Political Spouse, Felicity Cornelius-Mercer, wife of Tory MP Johnny Mercer talks to The Wives of Westminster about the role of a modern wife of a politician in the 21st century. She opens up about her views on relationships, well-balanced life and politics as a force for good.

How do you see the role of a modern wife of a politician in the 21st century? What, if anything, changed for us over recent years?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer: I have a 1920’s image of politicians wives handing their husbands their briefcase at the front door every morning, hosting dinner parties for their colleagues, ironing their shirts, making the vol-au-vents and re-arranging the mug tree. But that is definitely not me and I suspect not many politicians wives in 2019! I would like to believe that our roles have changed and kept pace with the evolution of women’s roles generally over the decades.

I can’t cook, I am terrible at ironing; which is why I married a military man in the first place because they love to do it themselves!

I don’t get up early to stand on the doorstep and wave Johnny off if it’s not entirely necessary and I have a full-time role in Johnny’s office.

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer

Johnny and I went into politics as a team and we try to decide everything together. We complement each other and I feel valued as a partner in work as well as life. I am sure that many women now play a role in their husband’s career and vice versa, outside of just the public engagements. Its’ not for every couple but it seems to work for us! I think we are stronger as a team and we feel we have both invested ourselves into this career and Plymouth.

How is your life different today from the one before being married to an MP?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer: Johnny’s time in the military were some of our best years and some of our hardest years, as anyone who has read Johnny‘s book will know. These years have shaped us and our relationship to give us the strength to take on a political career as a team.

I would say that the biggest difference is that our lives in the military were not divisive to anyone; it is a role in our society that everyone gets behinds and supports.

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer

This is the polar opposite to taking on a political life, where it is divisive from the very beginning through the election process. The military was a safe, trusting, loving and supportive environment. Wider politics is anything but.

We get through this by trusting in the people of Plymouth – that they can see how much Johnny believes in what he is trying to achieve for Plymouth and that he has come into politics as a force for good and not greed or power.

What would you say is the difference between being a military wife and a politician’s?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer: Being a military wife is very similar in a lot of ways to being a politician’s wife. You are the auxillary team; supporting and helping wherever you can; building relationships with the community around you and having an active role in military or political life.

The biggest difference is that I can be part of the details in Johnny’s political career that wasn’t possible in the military. Politics is an area that doesn’t require any training on my part except a desire to work for a community and help make people‘s lives better. When people say to me that Johnny shouldn’t employ his wife, I politely remind them that I knocked on 28,000 doors in 2015 so feel I have earnt this job too!

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer

You have children, what do you believe are the most important parenting challenges you face and what should be done to address them?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer: In my opinion, this differs as the children enter different stages of their childhood. Mine are 10 and 5. At first, you can be in control of their little worlds but as soon as they go to school you have to let a lot of that control go.

Use of social media, the content of age-appropriate television programs or music videos and what they are exposed to at school suddenly become issues. I can’t choose their friends, I don’t choose the content of their lessons or the type of playground chat, all I can do is be there for them when they get home. This can be really hard to accept at first.

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer

I think I am quite a strict mum when it comes to manners, the importance of being polite and kind but I always try to give them a consistent message. But at some point, you have to have faith, with teachers and professionals, with their friends and ultimately with your own children. I think this is a natural process that all parents have to go through, letting go and letting them grow up.

How do you decide how much screen-time is suitable for your children? My newborn is already reaching for the phone when he sees me with it and I think that it will be a huge challenge to keep him away from such devices. What’s your advice for mothers and parents regarding this subject?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer: The screen time is a very personal decision to make and we all wildly differ in my own group of friends.

My children are very active, they do after-school clubs every day and they wouldn’t have it any other way – they don’t turn to screens because I have never encouraged that. For them screens are used to research homework, to play educational games and of course to watch films on long car journeys or flights.

Screens can be so practical and so educational, there is a place for them in this world and we cannot try and cut them out of our children’s lives. They have to learn how to use these devices safely and it’s up to us to set those parameters and teach safe use and proper use.

So ultimately, I would just suggest common sense and never let them become a replacement for good old fashioned games or activities!

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer

What particular issues are you passionate about with regard to gender equality?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer: I confess. I am not a feminist, I do not believe that being female puts me at a disadvantage. If anything, I have celebrated the choices that it has afforded me and celebrated the fundamentals of being female. I have always felt it was to my advantage. But that is looking at it from an emotional point of view. every day.

