What can politicians’ wives teach us about marriage?

Relationships|October 16th 2009

I don’t have any strong political views because I don’t like politics, but on Sunday morning in Covent Garden as I cycled on a bike at the gym, I watched Hillary Clinton’s live press conference on the TV monitor.

At 10.15 am on a Sunday morning, Mrs Clinton was elegantly dressed, brisk, businesslike and full of verve. Impressive, given that she had only arrived from the USA the night before and had commenced her meeting with Foreign Secretary David Miliband at 8.15am. As I pedalled away, my mind drifted to what she had endured during her husband’s presidency, and how she’d come through it. I considered her own, ultimately unsuccessful attempt to become President of the USA. She had simply let nothing stand in her way! Whatever you think about her, you do have to admire her as a brave, successful woman and wife.

I once attended a dinner at which President Clinton was the guest speaker. When he began to speak, every woman in the room swooned! Despite his indiscretions, he does appear to have been as strongly supportive of her and her career, as she has been of his. Their partnership is not flawless, but it is phenomenal – and it endures. Has adversity made their marriage unbreakable?

And do we have a “political power couple” in the UK? Sarah Brown, the wife of our Prime Minister, is followed by more than 850,000 people on Twitter. She has emerged from the shadows. Once barely seen, she has now taken her place by her beleaguered husband’s side.

It seems to be “open season” on Gordon Brown right now. He looks tired. There are fears over his eyesight. To my mind, Sarah Brown is sending out a very strong message. “We are a team. We are a partnership.” She was recently savaged by the press after she gave a speech introducing her husband to the Labour Party conference. But if that was my husband, in the eye of the storm, taking one battering after another, I would have stood up with him and done the same.  Yes, Sarah Brown’s speech was probably OTT. Perhaps she shouldn’t have done it. Perhaps it was the wrong audience. Perhaps it was too “schmaltzy”. But she stuck by her husband; elegantly dressed, and wearing a cutting edge British designer dress that the party faithful probably felt was too expensive.  She didn’t care – she is her own woman with her own platform on the world stage – and good for her.

Whether the Browns realise it or not, and whatever their post-Downing Street ambitions may be, they have put on display a strong marriage that appears to have been strengthened by adversity.

What of David and Samantha Cameron, the attractive “couple in waiting”? After her performance at the recent Conservative Party Conference, my admiration for ‘Sam Cam’ knows no bounds.  She is a bereaved mother. She had to cope with the very public reference to their son in her husband’s speech and that can’t have been easy. However I couldn’t help but notice a difference between the couple when I watched David Cameron stride into the Conservative Party Conference, beautifully attired in a Savile Row suit worth £3,500, every inch a future Prime Minister.

His stunning, aristocratic wife – the creative director of upmarket Bond Street stationery store Smythson, and like Sarah Brown, a champion of cutting-edge British designers – appeared to have opted for high street fashion. For her appearance in the north of England, she tottered loyally alongside her husband wearing an uncomfortable-looking pair of £29 platform shoes from Zara. As one reporter noted:

Cameron, in her real life, routinely wears designer dresses, shoes and handbags in outfits that cost four figures to put together. But this week at party conference it’s been Jigsaw and Office, Uniqlo and Wrangler, and good old M&S.

Mrs Cameron won some plaudits for her “recessionista chic”, but to me, the Camerons looked odd. They didn’t look like an obvious couple. Their starkly contrasting outfits reeked of the influence of overly neurotic spin doctors.

I wonder why David Cameron went along with it. Why didn’t he insist that one of his best assets – his wife – was dressed so that together they looked like a couple, a future British Prime Minister and his wife?

As my husband remarked when I asked if he would ever expect me to dress like that whilst he was togged up to the nines: “Not if I didn’t want a divorce”.

Exactly!

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