It may be that the majority of the British public isn’t going to be swayed by the wives of party leaders on 6 May – according to a recent YouGov poll only four percent felt that wives’ popularity is crucial in the electoral race compared to 51 per cent who felt that it was not important at all.

But the fact that politicians have wives who do -or don’t – work, or do/don’t join them on the campaign trail and how they look seems to be a source of fascination in the media. It’s a phenomenon no one will own up to, or take responsibility for, but somehow, as the Express put it, leaders’ wives “are becoming their biggest weapons”.

“In what is increasingly being known as the Wag election, Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron are finding as much attention on themselves as their husbands.”

So whether the politicians are hankering after something of the Michelle Obama effect or whether it’s driven by the need for pictures and something to fill the space, the fact that the three leaders have wives who are attractive, relatively young and don’t conform to a stereotype that evidently still lingers, means that we can probably expect to hear a lot about Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron over the next few weeks. And she may have genuine reasons for staying out of it all but Miriam Gonzalez Durantez is guaranteed a flurry of attention whenever she does join Nick Clegg on the campaign trail.

The attention afforded the leaders’ wives in the past week has been heralded as a “giant leap” towards First Lady politics.

But the same YouGov poll showed that 76 per cent feel the media concentrate too much on the way that the wives dress, and 70 per cent think they should be seen as women with careers and values in their own right.
Only 15 per cent of the total felt that it was right for the media to focus on the women solely due to their role as ‘leaders’ wives’.

As Jackie Ashley points out, women aren’t getting much of a look in anywhere else in this election.
Whether it’s driven by strategists or by the media, until 6 May I am going to chart what is served up about the leaders’ wives.

Other links:
Times: Election war of the wives.
This could get nasty
AP: A family affair
Comment is free: Prime minister or primate?

Photocredit: Downing Street via a Creative Commons license.


Zoe Williams in the Guardian the “sexism/ageism pincer movement in the world of broadcast journalism”: where “women are only employed in the first place because they are attractive, and then they’re pensioned off upon reaching an age when they could still reasonably be Bruce Forsyth’s granddaughter”.

Williams, writing after Ceri Thomas answered questions from the BBC Feedback panel, detects there is a BBC policy, perhaps written in a document somewhere: “Plan for current affairs: two oppositional blokes and a little lady.” Contrasts this with Channel 4 News and other commercial broadcasters where women are less prone to be given “lightweight” stories.

Conclusion: “I think it’s the sheer geological pace of change, more than any active agenda of misogyny, that’s locked the BBC in an era of sexual politics decades behind the commercial channels. They need to sort it out: it’s a public service broadcaster; it makes us all look bad.”

More discussion on Guardian’s Media Talk

Photocredit: Mark Hillary via a Creative Commons licence

The news bulletins during Kate Silverton’s Five Live programme yesterday included three grim stories:

The discovery of six bodies in the home of convicted rapist Anthony Sowell in the US city of Cleveland, Ohio.

The attack in Liverpool of trainee policeman James Parkes and the candlelit vigil attended by 1,500 people.
Kate Silverton followed this up by playing Rod Stewart’s Georgie Boy, opening a discussion about a 14 per cent rise in homophobic attacks including the murder of Ian Baynham in Trafalgar Square with this:

As a teenager I remember listening, this was in the 80s to this track by Rod Stewart the killing of The Killing of Georgie, a song about a gay man killed simply for being gay and I remember distinctly thinking at the time that such a terrible thing really couldn’t happen today. That was in the 80s and here we are again seeing exactly the same kind of violence meted out to someone just because they are deemed to be different, strange, not normal, whatever justification someone uses to turn against someone else.

Emily Carr, the woman attacked by Marlon King provoked a different discussion when she called for the footballer to be given a lifetime ban: George Riley’s report focused on the theme of the Wigan Athletic forward’s career and the backing he received from Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballer’s Association.

So what makes for the different approaches: that it’s a footballer doing the punching, or is it less shocking if a woman gets punched?

Talking to Kate Silverton about the homophobic attacks Dr Matthew Waites, senior lecturer sociology Glasgow university, said calling it hate crime was “complex” – it implies it’s an issue for a small minority of people.

His suggestion that it was an issue of masculinity got lost as the conversation moved on.. Masculinity, gender, violence: they just don’t seem to fit in a radio show discussion.

(When he was younger of course)

That’s what Mark’s son Tyrone* told him when he was staying over the weekend.
“I mean you’re not a bad dad, you’re pretty cool, but it would have been SO much better if you were Sean Connery.”
Normal exchanges between a father and son, but the added twist is the fact that this father and son hadn’t seen each other for more than 13 of Tyrone’s 18 years.
Who did Tyrone imagine his Dad to be before he met him again a year ago? A man in a Rolls Royce bearing wads of cash he aint I told him while we queued in Somerfield and he suggested Mark should buy him a flat…
This was the first weekend we saw him after THE CHRISTMAS VISIT… A fun, riotous, rowdy, testosterone-fuelled, bordering on anarchic visit.. particularly when he paired up with his newly discovered half-brother and experienced the heady power of siblings ganging up on the adults.
It was the visit that we recognised that what we were doing was a DIFFICULT THING… A friend pointed out that if we were adopting we would probably face tough questioning, counselling, ongoing support. That’s not the solution I’m looking for but it did bring home the fact that we are having to find our way through a pretty novel and tough situation.
Mark is getting to know what it’s like to be a father to an 18-year-old, I also need to learn about part time living with an 18-year-old who isn’t my son, just as I had to learn about Mark’s 14-year-old, who also isn’t my son, when we first met.
Mark has discovered wrestling, table tennis, trips down the pub and sessions in front of the telly watching football and rugby all help re-build the bond with the son he had danced with and cuddled and sang to all those years ago.
I’ve found that a shared appreciation of clothes and shopping and a liking for cafes shapes how we spend time together….odd to find myself pondering if I can afford to splash out and treat him when he’s trying on a new jacket. – It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was doing the trying on hoping my Mum would decide to treat me..
I haven’t really had that much to do with an 18-year-old since I was a teenager myself. Funny how it triggers off reactions that are now completely redundant. So what I can say I’ve learnt so far: There’s no point trying to compete with them as I probably did when I was growing up with my brother. Secondly, appealing to their softer feminine side by dropping Simone de Beauvoir into the conversation is also futile, apparently. ‘They don’t have one,” Mark told me when we escaped for a walk one afternoon.
I also have to learn not to over-react when I feel pushed out – by the fact that Tyrone obviously wants to spend time with his father without me and also because it comes as a shock when the life I value comes under such bombardment – no curling up on the sofa with a French sub titled film.. continual fights over the remote control, the relegation of everything I’m interested in to a minority view.
I also had a fast-track experience of how rotten the bombardment can make you feel: Last week I was at J’s and her gorgeous, squirmingly teenage son made a scathing comment which brought it all back. I thought it was adults who were meant to be disapproving but what I wasn’t prepared for is just how critical they are. Living with the Thought Police isn’t easy…

*The name he chose when I told him I might write about him