed an honest essay from the PM's consort on the gains of power and the extraordinary advantages now in place for her and her husband and for their children - and theirs too probably. Mark Thatcher is, even now, living off the proceeds of that legacy. I have seen Cherie's lovely face glow (she is far prettier in real life than her pictures) when she is overwhelmed with such warmth, affection and adoration by crowds that I simply cannot give credence to her book or programme.

I would, however be very interested in a meditation on the seductive perils of her position. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in the Declaration of Rights: "Titles are tinsel, power a corrupter, glory a bubble, and excessive wealth a libel on the possessor" When the tenancy ends, perhaps this brilliant woman can give us a book on these observations.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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