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.


Photo by Carpetblogger through a Creative Commons license

The story about primary school children being given lessons in gender equality as part of a government campaign to tackle domestic violence by 2011 was headline news on 25 November, which was Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Here’s just a sample of the coverage from: the BBC; The Guardian; New Statesman and the Daily Mail.
Five days later it was in China View that I first got to read about a 16-day campaign to eliminate violence against women in Afghanistan.
The New York Times also picked up the story with a piece headlined Rape In Afghanistan A Profound Problem, U.N. Says
News agency AFP was at the same press briefing with Norah Niland, Chief Human Rights Officer of United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Violence targeting women and girls is widespread and deeply rooted in Afghan society. It is not adequately challenged and condemned by society and institutions,” said Norah Niland. “The space for women in public life is shrinking. The trend is negative.
“It’s also a problem because there is very little possibility of finding justice, there is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan penal code that criminalises rape.

A journalist who frequently travels to Afghanistan told me it has become almost impossible to find editors interested in stories about women in the country.
“We’ve done it already” is a familiar refrain heard in newsrooms when stories are put forward about women in Afghanistan, about honour crimes, about domestic violence.
Can you imagine an editor saying ‘Sorry, we did a story about a sacked football manager last week’? Since when did stories about women become so “niche”?
The line at the end of the China View piece was particularly striking:

Some 100 women in attempt to get rid of miseries mostly due to domestic violence, according to media reports have committed self-immolation over the past one year in Afghanistan.

The BBC did look at Afghan women who turn to immolation in March this year and November 2006 and there are organisations such as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan are working to highlight the issue
I know that it can often be a question of resources for cash-strapped news organisations and that a story has to be “new” to make the news, but I’ve heard some fascinating and shocking and depressing stories about women around the world that are unlikely to ever see the light of day in a national news paper or on a news bulletin. It’s a reminder that you have to look beyond the mainstream news agenda to get a balanced diet.

I went to the Convention on Modern Liberty at the Institute of Education in London yesterday.
I first went to the Blogger’s Summit that the chair Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy has written about here.
Interesting observation from Heather Brooke of Your Right to Know that whereas in the US electronic data and information is readily available, those in power in the UK regard information as something that “belongs to them” and not the people.
Ben Goldacre whose run-in with LBC is described below described amusingly how new media tools could be used for “chaotic, puerile disseminated investigative journalism”.
It was an event that brought together people across the whole political spectrum.. and covered a wide range of subjects as one of its organisers Henry Porter outlines here and here.
Peter Oborne’s comments about the media-political class inspired me to read his book The Triumph of the Political Class and so far its analysis of a political elite that exists for its own advancement is very persuasive – and goes some way to explain the apparent disconnect between the governing class and the people, no matter what political party they are in.
There was also some discussion about the impact that an economic slump will have on liberty and questions raised about the role the mainstream media would play if discontent leads to civil unrest.
Another book, Shafted, published later this month to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the miners’ strike examines some of the pitfalls journalists fell in.
What are the lessons to be learnt from the likes of Nicholas Jones who contributes to the book? What role will “chaotic, puerile disseminated investigative journalism” play? How important was yesterday’s convention as a step towards the fulfillment of what Sunday’s Observer editorial says is the obligation of every citizen – “vigilance and resistance” to the restriction of “freedoms” and “conceptions of the moral autonomy of the individual to act without impediment by the state”?

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