Leaders’ Wives…

… or how who you are married to makes you a news story…

(image from bbc website video package)

In the week since the election was called the focus has (thank God) swung a little bit more away from the women that the leaders of the three most popular political party’s leaders are married to, and back onto policies. 
Not that I’m actually that clear whether the parties have actually thought through the costs, feasibility and the practicalities of implementation of some of the things that they are campaigning on (may be they don’t have to – I guess that’s why there’s a much lambasted, primed for cutbacks but nevertheless non-political and permanent civil service) – but that a whole other issue.

We’ve seen the party leaders portraying themselves as family men.  And that’s meant a focus on the wives, two of whom it is reported have their own press officers.
For the current Prime Minister’s wife that’s probably not too much of a change, after all, Sarah Brown has been acting every inch the political First Lady for a couple of years now, for example leading events for International Women’s Day. 
So I guess it was the contrast that meant a lot was being made of the fact that Miriam Gonzalez, Nick Clegg’s wife, intended not to take a key role in the election campaign (and can’t even vote in it!). 
But even this story was eclipsed by the coverage of Samantha Cameron’s pregnancy. More of which in a moment.

All three leaders’ wives are intelligent, successful women in their own right. 
All three are probably entirely capable of saying interesting things in a debate on Mumsnet, although as a PR executive, tax lawyer and director of an upmarket stationers, it’s unlikely that they’d ever be asked to be the subject of one.

It’s the underlying messages that are interesting.
The coverage of Sarah Brown in recent months has pretty much been I-love-my-husband-he’s-great-and-handsome-and-that’s-why-you-should-vote-for-him-girls.  I guess the message is the Prime Minister is portrayed many ways but he’s human and a decent person loves him.  I agree with the Times article from the time of her Labour Party conference speech- this is patronising towards women voters, but good PR tactics and sadly (for feminists), terribly effective (ladies, we are our own worst enemies sometimes). 

Sam Cam (as she has become known – I sympathise as someone with the first syllable of my first and last name identical!) has been a high profile political wife since David Cameron won the Conservative party leadership.  
But she’s now having to endure a public pregnancy – bad enough that people feel they have the right to pat pregnant stomachs on mere mortals but to be publically pregnant through a stressful election campaign, with your own events calendar for the campaign, while being accused of timing it to be a publicity stunt and having still fairly recently lost a child?  Not only not fun, but something you should never have to go through.  And as for the look-how-viral-our-leader-is stuff from tories online… yuck.
I can’t work out how she’s got the time off work to do the election campaign…  I’m pretty clear there’d be no special leave for my husband from his employer if I was a candidate.  And certainly none the other way round given my job.

The Private Eye cover (“Leaders’ Wives”) called Miriam Gonzalez “the other one”. Well yes, as the one with the husband least likely of the three to be prime minister, that’s probably fair enough. 
But The Austrialian news is interesting on this point – is getting-on-with-it, you’re not voting for me but for my husband attitude actually earning her respect?  And if so, is it ironic given that attitude if that respect were then to be somehow transmuted to her husband?

As you can probably tell, I have a bit of an issue with the whole First Lady role.

Essentially we do not have a first lady in the UK constitutional set up. Nor tradition. 
We don’t vote for a prime minister (see here and here ) no matter what the UK press seem to think, because we don’t actually have a Presidential electoral system. 
And if we’re not really voting for the prime minister, we certainly shouldn’t be voting on what their wives say, think or do, or would or would not do as a ceremonial role were their husband to gain office.  
There’s a lot of campaigning going on to get women more involved in politics – I can’t help but feel that “vote Dave, get Sam”, or “vote Gordon, get Sarah” undermines the getting women into power in their own right. No matter what Glenys Kinnock says about it all being ok.
But at least MPs will still be able to employ their partners as assistants (that’s a tradition going back to Mrs MacMillan driving prime minister Harold around in their car!) 
But again, the UK political set up is actually very flexible. We do not have a written constitution, so if a prime minister wanted his wife to take on a First Lady role (or, if Caroline Lucas – the only female party leader – were by some incredible fluke make it to no.10, first gentleman) there’s no constitutional impediment to them so doing. 

And even if you have a written constitution like the USA, it seems the role of the First Lady needn’t feature, can be defined by the President and his wife themselves but can still have public money spent on it.  Of course that’s a whole discussion we still need to have here…

So a vote for Dave and Sam, or Gordon and Sarah, may well be a legitimate concept.
Even if it sets my (feminist) teeth on edge…

Can 2010 be a bit less complicated?

Looking around the blogosphere, it seems that many bloggers stop at New Year to reflect on the year they’ve had, and their aspirations for the coming year.  I’ve decided I’m going to do the same, in the hope that writing down some thoughts will make everything a bit less complicated.
I’m going to make some predictions and comments on the coming year, some personal, some bigger picture.

