Problems for the first wives’ club in the UK election
Whilst the Logies and Rosemount Australian Fashion Week have kept Australian fashion commentators busy, the looks currently being critiqued in Britain are not on the red carpet or the catwalk but on the campaign trail.
The British media billed it as a showdown between Sarah Brown, wife of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Samantha Cameron, wife of Conservatives’ Leader David Cameron, but it became a three-horse race as the rise and rise of the Liberal Democrats meant their leader’s wife, Miriam González Durántez, suddenly found herself the subject of intense scrutiny. The three women all spoke to UK Grazia in this week’s issue which has hit news stands just before the poll.
As Gordon Brown faces renewed pressure after describing a Labour voter as a “bigoted woman” and one of his own candidates labelling him “the worst Prime Minister we have had in this country”, Sarah Brown has become increasingly important to her husband’s chances of reelection.
Gordon Brown has rarely been seen without her by his side during the campaign, whereas Samantha Cameron often campaigns independent of her husband. With only 48 hours until polling day, the Prime Minister and his wife gave their first joint live interview to GMTV.
The interview contained much more hand patting and holding than political pundits are accustomed to.
Having founded her own public relations company with a friend at the age of 30, Sarah Brown is well placed to shape the role she plays in her husband’s political life. She communicates to her more than one million followers on Twitter in a balanced mix of ‘on-message’ remarks and warm one-on-one responses.
Sarah Brown has learnt the importance of image since her husband became Prime Minister, dressing in an elegant yet simple style and always having perfectly coiffured hair.
Ironically, Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron have arrived at much the same point in terms of what they wear, although for very different reasons. The two ensure that they wear a mix of midmarket British labels.
For Samantha Cameron, or ‘SamCam’ as the British tabloids have affectionately dubbed her, it is essential that her outfits resonate with middle class Brits. Brought up on the 300 acre Normanby Hall estate and the daughter of a baronet, Cameron is keen to avoid the elitist slurs that have often been flung her way.
Like Sarah Brown, she is incredibly PR savvy and as the Creative Director of upmarket stationery company Smythson has been credited with turning its fortunes around. The Conservatives publish personable ‘WebSamCameron’ video diaries on YouTube that show her visiting not-for-profit organisations around the country.
Miriam González Durántez’s approach, meanwhile, is at one with her husband Nick Clegg’s election strategy. Whilst Clegg repeats the Liberal Democrats’ election mantra of being the party that is “really different”, Spanish-born Durántez has lived out this philosophy.
Unlike Sarah Brown who hasn’t worked in PR since the birth of her first child or Samantha Cameron who has taken time off work to support her husband’s campaign, Durántez told the Daily Mail “I don’t have the luxury of having a job that I can simply abandon for five weeks, and I imagine that that is the situation for most people in the country.” When seen alongside her husband, Durántez is often dressed casually with a satchel slung across her body.
Here in Australia, Therese Rein has already changed expectations of the role played by a Prime minister’s wife by being the first to remain in a paid job whilst her husband is in office. Much like Sarah Brown, Ms Rein has worked on improving her style and fitness since taking up residence at The Lodge.
She has also become active in shaping policy with News Ltd papers recently revealing that she is working alongside Bill Shorten, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, on a universal building code that would ensure all new homes were both disability and aged-friendly.
Australians have only come to know Margie Abbott since her husband Tony became Leader of the Liberal Party in December last year. She took part in a candid interview with Australian Women’s Weekly in January this year and also featured alongside her three daughters on the Sixty Minutes program ‘The Contender’ broadcast two months later.
It will be interesting to see what role Margie Abbott, who has been a merchant banker, teacher and now operates a child care centre, will play in the upcoming Australian federal election particularly as her husband often faces criticism – fair or not – that he doesn’t understand women.
But as Brits get ready to vote, Vogue keeps its online readers up to date with the outfits of Britain’s first ladies and Vanity Fair holds a poll as to who is best dressed, it’s refreshing to hear Sarah Brown say this:
“I think I’m confident enough that if somebody doesn’t like one thing, I’ll still go out and wear itagain. It doesn’t go to the back of the wardrobe the minute someone doesn’t like something.”
Surely a good lesson for poll-driven politicians the world over.
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