Husbands of Britain: pity, pity, pity John Bercow. Already under fire from colleagues for somehow being both a bit of an old fart and palpably anti-Conservative in the Commons, his wife took her first steps into a full-blown publicity maelstrom when she entered the Big Brother house last night.
Anyone who’s so much as walked past a newsstand or clicked on a news site today will have seen her inexplicably familiar cheeky grin staring at them from the pages of tabloid and broadsheet alike. No wonder- the proud labour supporter has hired almighty anti-Tory bugbear Max Clifford to handle her PR.
From an image perspective, this is all pretty mind-boggling. Particularly strange is the lack of pretence about the fact that this is a monumentally bad idea for poor old John’s career. “He’s not too happy about it” Sally has gleefully said, and we know she’s right: there’s been whisperings of Tory fears over her plans for weeks.
No explanation has been offered of his finally relenting. Well, unless you count the refreshingly plausible one Sally gave to the Express: ‘I just used my feminine wiles and took John away for a dirty weekend in Devon’. This, it should be stressed, is written below the header ‘Weekend of Love Changed John’s Mind’ and above a photo of the man himself looking particularly gormless and downtrodden.
Of course, one might argue that the whole affair could reflect rather positively on John Bercow the man, if not the politician. The man on the street sees him having a bit of harmless trouble with her indoors, the woman on the street now knows he’s comfortable with an independent (even downright mutinous) wife. Something leads me to suspect, however, that the outcome for John and the party will not be so rosy.
Sally, you see, has broken all the publicity rules for the spouse of a politician. Her introductory video for the show reveals a woman who really does not understand why she’s been invited into the house. When she exclaimed that she was going on the show ‘to hold two fingers up to the establishment’, she established herself as being on 1) a publicity mission and 2) one that does not add to (indeed actively conflicts with) that of her husband.
The spouse of a politician nowadays should be independent, even wilful- nobody wants another Sarah Brown- but in such a manner as to largely slip under the media radar. When you step into the media spotlight, you have to act as a brand, and if your spouse’s brand image happens to be important for that of a whole political party, you’d better make sure yours lines up. Sally, like so many others, is sipping from the toxic brew of reality fame.
That always ends in the collapse of an unsupported image- bad enough when you used to be Spencer from The Hills and now you live in your parents’ beach house, even worse when that collapse could irreparably eviscerate a political career.
God knows why this has been allowed to happen: naivety on Sally’s part? Actual insanity on John’s? Is it the first step in a complex and shadowy plot by Max Clifford to single-handedly bring down the government? Only one person is sure to be grinning as he checks the papers this morning, and that’s Richard Desmond.
After spending the last few weeks desperately pounding the chest of Big Brother’s mouldering corpse, he’ll have spent the morning gibbering like Boris Karloff- a bolt of lightning has finally struck the cathode assembly. It only remains to be seen where this monster will wander and what damage it will leave in its wake.