So 2009.  According to the Facebook statuses of many of my friends, very few people seem to have enjoyed 2009.  I’ve had better, to be honest.  If you look at it objectively, there’s a list of the most stressful things you can do in life and over the last couple of years I’ve done most of them: starting from autumn 2007 I’ve had a baby, we had a death in the family, I had a car crash and resultant injury, had a serially ill child, supported my husband through a career change, returned to work after maternity leave, changed job, handled complex situations at work, moved house, worked outside work hours and without work paying for it towards a qualification… I think I can be forgiven feeling a little stressed…

There have been good things too.  I’ve met some really nice and interesting people, found a lovely house which we’ve helped design so it feels like it’s especially for us, my son  has grown into a lovely toddler, my husband and I have passed the three year anniversary happily, David Tennant was in just about every TV programme over Christmas and I’ve started writing this blog on my very own website which has brought me into contact with some people I’d never have met without it and with whom I’ve done weird things like the euroblogger’s Skype meet-up…

So what does 2010 hold?

1) I will move house.  Again.  Hopefully I’ll not need to do so again for 20 years.
We spent most of 2009 moving house. At least that’s what it’s felt like.  Hopefully in three weeks time I can log on from my own, new house.  It’s so exciting!

2) I will complete my CIPD Certificate in Training Practice.
Did you see my description of myself as “almost a trainer” in the “About Me” blurb? 
I started my professional training qualification in 2006, but had to take time out because of maternity leave – I now need to complete my assessed project by March this year – so that’s a clear deadline.
Wish me luck – and if you need a trainer with my expertise, please do get in touch…

3) There will be a General Election in the UK
There has to be, constitutionally, at least every 5 years, and that’s June this year at the latest.
You know the old joke “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always gets in“? 
There are some differences between the approaches of the main parties (of course if not enough people turn out to vote in each seat under the first-past-the-post system, it’s not just the views of the candidates of the main parties you need to look for…) but there are certainly some similarities, not least in what is being spoken of in terms of cutting public services.  
It’s not clear who is intended to deliver services or ensure that public money is being spent properly by the service deliverers if they are not public servants, but it is clear that no one in the public sector can be complacent that there will always be a job for them, and the pension’s probably not going to remain a golden asset either over the next 40-odd years. 
Elections offer a chance to redefine government-servant relationships, and I understnad that this thinking is underway so I really hope that the role of the civil service and public services are being properly thought out and not just seen as a wodge of public spending to be slashed.

4) International and EU issues will matter even more…
The outcome of the climate change talks in Copenhagen showed that acting big gets you a seat at the top table – the players in getting the deal that mattered were Obama for the USA (population 304,059,724) with the leaders of South Africa (pop 48,687,000), India (pop 1,139,964,932), Brazil (pop 191,971,506) and China (pop 1,325,639,982) . 
While the South Africans have a relatively low population to be part of this grouping, with South Africa and Brazil representing developing continents and growing populations, getting a deal meant having them there. 
But continent-wise, Europe is absent from the top table.
North America, South America, Asia, Africa but the fifth Olympic ring is completely absent. 
Now look at the Daily Mail’s reporting of the deal…

Copenhagen climate change summit delegates have recognised a US-backed agreement on climate change, passing a motion this morning.
The decision follows a US-led group of five nations – including China – tabling a last-minute proposal that US President Barack Obama called a ‘meaningful agreement’.
The fudged deal – backed by Britain, America, South Africa, India, Brazil and China – came after a day of bitter rows and divisions in which the United Nations talks came close to collapse.

Britain?  My understanding from the press was that Britain was not part of the deal, relucantly accepted it as better than no deal at all.  But we weren’t part of that deal. 
Now, no doubt some people here would look at the South African population size and say Britain has a bigger population than that and should have been at the table.  But we share policymaking decisions with neighbouring countries on subjects that affect how we can respond to climate change, and we’ve agreed with them ways in which we will act together – that’s via the European Union.  If we get our act together, in sheer numerical terms we’d warrant a place at the decision-making table, all 499,800,000 of us – third largest population bloc after China and India. 

Copenhagen should act as a real kick up the backside to those that don’t want us to act together as a European Union on the world stage – if we don’t, we don’t count. That’s it.  The Commonwealth’s not a real alternative – India was at that top table in its own right, not representing the Commonwealth.  In any case it’s hard to believe that the sort of people that advocate Commonwealth over EU would see India speaking for them in the international environment in any case, they probably imagine that the UK could successfully lead the way internationally without the need for a power bloc to back up our international standing.  
But Copenhagen showed a new set of powers – not the old cold war blocs any more but a multilateral world where being big matters.  The USA and India are not out to protect the UK’s interests, but the EU is, not least because a powerful Britain is a key market and a defence leader for the other Member States. 
So the choice is EU, or insignificance.
Somehow, I think I’m going to want to be involved in this.   

5) We’ll take some lifechanging decisions…
We gain more family down under this year, but lose family in the Midlands.   This changes our lives as well as theirs – not least because at least one holiday in four will now need to be on the other side of the world. 
As a minimum, I’m going to lose some weight.
But whether it’s jobs or the size of our family, given our ages (mine, my husband’s and our son’s) decisions we make now will affect us in the long run.  I just pray that God is with us as we make them.

6) And I’ll keep writing…
I’m enjoying having a public space in which to comment on things that interest me.  Hope you’ll keep reading.  And a very happy new year.