POLITICAL WIVES



Daily Telegraph Article by Edwina Currie

"Oh for a wife!" wailed Ellen Wilkinson, the pioneering Labour MP for Jarrow, back in the days before secretarial allowances as she struggled to answer her letters as well as doing the laundry and hoovering. I've never had a wife, so Ellen had my utmost sympathy.

Today's political wives face a tricky choice. Do they stand (largely) silently beside their man, admitting only to doing the school run, like Sam Cam? Or do they develop their own career, as Marina Wheeler QC, aka Mrs Boris Johnson, does - perhaps raising the awkward question of who’s looking after their 6 kids?

Be warned, a stellar wife can outshine her husband. Nick Clegg appeared so dull next to the flamboyant Miriam Gonzàlez Duràntez. And Michael Gove should worry that his journalist spouse Sarah Vine often provides better copy than he does, like her cheery admission that she'd rather have a good night’s sleep in a separate bed than fight him under the duvet.

It's 2016; few couples would return to the days of a submissive wife. "Whatever you say, dear," would be uttered today more in sarcasm than in duty. That role’s been tarnished by the bitter misery of wronged wives from Judith Mellor to Mary Archer, holding hold hands over the garden gate with philandering husbands. Their support for their husband’s career at whatever emotional cost to themselves is no longer a source of unalloyed admiration, as once it was.

I’d be the last to deny a woman, any woman, the right to speak her mind. But it feels a bit tacky when a wife is wheeled out just as an echo. Why bother, if his views stand up by themselves? How does it strengthen his case, if the voice saying “Hear, hear?” is his wife’s? I much prefer Sam Cameron’s discretion. One feels she talks truth to her Prime Minister husband, when necessary, and that he takes notice. The rest of the time he’s the politician, and she gracefully leaves him to it.

I used to taunt Neil Kinnock about the woman who was beating him hands down as Leader of the Opposition, who was making speeches up and down the country with a crisp oratory that put him to shame. If Mrs Kinnock wanted to do that, I demanded, why didn’t she go through the whole gruelling process of standing for election? Where was her courage, and her willingness to put up with the scrutiny that goes with public office?

Glenys, reportedly, was furious, and from 1994 did just that, becoming a MEP. In fact the two of them, with him as Commissioner, kept court in Brussels for years, and their son (now in the Commons, too) married the Danish Prime Minister. They all did rather well. Perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut.

So here’s my message to Mrs Gove, and Mrs Johnson, and the fourth Mrs George Galloway, and the second Mrs Farage (not that we’ve heard much from Kirsten, after he used EU money to put her on the payroll): your political opinions will garner a great deal more respect, if you do what thousands of women now do, and stand for Parliament. You know from your husband that it’s the toughest job in the world, with a barrage of criticism whenever you open your mouth, and that honour in that role is hard to come by.

But sisters, it’ll give your statements some real heft. We’ll accept you’ve taken a principled stand, one you’re prepared to defend on Question Time. It’ll show, in short, that you’re more than just a wife.

And then, ladies, I’ll be listening.