The absence of partners and families in this year’s election campaigns is not because politics has been enlightenedby Charlotte Lydia Riley / December 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
One thing absent this election is something I never thought I would miss: the unusual lack of Political Wives (and the lesser-spotted Political Husbands) from the campaign trail.
Boris Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds has made the odd, carefully choreographed appearance—but her sari-clad appearance at Neasden Temple this weekend was her first joint visit with her boyfriend in this campaign. Laura Alvarez has been accompanying Jeremy Corbyn around the country on some of his visits, and has featured in a few behind-the-scenes newspaper profiles, but has consistently refused to participate in the media circus of joint interviews or the One Show. Duncan Hames, himself a Liberal Democrat MP for the five years of the coalition government, has not been a notable feature of Jo Swinson’s campaign; nor have Nicola Sturgeon’s husband and, previously, Leanne Wood’s partner been centred in their respective efforts.
These final examples partly explain this phenomenon. In recent elections, the interest in political WAGs has been complicated by the presence of HABs; the oddness of wrangling wives for campaign pictures to bolster their husbands’ political ambitions is highlighted when there are women’s husbands tagging along, too. Cherie Blair and Sarah Brown and Sam Cam could all gamely, dutifully smile for the camera; Denis Thatcher was never quite so convincing. (In fact, Margaret Thatcher, by staging photoshoots of herself doing the washing up, was in many ways her own political spouse, a housewife and Prime Minister all rolled into one.)
For as long as photographers have lurked outside family homes, wives have been expected to be malleable and to support their husbands in their political careers; to drop everything to present a smiling, approachable, united front. In an interview with ITV during the 2010 election campaign, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, an international trade lawyer, said that she would help her husband, Nick Clegg, where she could, but could not simply drop her career to make herself available. This statement, of course, was interpreted as a swipe at Samantha Cameron by the Mail on Sunday.
The absence of partners and families in this year’s campaigns is not because politics has been enlightened. Men still get points for being married. In business, married men, especially ones with stay-at-home wives, are more likely to be high earners. In politics, too, wives continue to play an important symbolic…