UK

SARAH VINE: Misogyny, male egos and my heartfelt message to those waving pitchforks at Carrie

Mrs Johnson’s nickname, Carrie Antoinette, has always grated with me. It’s funny, I can see that, and it’s a great pun (and I do love a pun). 

But as someone who was once dubbed Lady Macbeth for daring to express an opinion about my former husband’s career, I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the laziest of all tropes about women and power.

In 2016 I sent an email that was later leaked. It contained a few encouragements to my then husband, Michael Gove, who was running for leadership of the Conservative Party.

What was intended as nothing more than words of advice and support was interpreted as evidence of my meddling ambition. How dare I interfere in the affairs of men? How dare I proffer my opinion? Go back to the kitchen, love. This one’s above your pay grade.

Become a ySense member and start earning today totally free !

Remind you of anyone? Lord Ashcroft’s book about Carrie takes me straight back to that awful time. It reminds me of how, seen through the toxic filter of politics and power, a person can be crushed.

I think it might be helpful for all those digging out their pitchforks and sharpening their knives in Carrie’s direction to remember that, in politics (and especially in these heightened times) not everything is always as cut and dried as it seems, writes Sarah Vine

The fallout from my own comparatively minor and much briefer stint in that role was, on a personal level, devastating. It attracted a degree of opprobrium that I was simply not able to cope with.

And it has had long-term implications. I have no doubt now that it contributed to the breakdown of my once happy marriage, leading to my own depression and feelings – on my part at least – of deep confusion and sadness.

It shattered my self-image, turned me into a figure of ridicule and hate, projected a warped version of myself that still haunts me to this day. It brutalised me in ways I can’t even express, and ultimately it broke us.

Or maybe it just broke me and then the rest followed. Like I say, I still can’t quite explain it.

I don’t say this to garner sympathy, far from it. I am beyond all that. I say it because I think it might be helpful for all those digging out their pitchforks and sharpening their knives in Carrie’s direction to remember that, in politics (and especially in these heightened times) not everything is always as cut and dried as it seems.

That the person we are talking about, the 33-year-old mother-of-two being eviscerated in a thousand different ways by a thousand different voices, all of whom claim to know her but very few of whom have even met, is underneath it all a human being.

However compelling or convenient the narrative of the manipulative Jezebel may be, or however much it may suit her husband’s enemies – or, indeed, allies – there’s a real person at the heart of all this. Someone for whom no amount of £840 rolls of wallpaper can surely be worth this level of abuse.

And whatever mistakes she may have made – and I don’t deny for one second that she has made many (as did I) – the truth is it can’t all be her fault. She is not responsible for the bad choices of her husband, or of those around him.

Yet increasingly that is what she stands accused of. And there is no doubt that the way her role is being framed has more than a whiff of misogyny to it. It is, I’m afraid, the political equivalent of slut-shaming. 

I don’t know Carrie well, but I have met her a few times, not least at her 30th birthday party which was hosted by a mutual friend, Simone Finn.

I didn’t really speak to the birthday girl. (It was somewhat impossible over the din of Abba, to which she is very partial, and, in any case, when not dancing she was locked in conversation with one Boris Johnson.) But I do remember her whirling around Simone’s living room barefoot in an eye-catching dress, red if I recall rightly.

Sexy, lively, captivating. No different, really, from many of the political WAGs I’ve encountered over the years.

Politics has always attracted women like Carrie, very possibly because politics attracts men like Johnson – that is to say, giant egos susceptible to female flattery

Politics has always attracted women like Carrie, very possibly because politics attracts men like Johnson – that is to say, giant egos susceptible to female flattery

Thea Rogers, who made a fortune in the tech industry before disappearing off with George Osborne. Sasha Swire, wife of Tory MP Hugo, who wrote a bitchy tell-all book. I could continue.

Politics has always attracted women like Carrie, very possibly because politics attracts men like Johnson – that is to say, giant egos susceptible to female flattery.

