Carla Carlisle on politicians’ wives

She looked great. True, I longed for her to reach up and brush her hair out of her eyes, those soul-singing blue eyes, but I didn’t notice the ‘middle England’ accent, probably because I was too busy staring at her teeth. A case could be made that the modern Tory wife no longer wears pearls, she simply smiles and reveals teeth as perfect and white as oysters can produce. A strand of South Sea pearls: £10,000. Teeth like Samantha Cameron’s: priceless.

There was a time when her teeth would have been considered ‘American’: straight, white, every flaw corrected in childhood by costly orthodontics. But American dentistry has long since crossed the ocean, along with fluoride, litigation, hypochondria and the phenomenon known as the Politician’s Wife.

It’s not new, of course. She may not have stirred things up like Eleanor Roosevelt, but Clementine Churchill played an important role in her husband’s political career. She restrained him, set him straight and created order in his life. She didn’t tell the people about his sensitive skin, his cigar breath, his short fuse. Her discreet charm was her gift to a grateful nation.

But those days are long past. Before I was born and long, long before David and Samantha Cameron were born. Even before Gordon and Sarah Brown were born. So much has changed on both sides of the ocean. Britain has had a woman Prime Minister. America came close to having a woman President. Gone are the days when the wife of the politician sees her primary role as taking care of the children and entertaining for her husband. Today, the wives have law degrees and demanding jobs. Their skills in the high-wire world of life-work balance would qualifiy them for the Cirque de Soleil.

So why, in an age when woman are achieving so much, have they now taken on the new role of Political Wife as Humaniser?

Recommended videos for you

The first time Mrs Brown spoke at the Labour Party Conference, it was a pretty desperate mission. Her husband was facing a coup and nothing about him was endearing. Even the anti-Brown brigade had to admit it was an impressive performance. The second time around, the ‘My husband, my hero’ show began to grate. There are some things, like wearing a white wedding dress, you should only do once.

What was so appealing about Mrs Cameron before her TV interview last week was her reluctance to take to the stage. She had that magical something that my grandmother called ‘an intelligent silence’. Mr Cameron had already told us that she was a sharpshooter when it came to giving him advice ‘too many white, old men on the platform’ she told him and you could hear her saying ‘your turn’ when it came to nappy changing and breakfast duty, you could imagine her putting his BlackBerry in the bread bin.

But, somehow, we’ve entered an odd New Age, when even a high-earning woman with a Yale law degree has to be the Humaniser, is required to talk about her husband’s morning breath and smelly socks to prove that he’s an ordinary Everyman who will change the world.

I’ve never met Mrs Brown or Mrs Cameron, but I’m pretty sure that there’s more to both than the woman who is speaking about her husband’s irritating (i.e. human) habits. Both happily qualify for our family motto ‘Behind every successful woman is a man hogging the limelight’. Both are glamourous-Sarah with her new makeover, Samantha zipping to work on her Vespa, taking off her helmet as she goes to her desk.

Both have children, the new bona fide. In other words, two attractive and hard-working human beings. Tacking on the job of adoring Humaniser is unnecessary. It’s an anachronistic role, concocted in the PR departments of party headquarters. Come on, fellas, show some respect. Bring back intelligent silence.

* For more Spectator like this every week, subscribe and save