There is a saying in the morally upstanding circles of Westminster in which I dwell: “leave the wives out of it”. Unless there is some particular significance to a great matter of state, or perhaps if taxpayers’ money is at stake, more often than not it can be seen as a bit off if one targets a male politician’s better half.
This week, the two men trying to convince us that they should be Prime Minister for the next five years have thrust their wives into the spotlight. Ed Miliband allowed his wife Justine – previously known as Justine Thornton but for the election presented as Mrs Miliband – to speak to the BBC for an interview on the News at Ten. David Cameron’s wife Samantha, meanwhile, is on the front page of today’s Sun newspaper talking about how the PM laughs at her singing.
The advantages of such stunts are clear: it shows off the family side of each candidate, it allows the public to see someone they do not immediately loathe actually being nice about a politician. But is it really that sensible? If the party leaders themselves make the decision to put their wives on the front line, their political opponents will from now on see them as fair game.
You can bet the Labour research department is digging into the taxes of Sam Cam and her family, and that their Tory counterparts are looking into Justine’s business interests. If it gets nasty in the next few weeks, they really have only themselves to blame.