Miriam and her amazing cojones

Independent, Thursday 14 July 2011

An atheist is leader of the Labour Party. Gay MPs hold parties on the terrace of the House of Commons to celebrate civil partnerships. Oh, and the Deputy Prime Minister is married to a feminist. Not any old feminist, either, but a “militantly ball-breaking” Spanish lawyer – I’m quoting a popular daily newspaper here, you understand – who doesn’t like being called a wife. Honestly, it’s enough to make you weep into your finest amontillado.

These are perplexing times for the right-wing press, for reasons that (for once) have nothing to do with phone hacking. They inhabit a world that’s been turned upside-down, with all their hate figures – people who are just crying out to have the epithet “self-confessed” attached to their belief systems – storming into positions of power. Everywhere you look there are self-confessed gays, feminists and secularists going on and on about equality and expecting everybody else to accommodate their bizarre lifestyles.

Take Mrs Clegg, who for reasons best known to herself – principally, I suspect, the fact that it’s her name – insists on being known as Miriam Gonzalez Durantez. Nick Clegg’s wife is definitely a “self-confessed” – she’s been a feminist since the age of eight, we’re told – and now she’s complaining to a women’s magazine that her husband “kills himself” to do his share of the school run.

Why, you might reasonably ask, is the Deputy Prime Minister hurrying home from breakfast meetings in central London to take his sons to school? It’s all in the name of shared childcare, equality and that politically correct guff that middle-class people like the Cleggs – or should I say the Clegg-Gonzalez-Durantez? – make a song and dance about. No wonder so many economies are collapsing when a European figure of Clegg’s stature is constantly distracted by having to make sure his kids have picked up their satchels. Give him a break, Mrs Clegg! In fact, let’s be frank: give the poor man back his cojones!

That was the blunt advice in one of yesterday’s right-wing papers, which also suggested sniffily that the school run is the sort of thing that should be left to the nanny. Another pointed out that “Mrs Clegg” discovered feminism under Franco when she realised that Spanish women needed permission from their male relatives to travel and couldn’t open bank accounts on their own. Hey, señora, haven’t you heard the old guy’s been dead for some time?

If I’m honest, it’s hard to read the attacks on Ms Gonzalez Durantez without the dizzy sensation of being sucked into a time warp. I mean, are there really people out there who think that any man who shares parenting is a hen-pecked wimp? Who believe that men volunteer for the school run only because they’re scared to stand up to their “ball-breaking” wives?

I wasn’t surprised to read this stuff in the 1970s, when the country’s conservative Establishment was first confronted with a different set of values and responded with impotent rage. But while I can think of plenty of reasons to criticise the Deputy Prime Minister, the notion that he’s been emasculated by his very successful wife isn’t one of them. Apart from anything else, few politicians reach Cabinet rank without developing a thick skin and at least some degree of ruthlessness.

The attacks come from the same papers which made an issue of Ed Miliband living with his long-term partner – they married earlier this year – when they couldn’t do anything about his atheism. Clegg isn’t a believer either, despite his wife’s Catholicism, and the fact that two out of three of the main party leaders manage without an imaginary friend is a measure of how much this country has changed. Way to go, though, before the old guard comes to terms with strong, independent, “self-confessed” women.

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