The beginning of the week was all about the manifestos: On Monday it was the Labour Party’s; on Tuesday Conservative leader David Cameron said he wanted to put people in charge but as the leaders debate loomed the Liberal Democrats’ alleged that Team Cameron had insisted on the no clapping rule during the leaders’ debate because Vince Cable received more applause than George Osborne during the Chancellors’ debate.

The leaders’ debate transformed Nick Clegg’s fortunes, with the majority of polls narrowing the gap between the Lib Dems and Labour, and in some cases putting them ahead.

As for the wives, 20 per cent of those polled by the Telegraph poll thought Samantha Cameron was the most impressive, 15 per cent preferred Sarah Brown and eight per cent rated Miriam Gonzalez Durantez .

However, the Telegraph pointed out, 57 per cent of those polled said they either do not know or declined to express a preference.
The People, which reported Lord Mandelson’s attack on Cameron’s tactics, a paragraph at the end said that “almost a quarter of women are taking a keener interest in politics because of Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron”.
What about the others – the 75 per cent who aren’t more interested in politics as a result and the 57 per cent who had no view?
To use a well-used phrase this week, “I met a woman..” who said she can’t follow politics because she can’t bear the media focus on the wives: “They are all capable talented women in their own right and yet the media trivialises them,” she said.

If David Cameron and his party stole the show in the early part of the week with their “invitation to government” his wife Samantha Cameron was making the headlines in the Daily Mail, which was agog at her bump and the colour of the nailpolish on her toes. A certain victory over Sarah Brown, whose toes got another airing.


Point-scoring over looks was in the air again when Samantha Cameron visited the Surma Centre in Camden Surma Centre, and talked to some girls who cooed over her “pretty” hair and clothes.
In the looks-stakes, Sarah Brown was credited with “channelling” Jackie Kennedy with her “prim and proper” sky-blue coat in the Guardian’s stylewatch on Thursday.
But there were signs of a Sarah Brown fightback: Lisa Aziz in the Daily Mail drew a very flattering picture of Sarah Brown, wife, mother, friend and devoted charity worker on Saturday.
We learn that Sarah Brown sometimes forgets to cook “GB’s” lunch and resorts to throwing “a frozen spag bol ‘meal for one’ into the microwave, does her own shopping at the supermarket and sends flowers to friends.
After the furore over Stuart MacLennan’s indiscretions on Twitter and his rant against Fairtrade, Sarah Brown opened up her secret garden at 10 Downing Street and in the first-person piece in the Observer reasserted her commitment to Fairtrade and sustainability.
She urged women to use their vote in her Sunday Mirror election diary

Our right to vote was hard-won in this country, and in places like Burma democratically-elected leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi are in captivity because the results of the ballot aren’t respected by the military.
We owe it to the suffragettes and to our brothers and sisters in Burma and elsewhere to use our precious crosses, so please remember that the deadline for registering is this coming Tuesday, April 20, and visit www. yourvote.co.uk.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez continued working this week. In an interview with Mark Austin on ITV she criticised the media focus on the leaders’ wives, which she said was “very patronising” for the public. This prompted a jibe from the Daily Mail, which slyly suggested that her “dry-stone walling exploits on the moors of South Yorkshire” last week were “inconsistent with her argument. Will the press turn on Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, who announced she would quit her job is her husband became PM, if she doesn’t play the game?

Photocredits: Labour

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Sarah Brown, according to the Daily Mail did damage to her “credentials” because of her rather unsightly little toe.
Called Gordon’s “human stick-on face” by the Telegraph, Sarah Brown is considered an “operator” with her background in PR, her prolific Tweeting and speeches.
Dubbed “passive” by the Times for being the “loyal and dutiful wife trailing slightly behind her husband” Sarah Brown was also criticised on Comment is free for appearing to want it all: claiming that she would continue to tweet purely about her day – only her day now involves 24/7 campaigning alongside her husband.
been heckled by journalists and members of the public.
Photos of Sarah Brown campaigning with Stuart MacLennan, last year had to be deleted from Flickr after he lost his candidacy for “offensive” Tweets.

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.
Telegraph:
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.

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