Politics is clearly in trouble and strife

The leaders’ wives – Serious Sarah, Sexy Sam, Anonymous Miriam – are taking the politics of personality to a new low.

Emily Hill

Topics Politics UK

Politics has come to a pretty point when the leader having a nice wife is touted as a ‘secret weapon’ in the election battle. John Major may have tried to wheel out Norma but at least no one took it seriously – least of all Norma.

Under Mussolini the cult of personality at least had sparks of imagination – good hats, for instance – but now it’s very drab. The choice in the forthcoming UK General Election between voting Labour, Tory or Lib Dem seems to come down to whether we’d most like to have a pint with Gord, Dave or Cleggover. Which candidate looks more like he’s been in the hot wash with a drawerful of Daz in the whiter-than-white stakes? Whose got the best spouse?

So there’s the prime minister’s wife, Sarah B; the leader of the opposition’s wife, Sam C; and Miriam González Durántez who is married to Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats. Don’t know how to decide between the three? As Cilla Black would say on any other ‘Blind Date’, here’s our Graham with a quick recap…

‘Well, will you pick number one? She’s best mates with Naomi Campbell but so far she’s never hit a member of her domestic staff – unlike her husband! Or will you pick saucy number two? She’s toff totty, looks good in skirts and is coming soon to a doorstep near you, pregnant! Or will you pick mystery number three? She kept her own surname and the only thing anyone can remember about her husband is that he told Piers Morgan he’d shagged “up to 30” women. The choice… is yours!’

This week it’s certainly been sexy Number 2, David Cameron’s wife Samantha, who has been getting most of the close-up shots in the Election Date roadshow. David Cameron’s poll lead was almost wiped out even though Gordon Brown was getting perhaps the worst personal press of his career. Something had to be done. While the PM emoted for Piers Morgan, Cameron declared that he would eschew slitting his wrists for a Britain’s Got Talent host and a nonplussed nation in favour of something ‘a bit more substantial’ – promptly booking himself into the Alan Titchmarsh show to play second fiddle to a florist who showed the audience how to make flower arrangements in a teacup. Former Texas frontwoman Sharleen Spiteri played a cover of ‘Xanadu’ by Olivia Newton-John, and Dave revealed that we would all be seeing a lot more of his wife. And from then on there has been no avoiding her.

In quick succession, Samantha has appeared on Trevor McDonald’s show on ITV, talking about how Dave likes to make a mess in the kitchen, has promised to devote five weeks to pepping up Dave’s campaign, and has been splashed all over the newspapers in slit-to-thigh dresses from a modelling shoot she did years ago when was only newly Mrs Dave… Very odd, incidentally, that these shots were suddenly ‘found’ so close to an election: ‘In a more playful pose, Mrs Cameron models a beige sheepskin shearling minidress as she frolics on the floor with a kitten.’ I’ll bet she does. But now, midweek, she’s switched from vamp to Earth Mother and has revealed she is expecting a baby in September. According to the London Evening Standard, ‘a baby has not acquired such national importance since Diana, Princess of Wales did her duty. The election baby could be the break her husband needs to regain his lead in the polls.’ Vote me, vote my fetus.

She comes from aristocratic stock. Her mother is Lady Astor. Her father is Sir Reginald Sheffield, a direct descendant of Charles II. But Sam Cam does her level best to come across as a woman of the people. It was my great mistake, when young, to think that I’d sound better if I started imitating the pronunciation of BBC newsreaders, meaning I am now stuck with the sort of hoity-toity accent which leads my dad to squeal ‘Euw hellluuuuuur’ down the phone at me whenever I call home like he’s channeling the ghost of Celia Johnson with a corncob rammed up her backside. But Sam Cam has done the opposite of social climbing through the vowel system and adopted the Lily Allen approach to modern-day posh-girl elocution. ‘It is enormously interesting and significant’, railed Peter Hitchens this week (leaving questions as to what else in life he finds ‘enormously interesting’ – watching mould grow perhaps?) ‘that the Tory leader’s wife, daughter of a land-owning baronet, brought up on broad acres, educated at a genteel private girls’ academy and then at one of the great Public Schools, and now running a business that caters to London’s dwindling but unflinching cut-glass classes, should speak Estuary English’.

Of course it doesn’t really matter what kind of accent Samantha Cameron has – but in the era of personality politics, or the era of the personality-of-the-wife politics, it somehow seems to. We’re never going to know Samantha – so weird things like her improbable accent are what we are presented with. She seems to have been drafted in to make Dave somehow seem ‘authentic’, whereas, in fact, her sudden appearance does quite the opposite. Together they look rather like mannequins from an upmarket retailer arranged in a window, everything from their outfit to their statements carefully choreographed by a team of spindoctors who appear to think the public are thick enough to buy what’s on offer.

If there’s a vision of Sam Cam I might like to vote for it’d be Sam Cam the no-nonsense career woman who leaves the politics to her politician husband. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, at Smythson staff called her ‘Anna Wintour… because staffers were warned never to try to greet or talk to her. I think this “ordinary” lark is a big joke.’ But, of course, even if she was like that I still couldn’t vote for her because she’s not standing for election. Sam Cam should be totally irrelevant to political discourse today. The less we see of her the better.

It must be pretty dismal being a leader’s wife. The newspapers only care about your hair, clothes and shoes. Your husband’s only interested in his poll ratings. As a pained Sarah Brown confessed recently: ‘I’ve been grinning all day and my face is hurting.’

Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard and is also spiked‘s columnist on celebrity culture. Visit her personal website here.

Previously on spiked

Emily Hill looked at the sudden rise of Sarah Brown. Tim Black discussed the significance of David Cameron drinking champagne at the 2009 Tory party conference. He also criticised Cherie Blair’s confessional incontinence. Elsewhere, Sean Collins was mesmerised by a behind-the-scenes look at the US presidential race. And Mick Hume argued that it will take more than celebrity statesmen to build the good society. Or read more at spiked issues British politics.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK


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