Debate raging over the way politicians use their wives as “props” to promote their own careers.
Redemption at last for India's male politicians after they finally gave up their opposition to the proposed parliamentary quota for women but their British peers, it is alleged, remain stuck in what a feminist academic termed the “1950s mindset” in their approach to women.
According to critics, widespread sexism in Westminster — reflected in the use of terms such as “Blair babes” to refer to the influx of Labour women MPs under Tony Blair in 1997, and “Cameron's cuties” to describe Tory women MPs — is one of the reasons why women are so reluctant to enter parliament. Indeed, last summer, a long-serving woman minister resigned after accusing Prime Minister Gordon Brown of treating his female colleagues as “window-dressing.”
Currently, a debate is raging over the way male politicians use their wives as “props” to promote their own careers after the Tory leader David Cameron wheeled out his glamorous wife, Samantha, to pep up his wobbling campaign to be Britain's next prime minister.
Speaking with what The Times compared to the “gusto of a cabaret-show MC whetting the audience's appetite for a burlesque dancer,” Mr. Cameron described her as his “secret weapon” in the battle royal ahead and warned: “Britain, get ready!”
Mrs. Cameron's job in the coming weeks will be to sell the “softer” side of her husband to a sceptical electorate , especially women voters, who remain unimpressed despite his image-makers' efforts to project him as a “Mr. Nice Guy.” They even got him to invite TV cameras into the family kitchen to show him making breakfast for the kids and washing coffee mugs.
So, how's Mrs. Cameron going to change public perceptions? She gave us a flavour of it when in a heavily-trailed interview on Sunday —her first as a politician's wife — she talked up her husband's “human” failings portraying him as a “normal” person who despite his “posh” background was no different from your average Joe next door.
So, we learned, that — like most men — Mr. Cameron was lousy at doing the dishes and a nightmare in the kitchen.
“He loves cooking but he makes a terrible mess,” she said adding, for emphasis, that like “any husband” he was “definitely not perfect and ...has lots of very irritating habits.”
Here is some more proof of his “normality'' in her own words: “He is not very good at picking up his own clothes. He's a terrible channel flicker. I have to be quite firm about him not fiddling with his phone and his Blackberry too much ...[and] like most men he likes watching Westerns and all of the three Godfather films, sort of again and again and again.”
And , boy, doesn't she love him for being so ordinarily “human!”A “fantastic dad,” and an “incredibly strong, kind and supportive” husband.
There is fury in women's circles that someone like her — an independently rich and high-powered businesswoman — should allow herself to be “manipulated” thus. Her friends are said to be surprised at her transformation from a one-time bohemian who apparently voted Green when she was young into her hubby's political appendage.
But there is also some sympathy for political spouses — and as one writer said: “You can't blame the wives; they're clearly under spin doctors' orders.”
A defensive Mr. Cameron, however, insisted that it was his wife's own idea to help him with his campaign. He said she told him: “Tell me what I can do to help. I want to get out there.”
If, so, she must have been “inspired” by the Prime Minister's wife, Sarah, who did much to shore up her husband's flagging leadership with an emotional appeal to the Labour Party conference two years ago famously introducing him as “my husband, my hero” who might be a bit “messy” but was a genuine article.
“What you see is what you get with him'', she assured the party. The trick worked so well that she repeated it the following year, though to less effect.
As with Mrs. Cameron now, Mrs. Brown's intervention, too, was spun to the public as a voluntary gesture by a loyal spouse keen to stand by her besieged man.
“It is all so 1950s stuff when politicians flaunted their doting wives at election time,” said the head of a woman's online group as women columnists lined up to attack Mr. Brown and Mr. Cameron for “parading” their wives before TV cameras instead of talking about policies.
“Talk to us about politics, not your lovely home,” read a headline in The Observer while on the Right The Sunday Telegraph appealed to the two leaders to “leave out the better halves.”
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has said that he has no plans to follow the Brown-Cameron strategy. But, of course, who is he to say “no” if Mrs. Clegg herself decides to take the plunge? After all that's what Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Cameron allegedly did.