Sunday 4 December 2016

Britain's Westminster WAGs...

With the British election result on a knife edge, the wives of the main party leaders are under scrutiny. William Langley looks at who they really are...

Published 16/04/2015 | 02:30

Samantha Cameron
Samantha Cameron
Justine and Ed Miliband
Miriam Clegg

Our political leaders are certainly keeping a close eye on the tumultuous British election campaign. But it's a good bet that their spouses are watching what is happening just as carefully- because it's proving to be a battle where the partner behind the leader is just as crucial.

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In the UK, the kitchen has become the new battle bus, and the flour-dusted, front-line trio of Samantha Cameron, Justine Miliband and Miriam Clegg are in the driving seat, assuring us of their husbands' preference for the simple, hearty stuff. Not that anything is simple, really. For a start, the Milibands' kitchen turned out to be merely the smaller one of the two in their house, while the Camerons have three, albeit in different properties, and although the Cleggs apparently struggle on with just the one, Spanish-born Miriam uses it to conjure up unsportingly exotic nosh such as the paella seen on television last week with what appeared to be crab legs waving from the skillet.

We knew it was Mrs Clegg's cooking because earlier she had told a Spanish magazine: "My husband is forbidden from doing any cooking at all, but he does pretty much everything else. He is an appalling cook."

And that was before the dinner party reminiscence round began. Mrs Miliband, a £200k-a-year barrister, started it off by revealing that when she first met Ed at one of those nice north London get-togethers where everyone guzzles Fairtrade Pinot Grigio and eats sustainably caught mahi mahi, he told her he wasn't dating anyone. This raised her excitement levels no end because she thought he was "a good-looking, clever guy", who "just wanted to talk about economics".

So she was understandably furious when she found out that he was actually fixed up with the hostess. Not that the future Mrs M abandoned hope. She later agreed to go canvassing on the greasy streets of Doncaster, and it was there that love struck. "I had never been out leafleting before," she explained, "and didn't know you had to look out for dogs on the other side of the letterbox. I'd been bitten. Ed bandaged me up, and I fell in love with him."

How could the others match this? Mrs Cameron prefers "cosy and informal" dinner parties, with country-set friends such as... oh, Jeremy Clarkson, for whom - on the grounds on personal safety - she presumably keeps steak on standby.

It is the ability to get everything right that makes 'Sam Cam' (43) the top-performing wife, with a YouGov poll last week showing her to be twice as popular as the other two. According to Helena Bonham-Carter, the eccentric actress and her friend, Mrs Cameron can "juggle more balls than a multi-armed Indian goddess", and while she doesn't much like being put behind the wheel, it is always an interesting ride.

In an interview last week, she revealed an enthusiasm for an outré American rock band called Polica, whose latest album features a cover picture of a blood-caked, naked woman, and whose androgynous lead singer, Channy Leaneagh, appears in a video waterboarding herself and smashing her own hands with a hammer. Her first job as a wife, Mrs Cameron reassures the voters, "is to keep David sane".

Samantha's bohemian past - according to one biography, her preferred company as an art student in Bristol included "bikers, drug dealers, hippies, students and guys from the ghetto" - has been used to suggest that she might not be a Tory at all, but the party's image whizzes know better, and Mrs C's visibility has been growing.

Having nothing quite so colourful to offer, Mrs Miliband - whose youthful rebellion period apparently consisted of wearing lipstick in breach of school rules - is hitting back on the conviction front.

"I love campaigning," she panted last week, "Ed loves campaigning, and the kids love it, too."

One of her key roles is to try to refute the widely held idea that the Labour leader is too weird to be elected, and has no real idea of how the world works. "I think it's going to get really vicious, really personal, but I'm totally up for this fight," she warns. "This goes way beyond Ed as an individual - it's about whether decency and principles count for something."

While the big two slug it out, Mrs Clegg (46) makes no effort to disguise her magnificent disdain for the political grind. An international lawyer, reportedly on £400k a year, she runs the Clegg household with iron resolve. In a magazine interview a few ago, she painstakingly spelled out her husband's duties, which included arranging early-morning meetings in Westminster so as to be back home in Putney by breakfast time to take the children to school. Asked how he was supposed to manage it all, Mrs Clegg sniffed: "No one would ask me how I balance it. For some reason, there is a sort of assumption that it is my role to balance it."

When she is abroad on business, Nick is expected to redouble his effort, she added.

The piece provoked mirth in political circles, with one writer sniping: "No wonder Cleggy looks so frayed. It is as if he lives in terror of Miriam's fingertips clicking like castanets and summoning him to his housework."

And there is still several weeks to go.

Irish Independent

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