Femmes fatales

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They're coming for Cherie Blair. The fascination with her waist- cincher and pixie boots is over. She will no longer be given marks out of 10 for the quality of her loving stare at her triumphant husband. On Wednesday, she said something vaguely political and crusading, and now the knives are out.

It started with one of those younger Tory MPs for whom the term "pipsqueak" might have been invented. Nigel Evans, the red-faced rentagob from Ribble, accused Cherie of being the "Hillary Clinton of British politics" for having expressed a view on anti-discrimination legislation. Yesterday, the Daily Mail and the Sun took up the theme. Cherie had committed the sin of Mrs Clinton and had better watch out. Tony should take her in hand.

Before we go any further, I must make an admission: I have the hots for Hillary. She is bright, sassy, determined, wilful and domineering. Like many British men, I yearn for the smack of firm government and feel that somehow the First Lady might provide it. Her name itself, Rodham Clinton, is redolent with a robust female sexuality. After she had had her way with me, she could always tell me about health reforms while I recovered.

By the way, if I have any such feelings about Cherie, I am keeping them to myself. It would only take five minutes for an angry man to drive from Islington round to my house.

One of the things I particularly admire about HRC is the fact (so decried by others) that she has re-invented herself. The wonderful emergence of the classy, clear-sighted blonde butterfly from the dull, brown, myopic caterpillar is a beacon of hope in a decaying world. If I could get away with it and had $10,000 handy, then with help from Nicole Farhi, Clarins and a Harley Street plastic surgeon, I would look different too.

So I'm a fan of powerful women. But many aren't. Quite the reverse. Though Cherie, as an Opposition leader's wife, has remained more or less unscathed, Hillary is loathed with an extraordinary intensity by many right-wing American men - and not a few British ones. Their anger seems to engulf them.

Take William Safire, veteran columnist with the respectable New York Times, who decided to be so incensed by a series of rather pathetic evasions and small fibs on her part that, last week, he described Mrs Clinton as "a congenital liar". This is the same Bill Safire who, 20 years ago, was a spin doctor for Richard Nixon, the only president this century to be forced to resign (for lying).

What explains this incredible hostility? What has Hillary ever done to them? And what do their British counterparts fear that Cherie will do, to make such ominous comparisons?

Some disingenuously claim that dislike of Hillary springs from her unelected influence on her husband. This is, as another grande dame might have it, baloney. There was no demonisation of Nancy Reagan for subjecting her husband to the influence of an astrologer. Nancy examining the entrails of chickens to determine the future of arms control policy? That's okay; kinda feminine really. Hillary brilliantly taking on a congressional committee over health reform? Dreadful. How dare she.

So the "undue influence" argument is a smokescreen. Something else is going on to excite such gut hatred on the part of right-wing men. It ain't powerful women per se. Look how they drooled over Maggie. It's the idea of wives being overtly powerful, exercising direct influence through position and argument, rather than through wheedling and flirtation. Table talk, not pillow talk. These husbands live a knife's blade away from metaphorical castration.

After all, what does it say about them if the women can hold down good jobs, bring up bright kids, and (if necessary) survive without the dubious assistance of the verbal bullies and emotional louts who title themselves as the heads of the household? That's why they're out to get you, Cherie. And why some of us will defend you to the last. Whether you need it or not.