But what’s interesting is the way that, while character flaws so common in Parliament – vanity, ambition, desire – are largely baked in (or even positively encouraged) when it comes to men, they are still considered scandalous in a woman.

In the case of Johnson, it’s almost as though rather than confront the true extent of his failings, it’s just easier to resort to the oldest cliche in the book: cherchez la femme.

Forget the Prime Minister’s decades-long track record of gaffes and misjudgments; forget that he is a serial adulterer and begetter of illegitimate children, a man who, had he not enjoyed the privileges of an Eton and Oxford education, would have been more suited to a slot on the Jeremy Kyle show than a seat in Parliament, let alone the highest office in the land.

Forget his moral failings in respect of his former wives and family, forget his financial incontinence.

Forget the internal power struggles within the Conservative Party, forget the ruthless opportunism of the Opposition, or the fury of Remainers or the anger of everyone Boris has ever trampled over in his quest for glory.

All that, apparently, has nothing to do with the current mess he finds himself in. It’s all because, as Dominic Cummings recently put it with customary charm, he ‘got a wrong ‘un pregnant’.

What's interesting is the way that, while character flaws so common in Parliament – vanity, ambition, desire – are largely baked in (or even positively encouraged) when it comes to men, they are still considered scandalous in a woman. In the case of Johnson, it's almost as though rather than confront the true extent of his failings, it's just easier to resort to the oldest cliche in the book: cherchez la femme

What’s interesting is the way that, while character flaws so common in Parliament – vanity, ambition, desire – are largely baked in (or even positively encouraged) when it comes to men, they are still considered scandalous in a woman. In the case of Johnson, it’s almost as though rather than confront the true extent of his failings, it’s just easier to resort to the oldest cliche in the book: cherchez la femme

And so in a week where the Prime Minister’s power has seemed to be slipping fast through his fingers, Carrie has been singled out by critics of all persuasions as the source of all his woes.

She has been blamed for all the parties, all the rifts, all the resignations. You could be forgiven for thinking she was the most powerful force in the land. But she’s not. She’s just a convenient scapegoat.

Because are you really telling me that the likes of Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings were bested by a former press officer?

That the entire policy unit at No 10 was outfoxed by someone who has spent most of the past year pregnant or taking care of a toddler?

That civil servants and officials were powerless to resist the demands of a mere spouse?

If that were the case, it wouldn’t say much about their ability to do their jobs, would it?

And it doesn’t, because it’s simply not true. She’s just a convenient excuse for other people’s failures.

I have absolutely no doubt that Carrie has made mistakes. She may even have acted inappropriately, not just in terms of Partygate but also in a wider sense.

In a week where the Prime Minister's power has seemed to be slipping fast through his fingers, Carrie has been singled out by critics of all persuasions as the source of all his woes

In a week where the Prime Minister’s power has seemed to be slipping fast through his fingers, Carrie has been singled out by critics of all persuasions as the source of all his woes

If the suggestion, repeated in this book, that she might have accessed classified documents in her husband’s red box is true, for example, that is completely unacceptable. I never once looked at official documents my husband brought home, unless he specifically asked me to.

And, at the risk of sounding like an old prude, I do think there is something fundamentally unprincipled about a woman who takes up with a married man, even if that man is a serial philanderer and even if he says his marriage is over.

That is just a horrible thing to do, whichever way you look at it.

But none of that makes her responsible for the catastrophe unfolding at the heart of Government and of the Conservative Party. That is down to Johnson and the way he has run things from the moment he walked through the door of No 10.

He could have stuck with the wise counsel of his wife of many years, Marina, but instead he chose to embrace a much younger, much more inexperienced Carrie who, if truth be told, doesn’t really have the necessary maturity required for the role.

If she has too much power, it’s because he gave it to her. More fool him.

So yes. Naive, extravagant, even silly she may be. Careless and immature, very possibly. But is it really her head that deserves to be on the block?

I wouldn’t be so sure.


Source link

pictory

Related Articles

Back to top button