Looking at it from a practical point of you is where we get stuck because for me it’s not about being male or female, it is about starting with a level playing field. We must ensure that our society is set up that women have the same opportunities as men to enter the workplace. The facilities should be in place for this to be able to happen. It goes without saying that if a man does the same job as a woman or vice versa the pay should be equal.

On the other hand, I do not believe in all women shortlists. I believe in giving the job to the best candidate. Both men and women are equally capable and should be judged equally. Perhaps I am being naïve?!

If you work with your husband how do you make sure you can separate personal and professional life so that you don’t bring work home?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer: Johnny and I work together every day, in Plymouth or Westminster, we talk through ideas and plans constantly. We work together on Saturdays – canvassing or public engagements with our daughters, so our balance has to come on Sundays. This is the sacred family day.

It could be a beach day, a long walk on the moor, a pub lunch or a movie and popcorn marathon – it doesn’t matter as long as all four of us are together.

My daughters are both daddy’s girls and they miss him enormously but like true angels they understand the importance of what he does for other people in Plymouth and are just really proud of him.

What is your advice for a well-balanced  life?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer: For a more balanced life I have realised that there are things we can change and things that we can’t. Accepting this, helps to redress the balance and allows us to focus on the areas that are most important to us.

Getting your priorities straight and keeping them realistic is a wonderful way to bring balance to your life.

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer

How do you cope with Brexit?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer:Another confession. I hate Brexit. I love Europe, I love visiting Europe but I fully accept that this is not the point of Brexit.

From what I understand the point of Brexit is to become our own sovereign nation again and I completely understand why that is important to so many people. The country voted to leave the EU and therefore it is the Governments duty to deliver on that.

This issue is tearing us apart and my only coping mechanism is to hope for an end state that fulfils the promises that were made but I am not holding out much hope at this stage! I am an optimist and like to look on the bright side which has been very hard throughout this process.

I think we are a great and well-respected nation so I feel that a ‘no deal’ could have been made to really work with the right leader. I won’t say anymore! On the bright side – she can’t last much longer surely?! Sorry I couldn’t help but say a little bit more!

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer

How can woman prioritise their happiness?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer: As a woman if you’re anything like me, you try to do everything! Prioritisng our happiness I think comes naturally for some but others have to work harder at it whether it is carving out time for themselves or being mindful and self-aware.

I find that it is important to get the ground rules down early! Johnny and I have a very honest relationship and we can communicate easily so that helps when making it clear that we all need to prioritise ourselves sometimes and for looking out for each other’s happiness.

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer

How do you take care of yourself mentally, emotionally and spiritually?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer: I find the best way to make something real is to give it a name. In our house we call it ‘quiet time’ – the stresses of work are put aside, the children are limited to ’emergency’ questions only and everyone can get a bit of collective downtime. That helps me re-charge and address my levels of well being.

It is a very personal thing but I find regular exercise, regular downtime when stress levels get too high, my family Sundays, acceptance with the things that I cannot change and honesty with my loved ones keep me on a healthy path, both mentally and emotionally.

What are you reading right now, and do you have any recommendations?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer: My new favourite author is Jojo Moyes! I would recommend her to anyone who has a busy lifestyle and is looking to read something that leans towards people and relationships without being a too hard going.

As I read a lot and also enjoy films, I especially like reading books which have also been turned into films to see how my own imagination matches up to the film makers. Psychological thrillers work well for this, like ‘Gone Girl‘ and ‘Girl on the Train‘.

How do you stay positive in such a time of political turbulence?

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer:I have found that being mindful and living for the moment is really helpful. As well as an acceptance that we can’t change or control everything.

I am a positive person, I always try to see the good in all situations and in times of political turbulence I have learnt to only worry about the things that I can do something about and to accept my limitations.

I have found a very good talent in life is to be happy with the little things, not to be constantly chasing the big things. Be grateful for what you have and don’t live by ‘the grass is greener’ mantra.

It’s the little things that help to ameliorate the frustration when the bigger things are turbulent.

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Nevena Bridgen
Nevena Bridgen

Founder

Nevena Bridgen is the Founder of The Wives of Westminster. She is an opera singer and a wife of MP Andrew Bridgen.

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