According to the Daily Telegraph, it’s “Marks & Spencer handbags at the ready”. The Times has called it “war of the wives”. With an election looming in the UK and opinion polls showing a narrow gap between Labour and the Conservatives, all eyes are now on Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron.
While Prime Minister’s wife Sarah is fairly well-known in public life for her success as a PR executive, her charity work and having over a million followers on Twitter, ‘SamCam’ has until now maintained a much more private existence.
Fair enough, we all know that she’s from aristocratic stock, that she’s the creative director at Smythson and that in recent years, some women’s magazines have tried to portray her as a bit of a style icon for the middle-class professional woman.
But until last week she’d remained pretty silent on matters regarding husband David – in contrast to Sarah Brown, who at the Labour Party Conference last September introduced Gordon as “my husband, my hero”. In an emotional speech, Sarah reassured delegates that although he may be messy and noisy, at heart he’s a caring and passionate man who loves his country.
As of last week, however, the shy SamCam of old is no more. In a television interview on Sunday she spoke of life with ‘Dave’, regaling the nation with tales of clothes left on the floor, channel flicking and making a mess in the kitchen while maintaining that he’s a great dad, a great husband and a great choice as the next man to run the country.
And that’s not the end of it - soon to follow in the footsteps of Sarah and Samantha with a television interview of her own is Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s wife Miriam.
Some critics have argued that it’s a cynical tactic that started with Michelle Obama back in 2008 – you know, describe a few domestic shortcomings, emphasise his passion and integrity and it’ll rake in the votes – particularly from female voters if the media is to be believed.
And in an election where women are seen as key voters (it’s now a common refrain that ‘mums will decide this election’ due to issues like flexible working legislation and family-orientated policies), several papers are reporting that these wifely sound bites are obviously a last-ditch effort to win the female vote.
I can’t be the only woman who doesn’t want to be patronised like this. Can’t decide which party to vote for, ladies? Let the wife be the deciding factor! Messrs Brown and Cameron may be good husbands and fathers, but I’m much more concerned with how they’ll run the country over the next few years rather than with hearing cutesy anecdotes about their private lives. I’d rather see Sarah and Samantha talk policy than domestic life.
It does women a great disservice when society assumes that we’re more interested in leaders’ wives than any other political issue. We see it in the newspapers when they analyse the shoes of female politicians or pit them against each other in some sort of ridiculous ‘style battle’ as if we’re supposed to care. One tabloid even seems to have taken to somewhat nauseatingly terming 2010 the year of the ‘WAGs’ election’.
The fact that some newspapers seem to be quite happy to reduce women’s interest and participation in politics to nothing more than their concerns about motherhood and what handbags MPs are currently toting gives the impression that ever other important factor in this election is probably only of interest to men.
I for one will be looking at the whole spectrum of issues facing our country when polling day comes around and am wondering why certain newspapers are convinced that other women will act any differently. In a recent YouGov poll, 89 per cent of respondents said that leaders’ wives will have no impact on their vote, which is of course the way it should be.