The twenty-first century has ushered in a new era of politics in the digital age. Emerging from the shadows is a new generation of modern and empowered political spouses as documented by The Wives of Westminster.
It may come as a surprise to some in Britain, but political spouses play key roles in political campaigns all over the world. Modern political history has proven that a political spouse can affect the vote one way or the other. The problem is in that ‘other’,
Authenticity has no price
One week in since the launch of The Wives of Westminster digital platform and I can understand why some wives and husbands have been afraid for decades to step forward and expose themselves in the public eye. The moment we do that, we will be hit left and right. It’s not even a fair fight, but what makes a difference is whether you know that you are entitled to speak your truth and share your story in real-time. There’s no price for authenticity and being able to tell your story “as is”, freely.
Chronicling my own experience as a political spouse in the most exciting times in modern day Britain, is centered around the purpose of The Wives of Westminster. It’s new, it’s never been done before, and is making many unsettled. But, the road less traveled is also the most exciting one. I am carving out a path for some future political spouses in Britain and a wider world fifty years from now to tell their story as they live it. That in itself is revolutionary, writing the first digital draft of the political spouse’s life as it happens, as I go.
Going off the script
When I launched my website, I’ve watched it explode all over Britain. I was immediately advised to hire a political communication team and release smoking mirrors based on popular demand and old traditions fitting of the role that’s been assigned to us. “But that is not a purpose of The Wives of Westminster”, I told them. I’ve pushed back and made it clear that I do not go by the script. What I am trying to do here is to talk about my experience in an honest, free-talking way and examine the evolving roles of political spouses.
There’s a great human and public interest in all of us, the women behind the men who are shaping politics. I get that. What I do not understand, however, is why the involvement of political spouses in Britain in the campaign has sent some people through the roof. There’s nothing novel about that.
The press is now looking for a rule on how to be a political spouse, but if modern politics have taught us something so far,especially the Leave vs Remain Brexit campaigns, it is that all the rules have been broken.
There is no one way to be a political spouse
There is no one way to be a woman, a wife, or a spouse. There are endless ways for us to explore the role of a political spouse. When I was on LBC last week, the radio host told me that I, the wife, am irrelevant, that no one is interested to know about political spouses, but that’s inaccurate. If you do not believe me, just look at the cover of the Time magazine with Pete Buttigieg and his partner, Chasten Glezman and he’s not even a presidential nominee yet. We, the political wives and partners are a substantial part of our spouses’ story.
A study published in 2017 by psychologists at Carnegie Mellon University, discovered that marrying a supportive partner is what makes people more likely to give themselves the chance to succeed. “Significant others can help you thrive through embracing life opportunities,” said a psychologist, Brooke Feeney. “Or they can hinder your ability to thrive by making it less likely that you’ll pursue opportunities for growth.”
A modern political spouse
Now, do not ask me what type of political spouse I am, as there is no one word to describe it. I dislike to box myself into any category. But if I would need to choose one concept fluid enough for myself and for this time in Britain’s history, that would be a “modern political spouse.” The one that does not think that she has to choose between being a professional woman or a wife.
That, to be honest, was a false choice of the 50s and for those who are following popular culture rather than history books, elaborately depicted in the movie Mona Lisa Smile with Julia Roberts. I also understand why Cherie Blair continued to practice law. Like Fiona Millar said on the BBC Newsnight we were both guests on, that was a “different time” and I would add, a different generation. The Westminster Wives of today have a higher spectrum of choices and also not a luxury to remain anonymous.
Modern political campaigns live by the rule of thumb that nothing is private if your spouse is running or holding public office. By the rule of knowing that everything we do is “on the record”. Our lives are “on the record” and that’s just something that is a given. The sooner you get that as a modern political spouse, the better.
Everyone has a phone with a camera and a laptop nowadays. I believe that at least speaking for myself, the explosion of digital media is allowing us to share our experiences with the world, directly and in real time. In that sense, under the banner ‘modern political spouse’, I am also a ‘digital political spouse’ the one who is sharing The Wives of Westminster story in real time with the world.
We are all involved
When your husband or partner is in politics, the whole family is involved. I believe that a decision to get involved in politics and put yourself and your family through that level of pressure and public scrutiny is not an easy one. Other people outside of politics have their partners, husbands, and wives but they are not under the same level of scrutiny because to be a politician, to be a political family also means a higher level of accountability to those who voted for you.
The Wives of Westminster or any other political spouse can choose to what level she wants to be publically involved, but apart from that, we are all involved. That’s the truth.
Do not assume that a political spouse is a prop
My husband, Andrew Bridgen, never put the pressure on me to get more involved. That is probably because he knows that it would be very hard to make me do something that I do not want to do. That’s why I dislike when The Wives of Westminster are called the props. Calling a woman a prop contains a default premise that she is doing something against her own will and is reducing her to an object. That is not good, and even more so if that label is coming from another woman in the position of political power.
As The Wives of Westminster project evolves, so will my story. One thing I promise here is that there won’t be scripts and filters. There won’t be censorship. When I see something, I’ll say something as it is.
Let’s do this.