The Leaders’ Wives obsession: why it’s missing the point

Tonight it’s Nick Clegg’s turn for a Sunday evening party leader’s interview – with Mary Nightingale on ITV1 at 10:15pm.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez (Nick’s wife) also appears in the programme. At first I was dismayed that Miriam might be wheeled out as yet another politician’s wife, dreading revelations about socks or other foundation garments

Until I watched her in this extract :

I don’t like that name: “political wife”. I’m the wife of a politician… I don’t have a role. I’m just married to him…

…It’s a personal choice and I think it’s perfectly possible to have a normal life where you let people see how you live, and I understand that they may want to look into it.

But one thing is to let people have a look at your life so that they get to know the politician, the person, and a different thing in my view is to put together a sugary-coated image of yourself in the hope that that brings you votes. It’s not that I wouldn’t do that – it’s that Nick would never agree to do that either. So it has to be possible, because that’s what we are going to do.

The Sunday papers have already portrayed Miriam’s support for her husband with a tinge of disdain: “middling”, a refusal, “too busy“.

The Telegraph, in a purse-lipped reminder of its priorities for her, refers to “Miriam Clegg” – a name by which she is not even known – then calls her “Mrs Clegg” nine times in the rest of the article. Gosh, is it really still the 1950s?

Nick’s not some poor latchkey husband. Miriam Gonzales Durantez is a mother of three young children and has a successful career whilst clearly being supportive of Nick’s work. However, the mainstream media will misrepresent Miriam’s choices as long as their view of a “good” politician’s wife remains as hackneyed as their binary view of politics.

What’s actually being reported here is a media mindset, which is not to be confused with the news, nor indeed the facts. It’s patronising to voters to suggest that the men who lead the three main parties need to be buttressed by the constant presence of their wives – whether on the campaign trail or the conference platform.

The notion that there’s only one type of politician’s spouse is as unrealistic and outdated as the traditional image of one acceptable type of family. Life’s not like that. Voters aren’t like that.

Political families already come in all shapes and sizes, and people had better get used to it. You might not think it, given the coverage, but politicians can be female, gay, parents, child-free, married, single or in civil partnerships.

To concentrate on the Leader’s wife is also to ignore the work of other women in the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems’ real “First Lady” is their President, Ros Scott; we have excellent women MPs in Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone and more. Hundreds of women in the party, myself included, will be working hard in the coming elections. While we’ll do our bit, Miriam will do hers.

Will tonight’s interview give Too Much Information? Watch ITV1 tonight at 10:15 to find out.

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13 Comments

  • Hywel ap Dafydd 21st Mar '10 - 11:40pm

    Thank you Helen.

    I am reminded of the vilification of both Cherie Booth (the major breadwinner of her family), Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama for daring to have their own mind and career.

    It never ceases to depress me how limited people’s concept of the realities of both families and relationships can be.

    I remember when standing for the National Assembly for Wales, one of our council candidates would constantly suggest I marry my best friend (who happens to be a woman) for “appearances sake”. What made this even worse is that the person suggesting it was also gay.

    There is far too much fear in our society of seeming different lest we be judged and sometimes we are our own worse enemies in the struggle against the tyranny of conformity.

  • Sorry, I clicked on this thread thinking it said Readers Wives.

  • Cllr Patrick Smith 22nd Mar '10 - 8:07am

    I totally agree with Helen`s point that is perplexing to the voters as to why in this Election there is a media hysteria about the wives of our political leaders including, our own top table pair of Nick and Miriam.

    I saw the Mary Nightingale Interview and Nick Clegg came over as confident, natural and the complete family man.

    In Nick Clegg we can and most do recognise a brilliant politician capable of becoming a the next tenant in Downing Street in this Election.

    Nick Clegg is already an expert on international policy and possess integrity and comes across to voters ,especially women,with his decency and honest appeal to people across the board from all walks of life and has a brilliant touch with kids.

    Helen rightly asks that we should not forget that the Liberal Democrat Party has many talented women MP`s like Lynne Featherstone,Jo Swinson,Sarah Teather and our excellent president Baroness Ross Scott .My own plaudits would be to the indomitable and home and international statesmanship of Baroness Shirley Williams who could and should have been the first women PM.

    There are also some 130 women Liberal Democrat PPCs and all potential L/D MP`s women on the Election trail in the UK today.

    In the ITV Interview 21/3 Nick and Miriam came across as a consummate,loving and caring couple blessed with 3 healthy sons whom they wish to naturally shield from the gaze of the media.They are both highly motivated,inspiring and driven gifted and talented people at the heart of the Liberal Democrat message.

    We know we have a superb Leader and family man on the Election trail but now let`s focus on the Liberal Democrat Policies to bring about `Change that Works for You’ in Education,Health and importantly Fair Taxes and to Clean up British Politics in 2010?

    The British people do not deserve less then what Nick Clegg is able to offer them.

  • Except for viewers in Scotland…..as STV didn’t show it.

  • Liberal Neil 22nd Mar '10 - 9:31am

    I thought Nick came across very well in the programme and that Miriam’s comments would go down very well with most people.

  • “I am reminded of the vilification of both Cherie Booth ……”
    In this case we have Samantha Cameron being villified by Miriam Clegg.

  • I thought it was a very good programme. Nick came over as a very likeable person – much better than the slightly nervous person on the Politics Show.

  • Mark Teddermore 22nd Mar '10 - 11:27am

    I agree with Cllr Smith — Baroness Shirley Williams wonderful. Williams for President!

  • Just watched it, very good program. I thought Nick came over as wonderfully down to earth and human. Loved Miriam’s responses – went down very well compared to the photoshoot of Samantha Cameron that’s over the papers at the moment.

  • If Mrs González has kept the Spanish nationalitiy, as I understand she has, she is not allowed by law to change her name to her husband’s -even if she wanted to.

One Trackback

  • By Nick Clegg interview draws 1.1 million viewers on Mon 22nd March 2010 at 1:17 pm.

    […] Helen Duffett examined the 1950s-style newspaper previews of the Dead Tree Press, which focused on the shocking news that Miriam Gonzalez Durantez (Nick’s wife) has her own life, for LDV here. […]

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